You are here

Links

The Steelers “staying ahead of the chains” will be the key to offensive success vs. the Bills

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 12/11/2019 - 9:05am
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to need more from their offense in Week 15 vs. the Buffalo Bills. Here is how they need to do it...

It should be a playoff atmosphere Sunday night when the Steelers host the Buffalo Bills in a nationally-televised game with huge post-season implications for both teams.

Before we continue, let’s stop and ponder that last sentence for a moment. The odds of being able to write it on a Steelers’ blog without being laughed off of the page two months ago seemed somewhere between slim and none, with slim, as the saying goes, about to leave the building. And yet here we are. What an incredible season it’s been.

Both teams have reached this point on the strength of formidable defenses. The Steelers’ defense ranks 1st in the NFL in sacks, 1st in turnovers, 3rd in yards per drive, 3rd in DVOA and 5th in points per drive. The Bills are 2nd in points per game, 3rd in points per drive, 5th in yards per drive and 6th in DVOA. They held Baltimore’s league-leading offense to just 257 total yards last Sunday while forcing five three-and-outs and seven punts. They will be the best defense Duck Hodges has seen as a professional.

Among all of the numbers that tell the tale of this match-up, one seems particularly instructive. Through 12 weeks, the Bills’ defense ranked first in the NFL in forcing negative plays. They had 81 plays where they caused the offense to lose yardage, either on a run, a pass or a sack. By my count, they added 11 more in their last two games against Dallas and the Ravens. That makes 92 plays for loss in 13 games, or roughly seven negative-yardage plays per game.

Buffalo is not making these plays by accident. The Bills have assembled a talented front seven to man their base 4-3 defense. The linebacking corps, led by Tremaine Edmunds (bother of Terrell and Trey), is fast and instinctive. Edmunds has nine tackles-for-loss (TFL) on the season and moves well laterally. Up front, tackle Star Lotulelei is an athletic Javon Hargrave-type while Jordan Phillips (6’6-340) is a mammoth human being adept at occupying double teams. Phillips leads the team with ten TFL, predominantly by bullying offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage. On the edge, Shaq Lawson and Jerry Hughes are quick off the ball and are difficult to reach, making it hard to run outside. They also pinch exceptionally well, allowing them to beat slower OTs inside and wreak havoc in opposing backfields.

For the Steelers, staying out of negative plays will be imperative if they are to find success on offense. The offense, as currently constructed, is not built to play from behind the chains. This is a phrase you hear a lot from football announcers and talking-heads: “The Steelers need to stay ahead of the chains to move the football.” What they’re saying is the offense must consistently put itself in manageable down-and-distance situations in order to sustain drives.

2nd and 5 is a manageable situation, for example, because it gives the offensive coordinator a variety of options on how to make five yards in the next two downs. He can run it inside, run it outside, throw short, throw long, take what the defense is giving, etc. Even if the 2nd down play falls short, he still has a decent shot at converting on 3rd down. “Staying ahead of the chains” tilts the play-calling in favor of the offense because it means the OC can call the plays his offense knows best and is most comfortable executing.

2nd and 13 is much less manageable because it limits those options. Running the ball is pretty much off the table, which means the playbook shrinks dramatically. A young QB like Hodges can expect to be pressured in these situations, allowing defensive backs to sit on underneath routes since the ball will likely come out quickly. When the Steelers fall behind the chains, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner is in a bind because, other than throwing a capable fade ball, Hodges is not yet able to diagnose complex coverages or make the full-field reads necessary to convert long-yardage situations.

The need to stay ahead of the chains is even more urgent against a defense that produces as many negative-yardage plays as does Buffalo. Consider the following: not counting their kneel downs at the end of each half on Sunday, the Ravens had 12 drives against the Bills. On four of those drives, Buffalo produced a negative-yardage play. The Ravens scored three total points on those four drives. On Baltimore’s other eight drives, they totaled 21 points. So, the Ravens averaged 2.6 points per drive (PPD) when they didn’t lose yardage on any plays and .75 PPD when they did. That’s a big difference.

It was even bigger the previous week against Dallas. The Cowboys had ten drives against the Bills, with seven of them containing negative plays. Dallas scored no points on those seven combined drives. On their three remaining drives, they scored 15 points. That’s zero PPD when there was a negative-yardage play and five PPD when there was not.

As is, the Steelers rank 25th in the league with an average of 1.59 points per drive. Should Buffalo put them behind the chains with regularity, that number will be significantly reduced. Limiting Buffalo’s ability to create negative-yardage plays is a huge key to success on Sunday night, then. How might the Steelers do this? Here are a couple of ideas.

RUN THE INSIDE ZONE PLAY. THEN RUN IT SOME MORE.

The most glaring weakness in Buffalo’s defense is their ability to stop the run. The Bills rank 14th in rushing yards allowed (105.3 per game), 21st in yards per attempt (4.4) and 22nd in rushing DVOA. The Steelers are 25th in the league in rushing yards per game (94.6) but have run it more effectively in recent weeks, averaging 141 yards over their last three outings. The Steelers need to keep this trend going against the Bills.

Simply running the football won’t be enough to prevent drive-killing negative plays, however. With Buffalo’s lateral quickness and ability to penetrate gaps, outside zone runs, pin-and-pull sweeps and slow-developing counter plays are all risky. The Steelers have run their counter-gap play well the past few weeks and we should see more of it on Sunday night. But the best way to attack Buffalo’s front seven is with the inside zone play.

Look at the difference in Buffalo’s effectiveness on the following two plays. First, here’s a toss sweep by the Cowboys from their game on Thanksgiving day:

With the full-flow action (all of the backs and linemen moving in the same direction), the Buffalo defenders are out of the blocks at the snap. Lorenzo Alexander (57), Lawson (90) and Edmunds (49) are all too fast off the ball to be reached by the guard, tackle and tight end on the left side of the Dallas line. On the backside, 4i tackle Ed Oliver (91) pinches inside the OT’s reach block to close off the cut-back lane. With nowhere to go, running back Ezekiel Elliot hesitates, slips and is swallowed up for a four-yard loss.

Now watch what happens when the Eagles run right at Buffalo:

This is zone lead, or a version of a play commonly called “Dart.” It’s a great play to run to the weak side of an Under front, where the defense has a 1 and a 5 technique and is giving the offense an empty B-gap. On the play, the play-side tackle turns out on the defensive end while the rest of the line zone blocks away from him. A blocker from the opposite side of the formation (often a tackle or an H-back) wraps around to the play-side linebacker. Here, it’s running back Jordan Howard out of Philly’s two-back formation. The play is similar to a traditional inside zone run but adds a bit of counter action to slow the linebackers.

It works. Watch how Edmunds and backer Matt Milano (58) are paralyzed by the backfield action while Lotulelei (98) gets washed across the football by the left guard. Miles Sanders takes the hand-off and follows Howard through a gaping hole, where he is quickly into the secondary and off to the races.

Milano is an undersized backer at 6’0-225 and Edmunds, though huge at 6’5-245, plays more with his quickness than his brawn. Lotulelei and Oliver are best when slanting and pinching and the ends (Lawson, Hughes and Trent Murphy) like to get up the field. Only Phillips is a true run-stuffer, but like many of today’s 1-techs, he’s on the field about 40% of the time. If the Steelers can prevent penetration by covering up Buffalo defenders at the line of scrimmage and can get blockers up to the second level like the Eagles did (Philly rushed for 218 yards in that late October game while scoring a season-high 31 points on the Bills), they can eliminate negative-yardage plays and stay ahead of the chains.

Inside zone is the perfect recipe for that scenario. With no pulling linemen, there are less vacant gaps for defenders to penetrate. Linemen instead must occupy their play-side gap and block whatever defender shows there. Philly only gave up two negative-yardage run plays against the Bills (one came on a reverse) while running a ton of inside zone. The Steelers, with veterans up front who are well-versed in the scheme, should copy that game-plan.

Here’s an example of the Steelers pounding Cleveland with inside zone two weeks ago. All of the linemen block the gap to their left, covering up whichever defender is on that track. They get bodies up on the backers and running back Benny Snell Jr. takes the hand-off, heads downhill towards the A-gap and then runs to daylight.

Notice how there are no pulling linemen and no subsequent open gaps to exploit. Blockers stay square off the ball and climb through their zone to cover up defenders. Right guard David DeCastro and tight end Vance McDonald each make the mistake of turning their shoulders at the line, which prevents them from covering up Mack Wilson (51) and Sheldon Richardson (98), respectively. Still, Snell is five yards down-field before any Cleveland defender lays a hand on him and he proceeds to run through the contact for another seven yards. With a power back like Snell, getting a body on a body up front is sometimes all it takes to make positive plays on inside zone.

The Steelers have used a good deal of their jumbo package in recent weeks, employing massive tackle Zach Banner as an extra lineman. I’d love to see heavy doses of this road-grader personnel group Sunday night to wear down Buffalo and prevent them from making tackles in the backfield.

ISOLATE THE LINEBACKERS IN COVERAGE

Buffalo is very good in the secondary, where Tre’davious White is a budding star at corner and Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde and Levi Wallace are solid. The Steelers may be able to exploit Wallace, who has given up 63 completions on 94 targets (67.0%) and 3 touchdowns. Teams are completing less than 50% of their targets against White, however, with no touchdowns and four interceptions, while safeties Poyer and Hyde play a lot of cover-2 and have been targeted infrequently.

The position group to attack in the passing game against Buffalo is the linebackers. Edmunds has surrendered completions on 66.7% of targets in his direction while Milano is at 63.0%. 36 year-old Lorenzo Alexander isn’t on the field very often in passing situations (he’s usually subbed out in Buffalo’s nickel and dime packages) but when he is the Steelers should attack him. Alexander has surrendered 10 completions on 13 targets this season for a completion percentage of 76.9. The Steelers need to scheme to create favorable match-ups against Alexander in particular and the linebackers in general.

One way to do this is to throw high percentage passes to the backs and tight ends on early downs. While running the ball will be important, the Steelers can’t expect to make four or five yards dialing up inside zone on every first down. They can, however, put heavy sets on the field or spread Buffalo out with 11 personnel to ensure the Bills are in their base 4-3 and run swing routes, option routes, screens and play-action passes.

This would accomplish several things: one, it would get the Steelers favorable match-ups against Buffalo’s linebackers in coverage; two, it would give Duck Hodges high-percentage throws he can make that get the ball out of his hand quickly and avoid those drive-killing negative-yardage plays; and three, if effective, it may prompt Buffalo to play more nickel, in which case the Steelers have a favorable look to resume pounding the rock.

Watch how the Steelers steal nine yards on this 1st and 10 play from their November meeting with the Colts. Jaylen Samuels is split wide to the bottom of the screen in an 11 personnel empty set. Indy is in a 4-2-5 nickel with a corner lined up over Samuels and a two-high shell behind him. The Steelers run Diontae Johnson up the numbers from the left slot, which pulls both the corner and safety away from Samuels. That leaves outside linebacker Darius Leonard (53) with a lot of space to cover in the flat. Samuels hangs at the line of scrimmage as an outlet receiver and Mason Rudolph flicks him the football for an easy gain, setting up a 2nd and short that keeps the Steelers ahead of the chains.

Last week, Baltimore completed just seven throws to their wide receivers against Buffalo for a measly 19 yards. Their backs and tight ends caught 9-126, however. Dallas’s tight ends and running backs caught 15 balls for 116 yards against the Bills the week before. And Philly, who moved the ball better than anyone on Buffalo, completed 9 of their 17 passes to backs and tight ends for 101 yards. The Steelers will have a hard time getting the ball outside Sunday night but they should be able to work the RB/TE tree.

Success on offense against the Bills begins with eliminating negative-yardage plays that put the Steelers behind the chains. If I were Randy Fichtner, I’d load the game-plan with inside zone runs and a variety of quick throws that isolate linebackers in coverage. It might not be the sexiest game-plan but in a December grudge match between two great defenses, style points don’t matter. The bottom line is this - the Steelers can’t go backwards with the football. They have to give their young QB a chance by making positive yardage and staying on schedule. “Matriculating the ball down the field,” as legendary coach Hank Stram once said, will be the key to victory.

Steelers Diontae Johnson named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 12/11/2019 - 8:01am
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

His 85-yard punt return for a touchdown earned him his first NFL honors with the Steelers

Rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson was named the AFC special-teams player of the week for his 85 yard touchdown return against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15.

8️⃣5️⃣-yard punt return for a touchdown ✔️
6️⃣0️⃣ receiving yards ✔️
1️⃣ receiving touchdown ✔️@Juiceup__3 has been named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week!

MORE: https://t.co/78A09b3xAh pic.twitter.com/p1MSnjPekR

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 11, 2019

Johnson’s 85-yard return for a touchdown was his first on special teams with the Steelers. It was the first kick return for a touchdown by the Pittsburgh Steelers since week 17 of 2017 when JuJu Smith-Schuster returned a kickoff against the Cleveland Browns. Looking strictly at punt returns for a score, it was the first since Week 14 of 2015 when Antonio Brown returned a punt against the Indianapolis Colts 71 yards to the house. The last time a Pittsburgh Steelers rookie returned a punt for a touchdown was Santonio Holmes in 2006 against the Carolina Panthers.

Johnson also added a 2-yard touchdown reception later in the game. On the day, he had 60 yards on six receptions. During his rookie campaign, he now has five total touchdowns between receptions and returns.

Johnson gave a much-needed boost to the Steelers return game which has been struggling throughout 2019. The Steelers were only averaging 5.75 yards per punt return going into Week 14. After Johnson’s latest performance, the average jumped to 9.18 yards. For Johnson specifically, his average more than doubled from 6 yards to 12.7 yards thanks to his big return.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for breaking news, injury reports, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers.

PFF gives high praise for Devlin Hodges after the Steelers Week 14 win

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 12/11/2019 - 7:34am
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers were winners in Week 14, and a large reason was the play of Devlin Hodges.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were victorious in Week 14 beating the Arizona Cardinals 23-16 in the desert. There were many notable performances from the black-and-gold, and while T.J. Watt, Joe Haden and Diontae Johnson are getting plenty of publicity, and rightfully so, after their performances, not much has been said about Devlin Hodges.

Duck Hodges was efficient as efficient gets vs. the Cardinals, completing 16 of his 19 pass attempts, but he didn’t just protect the football. He was decisive with the ball and delivered several key passes down the field to keep drives going and put points on the board.

How good was Hodges? The fine folks at PFF talked about Hodges in their recap of the game. What he did well, what he still needs to work on and other players who stood out in the Steelers’ 8th win of the season.

Take a look at their thoughts:

Devlin Hodges continues to make strides on the job with his ability to evade pressure, with his quickness being a considerable advantage. The Pittsburgh coaching staff did an admirable job tailoring the offense to his abilities with quick strikes to the flat, deep shots and a major focus moving the ball on the ground. The simple fact that the Steelers are right in the middle of the playoff race this deep into the season after losing Ben Roethlisberger speaks volumes to their preparation. As for Hodges, he displayed all of his plus traits during a scramble drill late in the fourth quarter when he found Diontae Johnson on a comeback for a 17-yard gain on 3rd & 13 that paved the way for a 25-yard field goal.

Rookie Diontae Johnson and sophomore James Washington have stepped up big this season with Ben Roethlisberger out for the season and JuJu Smith-Schuster on the mend from a knee injury. While the box score doesn’t reflect the extent of his impact, Washington drew key pass interference penalties from Byron Murphy—of 15 and 24 yards, respectively—in the second half. Johnson made moves all over the field, catching a two-yard touchdown and returning a punt 85-yards for another touchdown.

T.J. Watt has had a breakout season, and he was outstanding again today. He scored pressures seemingly at will when rushing the passer, and he also notched an interception in the end zone.

Given Arizona’s emphasis on screens and short passes, tackling was critical for the Steelers today. Generally, the defense did an excellent job of getting off blocks in space to bring ball carriers down, and that prevented the Cardinals from being able to turn their short, efficient passes into big chunk plays.

The Cardinals’ defense is considered one of the worst in the NFL, and the Steelers offense didn’t really have their way with them on Sunday. Compare that to the defense Hodges and company will face in Week 15 is quite the contrast.

The Buffalo Bills, who invade Heinz Field for a Sunday Night Football showdown, will force Hodges into winning a game for the Steelers. Game managing works when you can run the football, something the Steelers have done well the past three weeks, but when you become one-dimensional can Hodges deliver the win?

Only time will tell, but it looks like PFF agrees with me when I felt the win Sunday was a huge step in the right direction for Hodges in his development.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the Bills this Sunday night in Week 15.

Mike Tomlin acknowledges the Steelers’ needed division of labor at running back

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 12/11/2019 - 6:27am
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If all five running backs on the Steelers roster are healthy for Week 15, who will called on to get the carries?

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference on Tuesday. One of the issues which was brought up was the Steelers current running back situation and the division of labor among players. With James Conner missing the last three games, the Steelers have gone with four running backs active on game day. But there is a chance Conner could return for Week 15, so where does this leave the Steelers current running back rotation?

First and foremost, Coach Tomlin is not wanting to get the cart before the horse. Before he has to manage the workload of all his running backs, James Conner must first show he is healthy and ready to get back in the mix.

Tomlin said he won't worry about workload distribution at the running back position until he's sure James Conner will return. #Steelers #dkps

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) December 10, 2019

Additionally, running back Jaylen Samuels suffered a groin injury against the Cardinals which was being evaluated on Tuesday. If Samuels is unable to take the field against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night, it would also be another factor into the decision.

Jaylen Samuels has a groin injury suffered in game being evaluated, Vance McDonald is in the concussion protocol.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) December 10, 2019

Surprisingly absent from Tomlinson answers at the press conference was much discussion on the production and workload of rookie Benny Snell Jr. Coach Tomlin did briefly talk about the development of Snell over the last month and his ability to show “feature runner-like characteristics.”

Instead, Coach Tomlin was asked extensively about newly acquired running back Kerrith Whyte Jr. and the splash plays he has brought to the Steelers in his short time with the team.

Tomlin on Kerrith Whyte: "We're still getting to know him, and he’s getting to know himself. It’s not like he has prior NFL experience prior to getting here."

Says he also expects to see rapid improvement as he gets more NFL experience.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) December 10, 2019

Another issue not addressed in the press conference was the Steelers use of Trey Edmunds at fullback when they decided to go with such a formation. In Week 14, Edmunds only saw the field on three offense of plays. He did not have a carry but did have one reception for 7 yards.

If looking strictly a Week 14, the division of snaps versus the division of carries has some discrepancy. Jaylen Samuels took 47% of the Steelers snaps on offense but only carried the ball seven times and had two receptions. Benny Snell Jr. played 40% of the offensive snaps but had the overwhelming majority of carries with 16. As for Whyte, he had five carries and one reception during his eight snaps on offense.

If James Connor is able to return this Sunday, it will be interesting to see how the Steelers use the various running backs in their division of labor. If all five are healthy, will they all dress? If not, then who will sit? Or will injuries dictate which player is held out of the game?

One thing is for sure, the Steelers are in much better shape as it comes to figuring out how to use their platoon a running backs. The last thing the Steelers need is a repeat of 2014 when the they had to sign a Ben Tate off the street to start a playoff game. With five running backs on the active roster along with Ralph Webb on the practice squad, they Steelers have given themselves options in the backfield should a player or two not be available on Sunday.

Podcast: For the Steelers offense, success starts at the very beginning

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 12/11/2019 - 5:26am

In the latest BTSC podcast, our Steelers ‘Stat Geek’ breaks down the numbers surrounding the black-and-gold.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is underway, and the news is just 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 podcast The Steelers Stat Geek. On this show deputy editor Dave Schofield breaks down all things Steelers stats, and also answers questions from fans!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Injury Update after the Cardinals game
  • Look ahead to Week 15 vs. the Bills
  • Steelers Q&A

Dave walks 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 are winning, but bad coaching decisions cast a cloud over the success

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 12/11/2019 - 4:33am
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers are moving into Week 15 of the NFL regular season, and as the team prepares for the Buffalo Bills 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 are winning, but some questionable coaching decisions have cast a cloud over their recent success.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers are red-hot, but are some coaching decisions having fans question the future path of the team?

Mark Madden: Curious coaching decisions part of Steelers latest victory over Cardinals

By: Mark Madden, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Punch ‘em in the beak, and put it on my bill! The Duck dynasty is upon us, and we’re quacking up! Hey, sports editor: Post these refreshing sports notes on the web. Beak, bill, quack, web, GET IT? I might be mallard-justed. Duck, you suckers!

• Never mind that Jordan Berry didn’t know the fake punt had been taken off. It never should have been put on in the first place. When you’re up 10 in the fourth quarter and it’s fourth and 6 at your 40, there should be no options. The only coaching instruction necessary: “DON’T RUN A FAKE PUNT NO MATTER WHAT!”

• Another moronic coaching decision: It’s second and goal at Arizona’s 12 with just under two minutes left. Duck Hodges throws incomplete on a bubble screen. The clock stops. Arizona doesn’t have to burn its final timeout. Run the ball. Keep the clock moving. Mike Tomlin just about had me convinced he was Coach of the Year, too.

• Hodges deserves credit for doing the bare minimum very effectively. But he’s definitely doing the bare minimum. Arizona is allowing an NFL-worst 294.2 passing yards per game. Hodges threw for just 152 yards Sunday. But Hodges has a knack for a decent-sized play at an important time, and his arm is a bit stronger than advertised.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Devlin Hodges keeps knocking off some big-name, high pedigree, quarterbacks.

Steelers’ Devlin Hodges outshines heralded 2019 NFL rookie QBs

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The NFL’s official draft page included 21 quarterback prospects in advance of this past spring’s draft.

Devlin Hodges was not on the list.

With good reason, it turned out, as only 11 of the 21 tracked by the league’s official news outlet ended up being drafted.

Included were four from outside “major” college football (the NCAA’s FBS subdivision) — and one of those four (North Dakota State’s Easton Stick) was selected.

Not drafted — and not even thought highly enough to monitor — was a four-year starter from Samford in suburban Birmingham, Ala., named Devlin Hodges.

As the year’s end draws near, none has led his team to more wins than Hodges.

Given a $1,000 signing bonus after going undrafted and not even signed as an undrafted free agent — he would make the 90-man offseason roster as a tryout — Hodges has directed the Pittsburgh Steelers to wins in each of his past four appearances. Only Gardner Minshew matches those four wins among all quarterbacks in this rookie class.

Hodges is 3-0 as a starter, and he led a comeback win off the bench in the second half of the Nov. 24 win at Cincinnati.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

“Outside the box” coaching hire isn’t out of the question in Carolina

By: Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk

Panthers owner David Tepper’s first significant imprint on the team could be an intriguing one.

Per a source with knowledge of the team’s plan, an “outside the box” coaching hire isn’t out of the question in Carolina. While that’s a broad statement that seemingly would encompass any hiring beyond the conventional universe of candidates ( offensive/defensive coordinator with no head-coaching experience, former NFL head coach, college head coach), the acknowledgement of an outside-the-box move came in direct response to the question of whether the Panthers would pursue a coach who currently serves as the head coach of another team.

Under league rules, that’s permissible. The formal procedure entails the team contacting the coach’s current team, expressing an interest in hiring him, and engaging in negotiations regarding compensation (if, of course, the coach’s current team doesn’t hang up the phone). If an agreement on compensation is reached, the team hoping to hire the coach then may discuss the subject directly with him.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Mike Tomlin Press Conference

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media ahead of our game against the Bills. https://t.co/TM0ShpFHJD

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 10, 2019
  • Social Media Madness

Jumpman @joehaden23 + #ProBowlVote pic.twitter.com/QLUZsCyeMK

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 10, 2019

https://t.co/4i2x8PS06v

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 10, 2019

Hear from T.J. Watt, Jordan Berry, Benny Snell Jr., Joe Haden, Cameron Heyward and Bud Dupree following our 23-17 win over the Cardinals.@HeinzKetchup_US pic.twitter.com/DUDl6v0GQd

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 9, 2019

Steelers announce they will wear their Color Rush uniforms vs. the Bills in Week 15

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/10/2019 - 5:16pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t lost wearing their Color Rush uniforms, a streak they hope continues vs. the Bills in Week 15.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are making this a habit.

An approaching Week 15 game where the team decides to wear their Nike Color Rush uniforms for the second time that season. Last year the team decided to wear their alternative uniforms vs. the Patriots in Week 15, a game they won, and this year they have made the decisions again with the Buffalo Bills looming on Sunday Night Football.

Back again!

We will wear our Color Rush uniforms on Sunday versus the Bills.

MORE: https://t.co/oyLuJxvwyF pic.twitter.com/1fF4L29mC4

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 10, 2019

The Steelers have never lost a game in these uniforms, and are hoping this streak continues at Heinz Field this Sunday night. Earlier this year the Steelers donned the all black jerseys in a win over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football.

Can the luck of the Color Rush uniforms continue? That has yet to be seen, but the Steelers fan base certainly was in favor of bringing back the alternate uniforms when I asked the question on the BTSC Twitter feed yesterday:

RT this if you think the #Steelers should wear their COLOR RUSH uniforms on Sunday Night vs the Bills... pic.twitter.com/yte0RL7ty2

— BTSC Steelers (@btsteelcurtain) December 9, 2019

The Steelers, 8-5, will host the Bills, 9-4, in a critical game when it comes to the AFC Playoff Picture. A win over Buffalo Sunday will catapult the Steelers ahead of them to the 5th spot in the playoff standings. However, a loss would be a crippling blow to the Steelers’ overall playoff hopes, making them start to rely on outside help to make the postseason dance.

Either way, Heinz Field will be rocking on Sunday night with the uniforms and the fans realizing how close their favorite team is to tasting those sweet playoffs once again. Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for Sunday Night Football in Week 15.

Pittsburgh Steelers Burning Questions: Vance McDonald Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/10/2019 - 2:35pm
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers tight end situation has us asking some burning questions towards the end of the regular season.

There has been some early talk among Steelers’ Nation on what the Steelers can do to retain the services of Bud Dupree who is set to become a Free Agent after the 2019 season. The issue at hand is always money and, for the most part, the lack of it especially based on past production. I fully expect the Steelers to use the franchise tag on Dupree in 2020 in order to continue talks, but the price won’t be cheap.

Like I said, discussions have been made among some of the BTSC faithful on how to free up some cap space in order to at least have a chance to lock up Dupree for the next few seasons. One name has been bounced around for a year or so, mostly due to his injury history. His cap number isn’t that high, but considering his production and the time missed on the field, the 4.1+ million in cap savings would help in keeping the dynamic and devastating edge rushers paired together. And they are devastating.

I like Vance and feel bad for him, but is it time to move on from the often injured tight end?

Is Vance McDonald easily replaceable in either free agency or the NFL Draft?

Do the Steelers have a glaring need at the position even with McDonald, as Nick Vannett will be a free agent in 2020 and Zach Gentry has seen limited playing time?

Would it cost the Steelers more to replace McDonald than to keep him?

As always, Go Steelers!!!!

Steelers Think Tank: If the Steelers miss the playoffs, how would you view the 2019 campaign?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/10/2019 - 1:46pm
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers have had a resurgence few have experienced, but what if they fall short of their ultimate goal?

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 the outcome of the 2019 regular season. Let’s be honest, when the Steelers started the season 0-3, and 1-4, it became obvious expectations changed.

Fans were worried about not having a first round draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft after trading that pick to the Miami Dolphins for Minkah Fitzpatrick. Playoffs weren’t even discussed, but merely being able to win a few games without Ben Roethlisberger was the common topic of conversation.

Yet, here we are. Staring at a Steelers team who has won 7 of their last 8 games, is 8-5 and on the verge of making the AFC Playoffs as a Wild Card team. Yeah, no one saw this coming.

This season has had some magic to it. The Fitzpatrick trade, the coming out party for players like James Washington and Diontae Johnson, Mason Rudolph giving way to Devlin Hodges and the Duck Dynasty. A defense who has been so opportunistic you can almost feel when a takeaway is coming.

All of it has been intriguing, to say the least. But what if this magical season ends without the fairy tale ending? What if the Steelers stumble down the stretch and don’t make the playoffs? Would it change your view of the season?

We’ll come back to that. Let’s take a look at the final three games for the Steelers:

vs. the Buffalo Bills (SNF)
at the New York Jets
at the Baltimore Ravens

Not an easy stretch of games, but if the Steelers can win two of those three it seems as if they have a legitimate shot of punching their ticket to the postseason dance.

It is easy to get caught up in all the playoff hype, but it is a worthwhile practice to think back to your feelings when the team was 1-4, coming off an overtime loss to the Ravens at Heinz Field, and thinking all was lost.

But all is not lost, at least not now. This season has gone from dreadful to magical, and it has been a joy to watch. If the Steelers’ magic runs out, will it change your view of the season? Can we really play the result like that and forget about the wild and crazy journey this team has taken to get to this point?

This is a tough question to answer, but is the main topic of discussion for this week’s ‘Think Tank’ article. Let us know what you think about this topic in the comment section below!

Steelers hopeful to get JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner back in Week 15

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/10/2019 - 12:28pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers could use an offensive boost, and it might come in Week 15.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense is in need of playmakers. This isn’t to suggest the offensive unit the team has deployed the last three weeks hasn’t been good enough, but getting starters back from injury would be huge heading into the Week 15 game vs. the Buffalo Bills on Sunday Night Football at Heinz Field.

During Mike Tomlin’s weekly press conference he, as he always does, outlined the injury situation heading into the huge prime time game vs. Buffalo. And no injuries were more noteworthy than the injuries to JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and James Conner (shoulder)

While Tomlin was vague, at best, with his information regarding the Pro Bowl tandem, he did say both third year players are expected to participate in practice this week. Both players have been in and around practice the past few weeks, with Smith-Schuster just running in a straight line for the first time prior to the team’s Week 14 game vs. the Arizona Cardinals.

Tomlin added how the duo is not just expected to practice, but sooner rather than later. In other words, he wants to see them practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with no setbacks before he can give either of the offensive players the green light to participate vs. the Bills.

Those weren’t the only injuries mentioned by Tomlin during his media session, there were two in-game injuries of note. Tight end Vance McDonald left the Cardinals game with a concussion, and is officially in the NFL’s concussion protocol. If McDonald can practice on Wednesday, in any capacity, it is a good sign for him to return sooner than later, barring a setback.

The other injury was a groin injury to running back Jaylen Samuels. At the time of the press conference Tomlin didn’t have much information on the status of Samuels, other than he was being evaluated for the injury.

Keep an eye on the injury report, the first report will be Wednesday, and see if some of these key players are limited, full participants or miss practice altogether. We will have all that information for you right here at BTSC, as well as any other news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the huge game Sunday night.

Mike Tomlin’s Press Conference

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media ahead of our game against the Bills. https://t.co/TM0ShpFHJD

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 10, 2019

NFL Power Rankings: Another win, and the Steelers still can’t crack the Top 10

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/10/2019 - 11:10am
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are on the verge of the Top 10 in almost every Power Ranking heading into Week 15.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now 8-5 after Week 14 of the 2019 regular season, but how they got to this record has been a roller coaster ride. After an 0-3 start, the team was finally able to beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football in Week 4 to move their record to 1-3.

How did they follow up that prime time win? With a gut-wrenching overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field in Week 5. In typical fashion, with their backs against the wall the Steelers gutted out a big win on Sunday Night Football over the Los Angeles Chargers before heading into their Week 7 bye week.

Coming off the bye the Steelers continued their winning ways with a 27-14 win over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football, and before you knew it they had won three in a row while beating the Indianapolis Colts 26-24 in Week 9. That three game streak turned into a four game streak after they beat the Los Angeles Rams at home 17-12 in Week 10. The good feeling Pittsburgh was experiencing was short-lived when the Cleveland Browns smacked them around 21-7 on Thursday Night Football in Week 11.

In Week 12 the team turned it around, albeit behind Devlin Hodges, as the team traveled to Paul Brown Stadium and beat the Bengals 16-10 to get above that .500 mark once again. With ‘Duck’ at the helm, they got revenge against the Browns in a 20-13 win over the Browns at Heinz Field. The Duck Dynasty continued in Week 14 when the Steelers traveled to Arizona to beat the Cardinals 23-17.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, it is that time of week where we check in on what other outlets are saying about the black-and-gold in those weekly Power Ranking articles. We all realize these rankings are completely meaningless, but they are great for discussion. Not just where the Steelers are ranked, but who made the Top 5 who should have, or shouldn’t have?

Check out the Power Rankings below, and be sure to let us know your thoughts on the rankings in the comment section below!

ESPN

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. New Orleans Saints
4. Kansas City Chiefs
5. New England Patriots
6. Seattle Seahawks
7. Green Bay Packers
8. Minnesota Vikings
9. Los Angeles Rams
10. Buffalo Bills
...
13. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Nearly nothing about the offense has gone right, much of it is due to a perfect storm of injuries and disappointing free-agent signings. Donte Moncrief wasn’t what the Steelers needed him to be to help JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Ben Roethlisberger’s injury started a negative domino effect early. The defense was expected to be a strength, but its No. 3 ranking is significantly boosted by the acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick. With the offense near the bottom of the league, the Steelers could’ve used bigger special-teams plays earlier in the season, but Diontae Johnson’s emergence could help that ranking in the final month. -- Brooke Pryor”

CBS Sports

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Green Bay Packers
4. Kansas City Chiefs
5. Seattle Seahawks
6. New England Patriots
7. New Orleans Saints
8. Minnesota Vikings
9. Buffalo Bills
10. Tennessee Titans
...
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
“They are now 3-0 with Devlin Hodges at quarterback. They have the look of a playoff team and face a playoff-like game with the Bills this week.”

NFL.com

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Seattle Seahawks
4. New Orleans Saints
5. Kansas City Chiefs
6. New England Patriots
7. Green Bay Packers
8. Minnesota Vikings
9. Tennessee Titans
10. Houston Texans
...
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Another week, another win for the Steelers, who have put themselves in prime playoff position with three weeks to play. More than likely, it will come down to Pittsburgh and the AFC South runner-up for the final wild-card spot. You feel good about the Steelers’ chances for two reasons: 1) As we saw again in Sunday’s 23-17 win over the Cardinals, the Steelers have an aggressive, ball-hawking defense that consistently makes game-changing plays; and 2) Devlin “Duck” Hodges continues to show us he is capable of piloting an offense that can score enough points to carry the day. Hodges threw just three incompletions and finished with a passer rating of 117.5, delighting the thousands of Steelers fans who invaded State Farm Stadium. Hodges makes smart decisions and doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s been the opposite of Mason Rudolph ... and it probably saved Pittsburgh’s season.”

Washington Post

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. New Orleans Saints
4. Seattle Seahawks
5. Kansas City Chiefs
6. New England Patriots
7. Green Bay Packers
8. Minnesota Vikings
9. Tennessee Titans
10. Buffalo Bills
...
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Mike Tomlin has done a fantastic coaching job. He has the Steelers in the thick of the playoff chase with Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph splitting the QB duties. That’s not easy to do.”

Sporting News

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Green Bay Packers
4. New Orleans Saints
5. Seattle Seahawks
6. Kansas City Chiefs
7. New England Patriots
8. Minnesota Vikings
9. Buffalo Bills
10. Tennessee Titans
...
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
“The Steelers are on a remarkable run after starting 0-4 given they’re missing Ben Roethlisberger, James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Rookie Devlin Hodges was the right choice to handle their offense, as he’s fearless in getting the ball to their young receivers. That has allowed their defense to be more aggressive.”

Sports Illustrated

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Kansas City Chiefs
3. New Orleans Saints
5. New England Patriots
5. Seattle Seahawks
7. Green Bay Packers
8. Minnesota Vikings
9. Buffalo Bills
10. Los Angeles Rams
...
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
“This team is 8-5? Kudos to Mike Tomlin for milking enough out of a dodgy, injured offense to support a postseason-caliber defense. And of course, a nod to Devlin Hodges, who played the modest but turnover-free football (16-of-19, 152 yards, TD, 117.5 rating) asked of him by his coach.”

NFL Week 15 Betting Preview: Steelers currently a 2-point home favorite vs. the Bills

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/10/2019 - 9:48am
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers are slight favorites playing under the lights at Heinz Field

Don’t look now, but other than the Baltimore Ravens there are and no other teams in the NFL with as many wins over the last eight games than the Pittsburgh Steelers. With a win in Week 15, the Steelers can move up one spot in the standings as they would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Buffalo Bills. But first things first, the Steelers have to take care of business against Buffalo Sunday night in Pittsburgh.

When it comes to games in Pittsburgh against the Buffalo Bills, the Steelers are 10-2 all time while no contest was very close. In fact, the closest game between the Steelers and Bills in Pittsburgh was a nine-point loss in 1975.

When it comes to the betting lines for Sunday’s game, the following information is the current consensus spread and over/under for the Steelers this week as reported by oddsshark.com.

Game Info: Week 15 Pittsburgh Steelers vs Buffalo Bills Sunday, December 15, 2019 at 8:20 PM

Betting line: -2

Over/under: 36.5

Last Regular Season Meeting: Steelers (W) 27-20 vs Bills

Win streak: 6 games PIT

Last 3 Meetings: PIT 3 - 0 BUF

Last 10 Meetings: PIT 9 - 1 BUF

The opening line on the game was at -7 when the schedule was released in April. Of course the Steelers have seen a lot of changes since then, but the Bills have been one of the more surprising teams in 2019. Sitting at 9-4, Buffalo is still in the mix to win the AFC East.

Being favored on Sunday, the Steelers have a current moneyline of -135 to win the game straight up, which is the equivalent of 20/27 odds. So a $20 bet placed on the Steelers over the Bills would have a payout of $34.81 ($14.81 plus the original $20 bet). The Bills have a current moneyline of +115, or 23/20 odds. Therefore the same $20 bet placed on Buffalo to win straight up would have a payout of $43 ($23 pus the original $20 bet) .

According to Oddsshark.com, the Steelers are 7-1 straight up in their last 8 games and the total has gone UNDER in their last 5 games. The Steelers also have gone UNDER in 8 of their last 12 games against the Bills and are 6-0 against the spread in their last 6 home games against Buffalo.

If looking at the futures bets, the Steelers odds to win the Super Bowl vary from 50/1 to 75/1. They also have varying odds to win the AFC Championship from 30/1 odds to 40/1. As for winning the AFC North, the Steelers are at 20/1 odds and they are projected to place second the AFC North. Baltimore has the best odds to win the division at 1/50 while Cincinnati and Cleveland have been eliminated from the AFC North race.

Playoff scenarios for the Pittsburgh Steelers entering Week 15

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/10/2019 - 8:45am
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Currently in the 6th seed, the Steelers could move one spot in either direction after the weekend

With only three weeks remaining in the NFL season, the exact way things can play out for teams in playoff contention becomes more clear. While factors such as strength of victory and conference record can still change from week to week, looking at specific matchups for the upcoming slate of games can help in determining what the Pittsburgh Steelers need to do to maintain, or improve, their playoff position.

Here is a rundown of the Steelers current standing in both the AFC North and the American Football Conference as a whole:

AFC North Standings

1. Baltimore Ravens 11-2
2. Pittsburgh Steelers 8-5
3. Cleveland Browns 6-7*
4. Cincinnati Bengals 1-12*

*eliminated from division race

The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently the only other team still alive in the AFC North division. Although things would have to align perfectly for Pittsburgh, the Baltimore Ravens can win the division with either one more victory or one loss by the Steelers. If the Ravens were to lose their final three games while the Steelers were victorious in all three, the Steelers would hold the tiebreaker of better divisional record.

AFC Playoff Standings

1. Baltimore Ravens-x 11-2
2. New England Patriots 10-3
3. Kansas City Chiefs-y 9-4
4. Houston Texans 8-5
————————————————-
5. Buffalo Bills 9-4
6. Pittsburgh Steelers 8-5

7. Tennessee Titans 8-5
8. Cleveland Browns 6-7
9. Oakland Raiders 6-7
10. Indianapolis Colts 6-7

x- clinched playoff berth y- clinched division

Pittsburgh Steelers are currently in the six seed in the AFC playoff picture as they are tied with the Tennessee Titans in record but hold the tiebreaker of a better conference record.

Moving up

In Week 15, if the Pittsburgh Steelers can defeat the Buffalo Bills they will move up into the fifth seed for the playoffs. The Steelers win coupled with the Bills loss will give them identical records in 2019. With the Steelers owning the first tiebreaker of head-to-head matchup, they would be ahead of the Bills in any scenario which involves only the two teams being in a tie. Should a third team enter the mix down the road, the head-to-head tiebreaker would not apply and conference record would come into play.

Moving down

Should the Steelers not be victorious in Week 15, they can either hold pat at the sixth position or fall to the seventh position based solely on the results of one game. With the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans tied at 8-5 in the AFC South, the winner of their matchup will hold the fourth seed at 9-5 while the loser will drop to 8-6.

Since the Steelers did not play either the Titans or Texans in 2019, the first tiebreaker will be conference record. The Steelers have played one less AFC opponent so far in 2019 than both the Titans and the Texans as they each have a matchup against an NFC South team in Week 16. As for Week 17, the Texans and Titans will face off for the second time with this matchup coming in Houston.

Through 13 games, the Steelers have a conference record of 6-3, which is slightly ahead the Tennessee Titans at 6-4. The Houston Texans have a conference record of 7-3. Should the Steelers come up short in Week 15, they would hold the six seed if the Texans defeat the Titans. But if Tennessee takes down Houston, the Steelers would fall to the seventh seed as Houston has a better conference record.

Looking Ahead

When it comes to simply making the playoffs, the Steelers main competition will be whichever team places second in the AFC South. Right now the two front runners are the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans as they are both 8-5. With both of their games remaining against each other, either one team is guaranteed to lose two games or each team will lose at least one game. The very best record the second-place finisher in the AFC South could have is 10-6 with an 8–4 conference record. The Steelers would be able to match this scenario with a victory in two of their final three games. When it comes to the tiebreakers of conference record and common opponents, the Houston Texans currently sit better than the Tennessee Titans, therefore it would be a better benefit to the Steelers for the Texans to win the division.

NFL Tiebreakers

If two teams are tied for the wildcard and they are not in the same division, the following tiebreakers will be applied in this order:

1. Head-to-head, if applicable.
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
4. Strength of victory.
5. Strength of schedule.
6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best net points in conference games.
9. Best net points in all games.
10. Best net touchdowns in all games.
11. Coin toss.

While head-to-head, conference record, and record against common opponents can be easily calculated, strength of victory is dependent on many different outcomes each week. With so many games going one way or the other, it is useless to determine strength of victory and beyond until heading into Week 17.

Steelers score another one for ‘Team’ with 23-17 victory over the Cardinals Sunday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/10/2019 - 7:34am
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Score another one for Team, as the Steelers defeat the Cardinals, 23-17, on Sunday.

In many ways, the Steelers 23-17 victory over the Cardinals in Arizona on Sunday was like so many others this season.

After completing 16 of 19 passes for 152 yards and a two-yard touchdown pass in-which he displayed great accuracy and arm strength while finding rookie receiver Diontae Johnson in the front left corner of the end zone, Devlin Hodges, the undrafted free agent rookie quarterback from Samford, may not have you wishing for the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger anytime soon, but you sure had to be impressed with his poise and, more importantly, his continued improvement in just his third start.

As for Johnson, who caught six passes for 60 yards, along with another 16 yards on a run, that touchdown cemented Sunday as his finest as a professional. You see, he began to write the first chapter in that story in the first quarter with an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown that gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead.

After the Steelers quickly stymied Arizona’s offense on its next possession, Sunday’s game had all the makings of a blowout win in front of some rowdy black and gold faithful who had State Farm Stadium looking and sounding like Heinz Field.

But these Steelers, who came into Sunday with tiebreaker possession of the sixth seed in the AFC, they sometimes have a hard time accepting prosperity. Maybe it’s because so many are so young and inexperienced.

Those words can certainly be used to describe rookie running back Benny Snell Jr., who quickly gave the Cardinals some life with a fumble that they recovered at the Pittsburgh 34.

They say dominant defense travels well, which was a good thing for the Steelers (even if it did feel like a home game). Pittsburgh held strong and limited the Cardinals to three points.

Unfortunately, the Cardinals’ following possession was of the uptempo variety, and Pittsburgh’s defense seemed to wilt on a 12-play, 85-yard touchdown drive.

Fast-forward to the Cardinals first drive of the second half, one that appeared to be snuffed out by safety Terrell Edmunds, who tackled rookie quarterback Kyler Murray for a seven-yard loss on third and two.

But just when it looked like Pittsburgh would have a chance to build on the 13-10 lead it took into halftime thanks to Chris Boswell’s field goal at the gun, the Cardinals ran a successful fake punt to maintain possession.

Fortunately, just when it looked like Pittsburgh’s slim lead was in jeopardy, godsend veteran cornerback Joe Haden undercut a Murray pass and intercepted it at the Pittsburgh 26.

Fast-forward again, this time to the final period, with the Steelers ahead, 20-10. Pittsburgh’s defense seemed to deny the Cardinals their last, best chance to get back into the football game, thanks to an end zone interception by linebacker T.J. Watt on fourth and two.

Pittsburgh’s offense picked up a first down on the ensuing drive and managed to milk a few minutes off the game clock before having to punt the football away at its own 40 with a little over eight minutes remaining. Unfortunately, Jordan Berry attempted a fake punt on fourth and six that either was or wasn’t called off by head coach Mike Tomlin. The fake was not only unsuccessful, the Cardinals secured the football at the 32.

Of all the “stunned disbelief” moments I can think of in the recent past, the decision to even consider a fake punt in that situation has to rank at the top of the list.

Unlike after Snell’s gaffe, the defense couldn’t bail out Berry and/or Tomlin for such an egregious self-inflicted wound, and the Cardinals made it 20-17 on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Murray to running back David Johnson.

There was still 6:44 remaining in the game, and what once looked like a blowout win in-front of an away stadium full of “home” fans, now had the makings of another one of those ugly road losses vs. an inferior opponent that have become as much a part of Tomlin’s legacy as all of the positive things he’s accomplished.

And that fake punt, how would the head coach ever live that down if it paved the way for a crippling loss?

But these 2019 Steelers, while unable to fully accept prosperity, are unwavering in their resiliency.

To quote their head coach, they just don’t blink.

The offense didn’t blink during an 11-play, 77-yard field goal drive that took 5:02 off the clock and left the Cardinals with zero timeouts and less than two minutes to march the ball downfield to score the game-winning touchdown.

The Cardinals offense didn’t stand a chance, not against this defense that put the finishing touchdowns on an eighth victory, thanks to Haden’s second interception of the day.

These 2019 Steelers are now 8-5. These 2019 Steelers are now 8-3 without Roethlisberger. These 2019 Steelers are now 7-1 since October 13.

They not only maintain tiebreaker possession of the sixth seed, they’re now one game closer to Buffalo for the fifth seed.

The Bills are coming to town for a huge showdown next Sunday evening.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in that game, but this young and inexperienced team, the one that can’t fully accept prosperity, even if it is forever unwavering in its ability to not blink, will give you another resilient and memorable performance.

Score another one for Team.

AFC North Recap: Steelers refuse to go away in the division, and playoff race

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/10/2019 - 6:31am
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After a Week 14 win, and the Ravens continuing to win, the Steelers’ path to the postseason will be as a Wild Card team.

The fourteenth week of NFL football is behind us, and it was quite the week in the AFC North division. With that said, it is time to see how the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns all did in the week that was.

Time to take a look...

Cleveland Browns - 27
Cincinnati Bengals - 19

The Browns are still clinging onto playoff hopes, but a lot would need to go down for them to even be considered in the AFC Playoff Picture. Although the Browns won, you can see the writing on the wall for some major dysfunction within the Browns’ locker room. Baker Mayfield calling out the team’s medical staff, Odell Beckham Jr. injured and not happy in Cleveland. Is Freddie Kitchens a one-and-done? I would bet he is...

Baltimore Ravens - 24
Buffalo Bills - 17

I watched a good bit of this game Sunday, and the first half was ugly on both sides. It was a defensive battle, but you could just see Lamar Jackson wear down the Bills’ defense. Josh Allen was good, but wildly inconsistent. The Ravens lock up a playoff spot, and the Bills could be the 6 seed if they lose to the Steelers at Heinz Field in Week 15.

Pittsburgh Steelers - 23
Arizona Cardinals - 17

It wasn’t pretty, but if you look at it in its entirety this game could have been a blowout if not for two mistakes. The Benny Snell Jr. fumble, and the botched fake punt by Jordan Berry and company. If those two plays don’t occur, the Cardinals likely don’t score 17 points, and the Steelers would have walked out of State Farm Stadium with a smoother win. Nonetheless, the mistakes were made and the Steelers will won. Win and correct.

AFC North Standings

Baltimore Ravens - 11-2
Pittsburgh Steelers - 8-5
Cleveland Browns - 6-7
Cincinnati Bengals - 1-12

Week 15 AFC North Schedule:

Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Jets — TNF
New England Patriots at Cincinnati Bengals — 1:00 p.m. ET
Cleveland Browns at Arizona Cardinals — 4:05 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Buffalo Bills — SNF

A look ahead...

Next three opponents for all AFC North teams:

Baltimore Ravens: vs. Jets, at Browns, vs. Steelers
Cleveland Browns: at Cardinals. vs. Ravens, at Bengals
Pittsburgh Steelers: vs. Bills, at Jets, at Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals: vs. Patriots, at Dolphins, vs. Browns

Podcast: At 8-5, Are the Steelers still playing with “House Money”?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/10/2019 - 5:24am

Bryan and Tony for the fallout and celebration after a Week 14 victory for the Steelers over Arizona in the latest of the ‘Steelers Hangover’.

The Steelers played a smart game on both sides of the ball against Arizona in Week 14. After starting out at 1-4, the Steelers had nothing to lose. Now, on the cusp of a playoff berth it seems that the team is doing what’s expected now. Join BTSC as they share their thoughts on the overall landscape of the Steelers big victory. It’s the extravaganza known as “Steelers Hangover”.

In case you are new to the show, you can check out a complete rundown of the show below:

  • Rehashing the Pittsburgh Steelers eighth win of the season
  • Valedictorian
  • Injuries
  • Are the Steelers still, at 8-5, playing with “house money”?
  • Live chat Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

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

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

Black and Gold Links: Joe Haden finally living up to his contract status

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/10/2019 - 4:26am
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers are moving into Week 15 of the NFL regular season, and as the team prepares for the Buffalo Bills 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 how Joe Haden, who was given a hefty new contract to start 2019, is finally living up to that monster deal.

Let’s get to the news:

  • When the Steelers acquired Joe Haden they were thinking they received a ball-hawking cornerback who could transform the team’s secondary. It may have taken some time, but Haden is turning into that player at the best time for the black-and-gold.

Joe Haden brings splash, takeaways to Steelers defense in win against Cardinals

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The game summary will show that Joe Haden had two interceptions in the second half Sunday, the latter sealing the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 23-17 victory against the Arizona Cardinals.

What it doesn’t show is the planning and preparation that went into the 30-year-old cornerback making those game-changing plays. Specifically, the film study that took place three days earlier and provided the impetus for Haden’s first multi-pick game in three seasons with the Steelers.

Ask defensive captain Cameron Heyward and he’ll tell you that Haden’s work in a post-practice meeting Thursday afternoon was as equally important as what transpired over the final 30 minutes at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

“It’s not odd that Joe is in the right place,” Heyward said after the Steelers intercepted Cardinals rookie Kyler Murray three times in the second half to win for the seventh time in the past eight games. “I’ve seen him prepare throughout the week.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Could the Steelers catch a break due to the Ravens’ success??

Steelers may catch a break if Ravens rest starters in Week 17

By: Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk

The Steelers are currently the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture, and they’re right on the playoff bubble: Win at least two of their remaining three games and they’re in. Lose two and they’re probably out. Given that two of their final three opponents — the Bills and Ravens — have better records than the Steelers, it doesn’t look like an easy path to the postseason.

But Pittsburgh may catch a big break when it heads to Baltimore in Week 17.

That’s because the Ravens now have an excellent chance of clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs before Week 17. If that’s what happens, the Ravens would likely sit Lamar Jackson and other key players in the final game of the season, giving the Steelers a much easier path to the playoffs.

The Ravens get the Jets and Browns in their next two games, so it’s likely that they’ll win both games and have home-field advantage wrapped up before Week 17.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

JuJu Smith-Schuster eyeing a return next week

By: Darin Gantt

The Steelers have been rolling along all season without key parts, but could be getting a major one back soon.

Via Adam Schefter of ESPN, Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster “is eyeing a return” for next Sunday’s game against the Bills.

Smith-Schuster has missed the last three games with a knee injury.

The Steelers have won three straight in his absence — with the Duck taking wing — but would clearly like to have him back.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

Hear from T.J. Watt, Jordan Berry, Benny Snell Jr., Joe Haden, Cameron Heyward and Bud Dupree following our 23-17 win over the Cardinals.@HeinzKetchup_US pic.twitter.com/DUDl6v0GQd

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 9, 2019

LET'S GO‼️#VictoryMonday pic.twitter.com/lD7itUYRl2

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 9, 2019

Mood when it's OFFICIALLY #VictoryMonday‼️ pic.twitter.com/nfN6hs9sK5

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 9, 2019

Did you catch @Juiceup__3's 85-yard touchdown?

If so, share it with #SteelersNation using #HereWeGo and we may share your video! https://t.co/48dmRw8HPx

— SteelersNationUnite (@SteelersUnite) December 8, 2019

.@Juiceup__3 speaks with @missi_matthews about the win over the Cardinals, both of his touchdowns, Devlin Hodges, #SteelersNation and more. pic.twitter.com/s0Tb7mmRgQ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 9, 2019

Post-Game Sound: Hear from Steelers coaches and players after their Week 14 win over the Cardinals

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 12/09/2019 - 2:30pm
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers were winners in Week 14 of the NFL regular season. Take a look and listen to what was said after the game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were winners in the thirteenth game of the 2019 regular season after a 23-13 win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14.

After the game, there was plenty of video/audio to take in from inside the locker room and down at field level. Here at BTSC we try to gather as much information as possible for those fans who might not be on social media and see this on a weekly basis.

Therefore, in the post-game sound article you will hear from head coach Mike Tomlin, and a myriad of other players as the Steelers official Twitter account goes around the room to hear from all who participated on Friday night.

Enjoy the content and be sure to stay with BTSC for all things black-and-gold as they now turn their attention away from their third win, and get to focus on playing the Buffalo Bills in Week 15...but first, the post-game sound:

Around the Locker Room

Hear from T.J. Watt, Jordan Berry, Benny Snell Jr., Joe Haden, Cameron Heyward and Bud Dupree following our 23-17 win over the Cardinals.@HeinzKetchup_US pic.twitter.com/DUDl6v0GQd

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 9, 2019

Diontae Johnson On-Field Interview

.@Juiceup__3 speaks with @missi_matthews about the win over the Cardinals, both of his touchdowns, Devlin Hodges, #SteelersNation and more. pic.twitter.com/s0Tb7mmRgQ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 9, 2019

Devlin Hodges Post-Game Press Conference

#LIVE: Devlin Hodges addresses the media following our win over Arizona.@budlight https://t.co/IkPE79ukzv

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 9, 2019

Mike Tomlin Post-Game Press Conference

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media following our game against the Cardinals.@budlight https://t.co/qm0Z3DHprV

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 9, 2019

JuJu Smith-Schuster’s absence may be a blessing in disguise for the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 12/09/2019 - 1:30pm
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

During Smith-Schuster’s injury, other young wide receivers have answered the call

It’s rarely ever something a team would hope for when a Pro Bowl player misses multiple games. As much as I wanted to say “never,” I’m sure someone could come up with an example where it could benefit a team - but I sure can’t.

Not having some of your best talent on the field is something each team has to attempt to overcome at some point or another. For the last three games, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been without 2018 Pro Bowlers James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster. While it is still uncertain when these players will return, the Steelers have managed to go 3-0 in their absence.

When it comes to Smith-Schuster, it is reported that he is hoping to return this Sunday to Heinz Field against the Buffalo Bills.

Steelers’ WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has missed the past three games with a knee injury, is eyeing a return on Sunday night against the Buffalo Bills, per source.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 9, 2019

For each game Smith-Schuster has been out, it seemed as if his absence could greatly affect the Steelers passing game. The sooner he can return, the better off the Steelers would be. But if his return is imminent, it is very easy to look at the positives from the time he has missed.

The positives are plentiful. Over the last three games, second-year player James Washington and rookie Diontae Johnson have each stepped up their play at various points. Washington had continued to increase his personal bests when it comes to receiving yards up until week 14 against the Cardinals. In the Cardinals game, Johnson shook off some struggles from the previous weeks and stepped up not only with a punt return for a touchdown, but also with a receiving touchdown as part of his six receptions for 60 yards.

As these young receivers continue to emerge with the more consistent play of quarterback Devlin Hodges, it will be interesting to see how introducing Smith-Schuster back into the mix will benefit the receiving corps.

Over the last three games, Johnson and Washington have combined for 345 yards on 21 receptions. Although Johnson had a bit of a rough stretch the first two games, seeing him emerge against the Arizona Cardinals gives even more confidence to the young group of receivers. Adding Smith-Schuster back into the mix should give the Steelers even more options in the passing game.

During the last three games, the Steelers have rotated which player has lined up in the slot in Smith-Schuster‘s absence. Although the majority of snaps early on appeared to have gone to Johnson and Tevin Jones, Washington also took his fair share of snaps in the slot. Just imagine a wide receiver group in 11 personnel with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington where any of the players could line up in any of the positions.

Once Smith Schuster returns, one question which will need to be answered is which receiver does not get a helmet on game day. It would be difficult to dress all six players at the position, so more than likely someone will be left out. While many Steelers fans would instantly answer Johnny Holton, he is used merely as the last option of a receiver as his value is purely on special teams and is difficult to replace there. So if Holton gets a helmet for that reason, it would most likely be Deon Cain or Tevin Jones who will have to sit out. Unfortunately, I would assume it would be Jones, although he has shown some really nice things in his time on the field. But having more serviceable receivers than positions available on game day is a much better problem to have than the alternative.

Whether or not Smith-Schuster gets back on the field for Week 15 remains to be seen. Until he does, the other young wide receivers need to step up as they have over the last three weeks. And when JuJu returns, hopefully the Steelers receivers can outperform what opponents can easily cover.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have to be concerned about their TE depth heading into Week 15

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 12/09/2019 - 11:53am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense took another blow with a key injury in Week 14.

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has taken enough abuse, from an injury standpoint, throughout the 2019 season, or so you’d think.

The hits kept coming for the black-and-gold during their Week 14 win over the Arizona Cardinals when they lose tight end Vance McDonald with a concussion.

Vance McDonald is out with a concussion #Steelers #dkps

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) December 8, 2019

This left the Steelers with one healthy tight end on the active roster, that being Nick Vannett.

McDonald’s injury is important on a variety of levels, but the Steelers have to be concerned with their depth at tight end moving forward. Granted, McDonald could be deemed okay to return and play before the Buffalo Bills invade Heinz Field in Week 15, but if he misses time the Steelers will be down to the bottom of the barrel at the tight end position.

Outside of McDonald and Vannett, rookie Zach Gentry is the only other tight end with any NFL experience on their roster. While the tight end position has been used more as blockers than pass catchers this season, losing McDonald will still be a big blow to the offense if he can’t clear the NFL’ strict Concussion Protocol.

If McDonald can’t play next Sunday night, you should expect a couple things to happen. First, Gentry would be a gameday active players, and, second, expect a lot of Zach Banner as an eligible receiver when the team wants to run the football.

McDonald’s concussion will certainly be something to watch, but the fan base will still be waiting to see if James Conner (shoulder) and/or JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) can return to the team in a game with significant postseason implications on it this Sunday. Mike Tomlin also added running back Jaylen Samuels had a groin injury, and will be evaluated this week. Tomlin will, as always, provide more information during his weekly press conference on Tuesday.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes as the Steelers prepare for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday Night Football in Week 15.

Pages

Subscribe to Steelers Fans of Minnesota aggregator