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Pittsburgh Steelers Fact or Fiction: Dying For Action Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 8:35am
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

BTSC takes five bold statements surrounding the current state of the team and labels them as Fact or Fiction.

Minicamp is not here. Sure the rookies did their virtual meetings on Zoom, as is my fifth grade daughter. The only thing that has benefitted my household from that is that I now know what a parallelogram is and everybody from the school system has lied to me. My daughter is not a joy to have in class. But nonetheless, football is happening at a snails pace at this moment. With that offered up, BTSC tries to answer some poignant wonderings surrounding the eventual Steeler season. Take a gander at some bold statements on this and more as we label them as fact or fiction. Are we on point? Only time will tell.

James Harrison does not need to have to try and stay relevant with stories like “Mike Tomlin and the bulging envelope” Fact

I am half-perplexed and kind-of amused with Deebo’s claims of an envelope given to him by Mike Tomlin to cover his fines years back. Yes, they’ve been debunked. But it makes me wonder what his motivation was. Was this just another instant over the media and the public blowing a story out of proportion? That has happened a time or two. Or is this merely James trying to stay relevant and in the public eye? If it is the latter, I don’t find it necessary. The legendary heroics of Harrison on the field over his career were more than enough to last me my fandom. No need to fabricate stories. They simply are tarnishing.

The Steelers will sign a veteran player after June 1 Fiction

I have changed my prediction of Kevin Colbert and company signing a veteran for defensive depth. I would still love to see a player that can contribute now signed, but that seems less likely to occur. The amount left under the cap will go towards rookies and practice squad players. Sure, I am never surprised with the teams’s ability to find money “under the couch cushions”, but I’m not holding my breath this time around.

The Mike Tomlin stance of not having a RB by committee is “writing on the wall” that James Conner’s Steeler days are numbered Fact

James Conner could be a great feature back in this league, but he just can’t stay healthy. I could be way off and hate to claim this about a coach I respect, but Coach T’s “running the wheels” off of his feature back seems a lot like using him for all he’s worth and letting him limp away to another team in 2021.

JuJu Smith-Schuster hears the talk of his exit and is hellbent to silence it Fact

Although there has been a ton of chatter that JuJu is not a WR1 and will be allowed to leave in free agency, I still subscribe to the fact that he will remain in black-and-gold for the long haul. In social media posts, JuJu has been working like a man possessed and seems to be on a mission to prove last year was an aberration and that he is the top pass-catcher in Pittsburgh. With a supporting cast freeing him up, I’m expecting a huge year.

Kevin Dotson as a starter in 2020 ideal for the Steelers Fiction

The rookie from Louisiana/Lafayette shows a lot of traits of being a starter in the NFL. However, the plan will be to have No. 69 “redshirt” for a year in Pittsburgh. With Stefan Wisniewski, Matt Feiler and Chucks Okorafor ahead of him, Dotson emerging as a starter would mean a rash of injuries or disappointing play from the other linemen ahead of him. He will be worth the wait, but let’s let him simmer awhile.

Are these statements valid? We will soon see. I, personally, am nor endorsing all five of these scenarios, but it’s what my gut tells me will occur. What matters most is your opinions on the matter. Please state them in the comments below.

The Rooney Rule is always a sensitive topic, but NFL owners only have themselves to blame for that

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 7:00am
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

You might not think it’s an issue that minorities aren’t being hired for high-ranking positions at a better rate. But the NFL certainly thinks it’s a big deal, and that’s really all that matters.

If there’s one topic that often incites the passions of many in any comments section of any article or link published about it on the Internet and/or social media, it’s the Rooney Rule, a rule that was championed by the late Dan Rooney back in 2003.

In case you don’t know, the rule requires all NFL teams with head coaching and/or senior operations/general manager vacancies interview at least one minority candidate.

The rule was tweaked recently and now mandates that, among other things, teams interview at least two external minority candidates for a head coaching position and at least one external minority candidate for a coordinator vacancy.

The original intent of the rule was not to dictate to teams who they should hire. The intent of the rule was to, instead, bring awareness to minority candidates that may have been getting overlooked.

But the results, they just haven’t been there. Case-in-point, the upcoming 2020 NFL season that will include only four minority head coaches and one general manager—the Dolphins Chris Grier.

Again, there’s nothing that incites the passions of folks more than the Rooney Rule, and sports fans are often prone to take it personally while discussing the controversial subject. But with all due respect, it’s really not about what the fans think, same with those in the media. All that matters is that the NFL clearly thinks it’s a problem, so much so, in fact, the powers that be discussed a proposal last week that would have improved a team’s draft positioning if it hired a minority candidate for a high-ranking coaching or executive position.

Was it okay to be against such a proposal without being portrayed in a poor light? Thankfully, many prominent minorities with head coaching experience spoke out against it, such as former Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who called the proposal “offensive.

And it was an offensive proposal. It’s like the kid down the street who only invites you to play pick-up basketball with him and his friends because you have the nicest ball. While the proposal is offensive, it’s not going to become a reality—the NFL shelved it in favor of the aforementioned tweaks to the Rooney Rule.

Can the rule hurt a team that has good intentions and wants to immediately hire the person it feels is best for the job? Andrew Brandt, a former vice president with the Green Bay Packers and current writer for Sports Illustrated, appeared on Mark Madden’s radio show on 105.9 the X on Tuesday and recalled a conversation he once had with former Colts general manager Bill Polian. The two were discussing the time Tony Dungy was fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following the 2001 season; the moment Dungy became available, the Colts knew they wanted him and nobody else. Had Dungy been white, however—and had the Rooney Rule already been in effect—Indianapolis would have had to interview a minority candidate first, before offering the job to the person they wanted all along—provided Dungy was still available.

That’s a good point by Brandt, and I’m sure there are a lot of teams that have and will continue to face that dilemma. But why, 17 years after the Rooney Rule was first implemented, aren’t there more minority coaches and executives like Dungy, whose credentials speak for themselves?

When I think of a list of names off of the top of my head, I come up with Dungy, Mike Tomlin, Herman Edwards, Marvin Lewis, the late Dennis Green and, in the case of general managers, Ozzie Newsome. Those men were allowed to establish themselves; once they did, the only thing that came up when evaluating them was their performance.

But considering Art Shell was hired to be the Raiders head coach in 1989—or 14 years before the Rooney Rule was first implemented--that's a rather small list.

During his interview with Madden, Brandt suggested that the best way to improve a minority candidate’s chances was through a stepping-stone approach, where he ultimately works his way up to a coordinator position—often the next step before becoming a head coach. On one hand, that makes sense. But on the other hand, there are countless minority assistant coaches employed by NFL teams each and every year. Yet, they’re not being promoted to coordinator positions—particularly offensive coordinator positions—at a high rate.

According to an article published by The Atlantic in January, 40 percent of head coaches hired in the NFL since 2009 were offensive coordinators. Problem with that: 91 percent of offensive coordinators hired in the NFL over that same time period were white.

Currently, there are two African American offensive coordinators in the NFL—the Buccaneers Byron Leftwich and the Chiefs Eric Bieniemy. Bieniemy has been in charge of Kansas City’s offense since 2018. Not only do the Chiefs have one of the most potent offenses in football, they’re the defending Super Bowl champions. But while Bieniemy, 50, has interviewed for seven head coaching positions over the past few seasons, he has yet to break through.

To reiterate, you might not think it’s a problem. You might think NFL teams should be allowed to hire who they want—and they are. Only question is: Why don’t they seem to want to hire minority candidates at a much higher rate?

You can channel your anger over the Rooney Rule in plenty of different places, but at the end of the day, this is on the NFL owners—they’ve had a century to figure this out and get it right.

Maybe the tweaks to the Rooney Rule will finally lead to some positive results.

Podcast: The Steelers will win the AFC North in 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 6:00am

In a brand new show titled ‘Yeah, I said it’, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 regular season schedule is out, and when you really break it down you realize they have a great chance to win the division this year.

This is where the newest BTSC podcast “Yeah, I Said It” comes in. My co-host on ‘The Standard is the Standard’, Lance Williams talks about why he can’t stand the entire NFL Draft “experience”.

Time to deliver the goods on the latest show.

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!

Check out the audio below:

Feel free to give us your thoughts on the topic in the comment section below, and don’t forget to follow us on all our audio platforms by following the links below:

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

During these difficult times, you might as well follow local guidelines in style

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 5:45am
Fanatics

With many of us having to wear face coverings now, might as well support the black-and-gold throughout the process.

The coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic continues its grip on the sports world, but not just the sports world. For many, their entire lives have been flipped upside down. Now, facing a new reality where many are being asked to wear face coverings in public, you might as well take the time to sport the black-and-gold during these times.

Yes, if you didn’t know by now, companies are producing NFL face coverings, and that includes the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Looking for a Father’s Day gift for the dad in your life, and need a face covering before heading back to work? Use this time to show off your Steelers spirit! Check out all the information to purchase your face covering below, and remember to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the 2020 regular season.

NOTE: The NFL and FOCO will support the CDC Foundation by donating all NFL proceeds from the sale of these licensed face coverings. The face coverings will ship no later than July 9.

Black and Gold Links: Tom Bradley making an impression on the Steelers secondary

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/23/2020 - 5:00am
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 NFL Draft is officially over. After finishing last year 8-8, the Steelers, and their vast fan base, have another long offseason awaiting them. Just because the games are done doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how Tom Bradly, the little known secondary coach for the Steelers, is making an impact on the current secondary.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Most people don’t talk about Tom Bradley, but he is making his mark on the Steelers’ team.

Rookie Antoine Brooks: Steelers assistant Tom Bradley ‘one of the most perfect coaches’

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

In the moments after the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Antoine Brooks with a sixth-round draft choice last month, one of Brooks’ position coaches gushed with compliments about the former Maryland safety.

A couple weeks later, Brooks likewise had some good things to say about his new coaches.

“They both have got my time,” Brooks said during Steelers rookie minicamp of Teryl Austin and Tom Bradley. “I talk to them all the time.

“Each of the coaches, we will talk about anything, just to get to know me.”

Brooks will be mentored by two assistant coaches under the Steelers organizational flowchart, which lists Austin’s title as “senior defensive assistant/secondary” and Bradley’s as “defensive backs coach.”

Austin was added to the staff last season. The Steelers had been among a dwindling number of NFL teams that had one coach devoted to the entire secondary. In a league that is increasingly pass-heavy and in which it is not uncommon for roughly (or more than) half of the defensive players on the field at any given moment to be defensive backs, it made sense to add another voice. The Steelers, after all, have a dedicated coach for their tight ends. They also, for example, employ separate outside linebackers and inside linebackers coaches.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Did anyone actually watch this show??

The Watt brothers take ‘tag’ to the next level

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

T.J. and Derek Watt, and their brother Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, grew up playing sports and games against each other in the backyard in their home in Wisconsin.

Now they have taken that love of competing to a new level. And it’s not just the NFL level.

The Watt brothers are producers and hosts for “Ultimate Tag,” which will premiere on FOX on Wednesday, May 20 at 9 p.m. ET. There are five games of Tag, including Chase Tag, Dodge Tag, Dome Tag, Revenge Tag and The Showdown that will each require their own skill and be beyond anything we have seen in a backyard game of tag.

“The show is its own sport,” said T.J. Watt. “Tag is a game that everyone grew up playing. That is what makes it so universal to everybody. Everybody is going to be able to relate to getting chased down. As frightening as that feeling is, especially when it’s professional taggers.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Is a “great year” good enough for you?

JuJu Smith-Schuster predicts ‘great year’ for Steelers, personal atonement vs. Ravens

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

For the second time in a span of seven regular-season games, JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbled away a likely Pittsburgh Steelers victory last October.

The memories from that Oct. 6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens linger for Smith-Schuster. During a segment on NFL Network on Friday, the wide receiver vows it fuels his feelings toward the Steelers-Ravens rivalry.

“That was one of the toughest things (to deal with),” Smith-Schuster said of being stripped by Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey near midfield of a game tied at 23. “To lose a game for your team is one of hardest things, knowing you have the ball in your hand, and that feeling never leaves.

“So I am hungry, I am ready to play against (the Ravens again.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

The Steelers are limiting ticket sales in 2020

Isaiah Buggs might have a nose on the competition this year

Antoine Brooks will be your favorite Steelers player, Part 2

If the Steelers win in a shortened season, it won’t matter

A difficult farewell

  • Social Media Madness

"Just wait... let our pads do the talking."@TeamJuJu thinks it's going to be a big year for the @steelers. pic.twitter.com/89OWuZWqaP

— GMFB (@gmfb) May 22, 2020

Roll the tape @minkfitz_21 pic.twitter.com/Te88dooQ3K

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 22, 2020

We talked social media with our rookie class to find out what platform they like best & who they like to follow @PALottery pic.twitter.com/JFgYOIQoIn

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 22, 2020

Beginning on Sunday at 6 pm, we will air Super Bowl XIV in its entirety on Facebook & YouTube!

Not only will you get to watch the full game, but you can also hear original commentary from #Steelers Hall of Famers John Stallworth and @donnie_shell!

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 23, 2020

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions: Offseason, Vol. 20

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/22/2020 - 5:45pm
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

There is plenty to talk about regarding all things black-and-gold!

Several people have asked if we could bring back the Friday Night Open Thread. I had moved the event to Saturday morning, but after minimal success, I decided to bring it back to Friday night — with a slight twist.

I liked the Saturday Six-Pack theme, so I decided to just take the six questions and move them to Friday night. Say hello to Friday Night Six-Pack of Steelers Questions and open thread!

The rules haven’t changed...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

  • I’ll ask at least four questions strictly related to the Steelers.
  • The rest of the questions could be about anything.
  • Be respectful.
  • Have fun talking about the Black-and-gold.

That’s it! With that out of the way, it’s time to get this party started. Hey, don’t act like you’ve never done a little Friday night drinking. Here goes:

(This is my last time doing this, so I figured I would go off the beaten path a bit with the questions! Sorry in advance!)

1. If you are reading this, you obviously love the Steelers and BTSC. What is your favorite part of the site? And what is one thing you loved about it BEFORE that you wish would come back?

2. Who was better when they were at their best? Barry Foster or Bam Morris?

3. If Ben Roethlisberger were hurt, and you needed to bring back a QB to win you ONE game, who would you pick, and why?

Neil O’Donnell
Kordell Stewart
Tommy Maddox

4. If you were designing a new uniform for the Steelers, what would it look like? And obviously it has to be different than just changing the numbers on the jerseys.

5. Which Steelers team was better? 1994 or 1995?

6. Describe the craziest story you have as a Steelers fan...no restrictions!

Stay safe out there, and hopefully you use BTSC the same way I do — as a getaway from the madness.

No matter what, always remember...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

Who belongs on the Steelers “Team of the Millennium”? Part 1: Offense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/22/2020 - 2:35pm
The Steelers offense runs a play against Arizona in Super Bowl 43

Who would appear on a 53-man all-star Steelers roster from the last twenty years?

With the changing of the decade this winter, the Pro Football Hall of Fame released its “Team of the 2010s” list, and many other venues followed suit. As always, when I see lists of this type, I thought, “what about a Steelers version?”

It seems to me that a Steelers-specific “Team of the 2010s” wouldn’t be that instructive, since many men played the bulk of the decade in one position. But the two decades since 2000 are a little different.

In many ways, the NFL changed at the millennium. Rules began to favor quarterbacks more than ever just as icons like Steve Young, Troy Aikman, John Elway, and Dan Marino retired, and new blood (the Mannings, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Big Ben) entered, and stuck around. That makes the last two decades a little more coherent than, say, asking about another random two-decade sequence, such as “team of the 70s and 80s together.”

The Steelers also turned over a new leaf in 2000, hiring Kevin Colbert and enduring a significant roster turnover following a pair of losing seasons in 1998 and 1999. The 2000 season began a resurgence, and they’ve only finished below .500 once this millennium. Since that point, they are the second-most successful franchise, and their 15 postseason victories, three conference titles, and two Super Bowl wins, all tie for second in the league over this stretch as well. This century’s Steelers have been a formidable squad for a long enough stretch of time to get some real argument going. So that’s what I’m going to do.

Below I’ll post my version of the All-Millennium team — starters, but also backups to fill out a 53-man roster, and ten-player practice squad. I’ll also toss out the other names I considered, and an explanation for why one guy got the nod and another didn’t. Then it’s off to the comments to argue it out.

Part 1: The Offense Ben Roethlisberger throws against the Baltimore Ravens in 2014, his second consecutive week of throwing six touchdowns. Starters

QB – Ben Roethlisberger
RB – LeVeon Bell
WR – Antonio Brown
WR – Hines Ward
WR – Santonio Holmes
TE – Heath Miller
C – Maurkice Pouncey
OG – Alan Faneca
OG – David DeCastro
OT – Marvel Smith
OT – Alejandro Villanueva

Quarterback (3) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images Rookie Ben Roethlisberger looks to pass during a 34-20 victory over the New England Patriots on Halloween 2004.

Ben Roethlisberger (starter)

Tommy Maddox
Kordell Stewart

This was, of course, the easiest starter to name. Big Ben is the winningest quarterback in team history, and holds nearly every single-season and career passing record. He’s one of the best to ever play the position.

Maddox and Stewart both have mixed reputations among Steelers fans, but both played admirably as starters. Stewart made the Pro Bowl in 2001, throwing for 3300 yards and 20 touchdowns, on top of 576 yards rushing in leading the Steelers to a 13-3 record and the doorstep of the Super Bowl. Maddox, meanwhile, earned Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2002, leading a ten-win team to a wild playoff victory over Cleveland.

Also considered:

Charlie Batch (the consummate backup – experienced, reliable, humble, and a good teammate; but you’d be foolish to start Batch over Maddox or Stewart).

Byron Leftwich (the most competent and impressive backup QB the Steelers have carried, the former #7 overall draft choice in Jacksonville just didn’t do enough in Pittsburgh to warrant inclusion here).

Mason Rudolph (a better backup, to my thinking, than Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs, or Michael Vick, Rudolph posted a 5-3 record in relief of Big Ben, and very nearly recorded a comeback against Seattle off the bench. I’d still take Tommy Gun or Kordell over him ten times out of ten).

Kent Graham (Ha! Just kidding).

Running Back (4) Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images Le’Veon Bell stretches for a walk-off touchdown against the San Diego Chargers, on the game’s final play, October 2015

LeVeon Bell (starter)

Jerome Bettis
Willie Parker
Rashard Mendenhall

It may seem like heresy to start Le’Veon Bell over the Bus, but we’re talking about 2000-2019. Most of Jerome’s best years came in the late 1990s, as injuries (2001-02) and questionable coaching decisions (2003 – starting Amos Zereoue instead) slowed his production. Bell, meanwhile, was arguably the best all-around back in football between 2014-17. A two time first-team All-Pro, Bell led the AFC in rushing and scrimmage yards in 2014 (setting a Steelers record in the latter), and carried the team to the playoffs in 2016. Along the way, he gave us some all-time games, and some all-time moments.

Bettis, meanwhile, may have been in the decline after the millennium, but he still had enough in the tank to lead the league in rushing through 10 games in 2001 (before injury ended his season), and average over 100 yards per start in 2004 (a season he started on the bench) for the 15-1 Steelers.

Fast Willie Parker is the third all-time Steelers rusher, and drove the Pittsburgh offense for four years, including two Super Bowl titles (and also still holds the record for longest Super Bowl run). Mendenhall gets a lot of flak on this site, but he was a two-time 1000 yard rusher, and a better back than many remember.

Also considered:

DeAngelo Williams (the prototype for a veteran rental, D-Will filled in like a star in 2015 and 2016; if he’d have been available during the 2015 playoffs, that team had a very good shot at Lombardi #7).

James Conner (still a work-in-progress and a mixed bag, Conner has a Pro Bowl on his resume and plenty of talent, if he can stay healthy and hang onto the ball).

Deuce Staley (a short-term star, Staley led the league in rushing in 2004 before a bad thigh bruise against New England cut his season short).

Mwelde Moore (a personal favorite; I don’t think the Steelers win Super Bowl 43 without his relief efforts mid-season against Jacksonville and Cincinnati. He was also a valuable 3rd down back, and part time punt returner. If I was assembling a real team, I might even take him over Mendenhall because of his diverse skill set).

Fullback (1) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images Jerome Bettis runs behind the blocking of Dan Kreider against the New York Jets during a 20-17 AFC playoff victory.

Dan Kreider

Kreider powered those rushing offenses for Bettis and Parker. There’s not much to say about a quiet battering ram, except that there’s no one who was better to run behind in this era.

Also considered:

Roosevelt Nix (not used as a blocker enough, he was effective there anyway, and a special teams star).

Will Johnson
Carey Davis
(Johnson and Davis played small roles in the offense after the FB was phased out).

Wide Receiver (6) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images Hines Ward congratulates Antonio Brown after AB caught a 58-yard pass on 3rd and 19 against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, January 15, 2011. The Steelers won 31-24.

Antonio Brown (starter)
Hines Ward (starter)
Santonio Holmes (starter)

Mike Wallace
Plaxico Burress
JuJu Smith-Schuster

Brown and Ward are undoubtedly the two best WRs to wear black-and-gold since John Stallworth retired. Ward was a fearless and savvy vet who always seemed to find the sticks (or draw a useful retaliation penalty). A Super Bowl MVP is a hard thing to argue with already, but when the league changes the rules to account for your devastating blocking, you’ve got a spot on my team.

Brown, meanwhile, had the single greatest six year run for a WR in NFL history, and (if he hadn’t lost his mind) could have retired in the conversation with Jerry Rice, Don Hutson, and company. His heroics started with his first touch (a kickoff return touchdown), and first playoff game (which he iced with a 58 yard helmet catch against Baltimore on 3rd and 19 in the final minutes), and carried through superhuman efforts such as his otherworldly 2015 game against the Denver No Fly Zone (16 catches 189 yards, two touchdowns), and his make-or-break Immaculate Extension against Baltimore to clinch the 2016 playoff berth.

The third starter was tougher to settle on. Santonio Holmes’ potential was probably never reached, as he was still in ascendancy when his arrest record finally caught up with him, and the Steelers shipped him off to New York. But his 2008 playoff run was sublime – not just the Super Bowl MVP performance, but also huge scoring plays against San Diego and Baltimore to get the Steelers down to Tampa in the first place. He was a big-game player, and that matters on a perennial playoff team.

Wallace, meanwhile, may have been a one-trick pony, but when he was performing that trick in Pittsburgh, he was a Pro Bowler and one of the league’s best. For a deep ball king like Ben Roethlisberger, Wallace was deadly. Burress, meanwhile, put up 1000 yards catching passes from both Stewart and Maddox, and if the Steelers had found a way to keep him in town, would certainly have been a big-time performer as Big Ben matured. JuJu Smith-Schuster, meanwhile, is mostly a “potential” pick. I think he got a bad rap in 2019 – it’s hard for a WR to play like a star when he’s catching passes from backups and practice squad guys. But JuJu was fast becoming Roethlisberger’s favorite target in 2018, and put up one of the team’s best statistical years ever. I’m betting he’s got more of that in him when Ben comes back.

Also considered:

Martavis Bryant (if I cut JuJu, Bryant is the first name in. His presence made the 2015 Steelers deadly, and his absence slowed the 2016 edition badly).

Antwaan Randle El (Randle El was never a big-time WR, but he was an asset as punt returner and gadget QB. If Kordell Stewart wasn’t already on this team, I might have bumped Randle El up just for his ability to run the unexpected).

Emmanuel Sanders (Sanders had a much better career after leaving Pittsburgh. He was talented, but his hands always seemed suspect as a Steeler).

Jerricho Cotchery (Cotchery also didn’t do much as a Steeler, but he did manage to catch 10 touchdowns in 2014 on only 46 receptions).

Tight Ends (3): Heath Miller breaks a tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Heath Miller (starter)

Vance McDonald
Mark Bruener

Heath Miller was another no-brainer. The team’s all-time best tight end, Heath was probably the steadiest performer in town for his entire career. Ben Roethlisberger voted for him every year as team MVP. That’s pretty high praise.

After Heath, there’s a HUGE drop off. I went with Vance McDonald on the strength of his 2018 highlight reel. A hard hitter and big-play receiver, McDonald’s talent is there; he just can’t seem to stay on the field. Breuner, meanwhile, was the consummate blocking tight end. He earns a spot for the short-yardage plays.

Also considered:

Jesse James (a big target with mixed results. James is on the bubble, but not productive enough to bump McDonald or gritty enough to surpass Breuner. In the Steelers tradition of Mel Blount and Hines Ward, he has a rule named after him now, but that’s probably not enough to make the all-millennium team).

Jerame Tuman
Matt Spaeth
(both of these guys were lunch-pail players – 10-15 catches per year and a lot of no-reward blocking).

Offensive Linemen (8): Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images Allen Faneca blocks for Willie Parker against the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005.

Maurkice Pouncey (starter) – C
Alan Faneca (starter) – G
David DeCastro (starter) – G
Marvel Smith (starter) – T
Alejandro Villanueva (starter) – T

Jeff Hartings – C/G
Max Starks – T
Ramon Foster – G

Pouncey, Faneca, and DeCastro may all three wind up in the Hall of Fame one day. That’s remarkable in and of itself. (And it’s a crime they never got to play at the same time. That interior line would be impossible to breech.) Those spots were easy to settle on; tackle was tougher to tease out. Marvel Smith and Al Villanueva picked up a couple of Pro Bowls, so they get the call. But I feel less secure there.

Off the bench, Jeff Hartings was a Pro Bowler with position flexibility (we’re going to need that). Max Starks was a team emotional leader who started both Super Bowl wins, one on each side. Ramon Foster was also a team leader, and a reliable interior lineman. Having only one backup tackle is dangerous, but Faneca played a season at left tackle and made the Pro Bowl doing it. He could do it again if needed.

Also considered:

Kendall Simmons – G
Willie Colon – T
Oliver Ross – T
Marcus Gilbert – T
Chris Kemoeatu – G
Flozell Adams – T
Keydrick Vincent – G

I have fond memories of a few of these guys, but for the most part this isn’t a murderer’s row. That’s not a huge surprise — the O-Line was a liability for a number of years. That said, I always like how Adams came out of retirement at the eleventh hour in 2010, and started the entire season, including the Super Bowl. Gilbert was Steelers Rookie of the Year in 2011, and played a decent career. Meanwhile Colon and Kemo were good road-graders for a running team, but neither were all that impressive in pass blocking. Otherwise, these guys are pretty forgettable.

Coming soon: the defense and special teams lists. In the meantime, let me know if I missed someone. Go Steelers.

The Steelers are currently only selling 50% of the tickets to individual games

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/22/2020 - 1:15pm
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In order to prepare for a possible social distancing restriction, the Steelers are holding back half of their available tickets to each game in 2020

The Pittsburgh Steelers placed individual tickets on sale today at 10 AM to their entire slate of 2020 games. Report from KDKA Pittsburgh stated the Steelers would only be selling 50% of the available tickets as a precaution to the possibility of attendance requirements to maintain social distancing during the current coronavirus pandemic. Pittsburgh Steelers PR representative Bert Lauten confirmed the report.

The #Steelers held back 50% of the normal ticket inventory when individual game tickets went on sale today for the 2020 season. We are being proactive with these limited amount of tickets as we are preparing for possible social distancing scenarios at Heinz Field this year. https://t.co/MTdXg2buS0

— Burt Lauten (@SteelersPRBurt) May 22, 2020

Although only 50% of tickets went on sale through Ticketmaster this morning, it represents a much larger percentage of the Heinz Field capacity. As of now, all season tickets have been honored which constitute the majority of the 68,400 capacity.

Should the Steelers need to limit their capacity for any games at Heinz Field in 2020, it is unclear how the procedures will work in regards to season ticket holders. As a season ticket holder myself, all I can say at this time is payments are still due by June 1 (delayed from May 1) in order to secure tickets. No other plan of action has been announced to season ticket holders at this time.

As for those purchasing individual game tickets at this time, Ticketmaster has a message before purchase explaining their procedures due to COVID-19. Any game which is rescheduled will have the same seats transferred to the new date while cancelled games will receive a refund.

There are still some individual game tickets available, although there was a pre-sale last Friday through Steelers Nation Unite. Should Heinz Field be able to operate at capacity in 2020, the Steelers would be expected to make an announcement about additional tickets at that time.

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

Isaiah Buggs may have a nose up on his competition for playing time this season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/22/2020 - 12:30pm
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This article takes a look back at my Grading the Pick article featuring Steelers DL Isaiah Buggs in an attempt to determine the accuracy of the grade and projection given.

I have always found it interesting to take a look back and reevaluate the beliefs and opinions we have held at a previous point in our lives. Oftentimes we find that our initial instincts were right on point and we were blessed with a keen insight on the matter. Other times we realize we were way off base. The ability to honestly recognize both instances is how we achieve personal growth as an individual.

Recently I was looking back at some of my Grading the Pick articles from the 2019 NFL Draft. Last year was the first time I had the opportunity to write any draft coverage articles for BTSC, and I admit I was pleasantly surprised after looking back.

Although I was far from perfect, especially with my initial reaction to the Diontae Johnson selection, I did feel I was fair and consistent with each grade and projection, all while trying to keep my personal preferences out of the equation. That is always my goal, although that is easier said than done.

One particular paragraph from my Isaiah Buggs article really caught my attention, mainly due to the overwhelming concern being expressed by so many Steelers fans concerning the nose tackle position in Pittsburgh.

That excerpt from my article was the following:

(First of all, what is his positional fit with the Steelers? Conditioning could very well determine his level of impact with the Steelers. Fatigue can make cowards of us all, and Buggs struggled with conditioning during his time at Alabama. He was dominate in spurts, but tired easily. If he added a little weight, he could prove to be a traditional run stuffing 3-4 nose tackle with some pass rush ability. If he dropped a few pounds, he could play DE and move inside to rush the passer. It will be very intriguing to see what the Steelers plans are for the young man. Buggs selection should help light a fire under a Shade Tree to say the least. The selection could also be viewed as insurance in case the Gravedigger eventually decides he is being miscast as a 3-4 nose tackle.)

By the way, before I go on, I gave the Buggs selection an A grade. I believed he was a great value pick at the point where he was selected, and I believed he had an excellent opportunity to develop into at least a solid rotational lineman. You know what, I still do. Nothing that happened during Buggs rookie campaign has changed that one iota.

The Steelers have impressive depth behind starters Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, which is a good thing, taking into consideration Heyward's advancing age and workload and Tuitt's injury tendencies. Isaiah Buggs and Chris Wormley offer youth and talented potential whenever they are entrusted to relieve the starters for a play or two.

However, I believe that Buggs may just have the ability and versatility to command even more playing time this season, specifically at the nose tackle position.

Going back to his collegiate days at Alabama, Buggs has always had the football IQ and determination to get the job done. Often overlooked because of some supremely talented teammates, Buggs knew his true value and sacrificed his spotlight for the betterment of the team. This is a valuable mindset for any defensive unit, and isn't very common in the NFL where most defenders have been the center of attention since they first put on a helmet.

Therefore, don't be surprised if Isaiah Buggs' versatility and underrated ability propels him into the mix and onto the field far more than expected during his second season in the NFL.

The eventually solution to the Steelers nose tackle question may already be on the roster, and it appears the Steelers decision makers are comfortable with that assessment.

A Letter from the incoming Editor: Embracing the change

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/22/2020 - 11:05am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As editor Jeff Hartman makes a big life change, BTSC hopes to remain the same

The date was August 31, 2018. The Pittsburgh Steelers had just played their final preseason game (which I had attended with my daughter as her very first game) the night before. I was extremely tired as I had made the 3.5 hour drive back to my home in Maryland but could not go to sleep just yet. I was too excited to put my thoughts down in written form about something which transpired during my trip home. Like any Steelers’ game I attend at Heinz Field, once returning to my vehicle I had turned on the post game show on WDVE.

I can’t remember exactly who was doing this particular preseason show— I think Tim Benz may have been one of the hosts— but they were saying the phone lines were open but they had yet to speak with any callers. I decided to put on my headphones and call into the station. They were discussing which positions the Steelers would be keeping on the 53-man roster on Saturday afternoon and couldn’t get their number straight. For anyone who has followed my writing here at Behind The Steel Curtain, you know that discussing numbers is right up my alley.

I was the only phone call they took for the rest of the show that night, and, after I explained I was driving home from the game, I laid out to them the numbers I believed the Steelers would keep by position. I won’t give you the exact quote they said when they asked me if I was really driving, but they were very impressed by my numbers. In fact, they were almost as impressed as my daughter was in hearing her dad’s voice on the radio.

When I arrived home that night, or should I say the next morning, I decided to write down my prediction as an article. Two days prior I had spoken with BTSC editor Jeff Hartman for the first time and was discussing coming on board to contribute to the site. I decided to go ahead and forward my thoughts to him in an email. I wasn’t sure how it would be received.

Later on that same day of August 31, 2018, it became the day I was given writer privileges and I submitted my first article for Behind The Steel Curtain. Jeff had let me know my article would be running the next morning. Needless to say, I could barely contain my excitement.

My wife and I brought up the article and viewed how it would go out on the website. To see my name underneath the title for the first time seemed too surreal and we both were so excited we could barely contain ourselves. I had been writing Steelers articles for a couple years for a small Facebook audience, but nothing like this.

Fast forward 629 days and 956 articles to where I find myself writing an article to be published the next day which I never imagined— announcing I am taking over as the new editor of Behind The Steel Curtain.

I have to admit this was not something I expected. Honestly, it was never something I really wanted. Working for Jeff Hartman has been one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. I couldn’t ask for a better boss. And in the 10 months in which I’ve been the deputy editor of the website, Jeff is the only person I’ve communicated with on a daily basis other than my immediate family living in my house.

In case you did not read his article earlier today, Jeff has been given a great opportunity to move up in the sports journalism world by taking a position at DKPittsburghSports.com. To say Jeff will be missed is an understatement as I find it difficult for anyone to miss him more than I will. But I’m also happy that my friend has such an amazing opportunity.

The biggest question with this transition of editors is how it will affect the website. My hope is the answer given by anyone who frequents the site would be “minimally.” We still have the same fantastic writers contributing to the site, so other than the names underneath the headlines of some articles, the hope is there will not be much of a noticeable change. Instead of seeing Jeff’s name in some places you may see mine, Bryan Anthony Davis, or perhaps someone else. Bryan will be taking over the management of the podcasts, so his name will often be seen under the podcast articles.

In the coming days, I will be making other announcements in regards to the deputy editor position. While there are some things in the works, until they are made official we will not be making an announcement.

As tempted as I am to go into some Star Wars analogy about how Jeff was the Jedi master and I was his young Padawan, it doesn’t seem appropriate since Jeff has never actually seen Star Wars. I will just say that although I know it it is quite a lofty expectation for me to expect to do the job Jeff Hartman did as well as he was able to do it, that is my goal for you all as the members and readers as we move forward through this awkward 2020 Steelers’ offseason and towards the hopeful return to action of our beloved Steelers this fall.

On behalf of BTSC, I would like to thank Jeff for all that he has done for this website over the last five years as editor, and wish him nothing but the best as he moves on to this great opportunity. I will miss hearing the “Who’s The Boss” theme going on my phone signaling his texts. I will miss his ability to come up with a great headline in under five seconds. And I will miss all the fun we had together on The Steelers Preview podcast.

Although Jeff will be missed, the best thing we can do here at BTSC is to work diligently to maintain this community he worked so hard to build.

Film Room: Antoine Brooks Jr. is your new favorite Steeler, Part 2: Pass defense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/22/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Antoine Brooks has great highlights, but will he see the field in the Steelers Defense?

In part 1 of this film room, we looked at Antoine Brooks Jr. in run defense, showing the combination of awareness and aggression that led to a lot of splash plays for the Maryland defense.

In part 2 I want to look at Brooks in coverage and rushing the passer. Antoine Brooks Jr. recorded 3.5 sacks, 4 interceptions and 9 passes defended in his 36 games as a starter in college. While Brooks recorded 8.5 tackles for loss in 2019 (down from 9.5 each of the previous seasons) he would record zero sacks after recording 2.5 in 2018, but record a career high 5 passes defended. As you can guess from those numbers, Brooks played back in more traditional safety roles more often in 2019, dropping into coverage more and rushing the passer less. The overall play didn’t change though, he continued to be the same player he had been the previous 2 seasons.

Antoine Brooks Jr. loves WR screens

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the slot DB closest to the line of scrimmage, bottom of the screen.

Sending a WR to block Brooks by himself is a great way to have your play go really bad.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the Slot DB closest to the line of scrimmage, top of the screen.

Texas sends two WRs to block Brooks. Outnumbered 3-1, Brooks still gets his man, but at least Texas got 5 yards.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the Slot DB closest to the line of scrimmage, top of the screen.

This time Brooks just takes one of the blockers and drives him straight back at the receiver. The receiver has to stop running and avoid Brooks before he can go anywhere. You’d like to see another player on Maryland’s defense show up in that time, but that’s not how things worked on that defense.

Watching a lot of these types of plays, I kept thinking about the speed to the ball the Steelers have with Terrell Edmunds and Devin Bush. If Brooks made a play like this on the Steelers defense, they wouldn’t give up 6 yards.

Defending the flats

Antoine Brooks Jr. is just outside and behind the DE, bottom of the screen.

This alignment is in that LB/S range Brooks played a lot. This time he’s dropping into coverage. He starts out with just enough depth to threaten any quick routes to the TE, and then easily closes on the RB to hold a 3rd and 2 play to no gain.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the Slot DB closest to the line of scrimmage,bottom of the screen.

Brooks is covering the slot receiver, but he keeps his eyes up, sees the pass to the outside WR and makes him pay for his QB’s high throw.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is off the line to the bottom of the screen.

Again in his most common spot, he reads for the run, then drops similar to the first play in this section. But this time his human missile style of tackling leads to a broken tackle and it ends up a TD. Brooks will record splash plays, but also misses. That’s what you get with this play style. Troy Polamalu took this style of play to the highest level we’ve seen and he still missed tackles, when you are flying around like this, you will miss tackles.

But when he isn’t missing, Brooks is a monster attacking plays in the flats. Brooks is a dynamic defender on outside runs and passes to the flat, screens included. That’s the strength he brings to a defense, but obviously there’s more to defense than just that.

Man Coverage

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the deep safety to the bottom of the screen, on the 37> yard line.

Here Brooks is in man coverage on a WR on a deeper route, and he isn’t going to win that match up often.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the slot DB to the bottom of the screen.

This is Towson, he isn’t facing an NFL talent at WR, but they still get the better of him for the only points Towson would score in the game.

You don’t want Brooks covering WRs in man very often. That’s not his skill set.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the slot DB over the TE, he follows the TE inside before the snap.

You can see that Brooks is fine covering a TE who isn’t fast enough to just burn him.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the deep DB to the top of the screen, just in front of the first down line.

Here Brooks is covering current Steeler Zach Gentry, and his QB figures that he can just throw it over Brooks for a completion. Instead it’s a tipped ball and an interception for Maryland.

Antoine Brooks Jr. isn’t a fast and shifty defender, and that may limit his ability to play meaningful snaps in the NFL. But if you can’t just burn him, he’s going to impact the play.

Zone Coverage

Antoine Brooks Jr. is on the line to the top of the screen.

Brooks drops at the snap, carrying the TE through his shallow zone before turning and finding the RB that has moved out into the flat. He showed numerous times that he is good at handing off a target and locating a new one. Unfortunately the defender he hands the TE off too doesn’t stay with him.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the deep defender to the top of the screen.

Again we see the quick play recognition, and a good tackle, but you can also see he isn’t a dynamic athlete, he can’t cover the ground fast enough to challenge the play.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the deep defender to the top of the screen.

Similar setup, this time the WR goes outside, and Brooks is right there to hold it to a minimal gain.

Antoine Brooks Jr. has the recognition skills and reaction time to be a good zone defender, but he doesn’t have the speed you want in deep zones.

Why cover the receiver when you can hit the QB?

Enough of the weaknesses in Antoine Brooks Jr.’s game, let’s get back to the fun stuff.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is standing up, on the line, to the top of the screen.

Brooks gets the best of the H-Back, chasing the QB out of the pocket, then gets the better of the H-Back again.

Again we see the ability to overpower bigger players, and we see a target evade him.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is just outside the box to the top of the screen, On the “R”.

Brooks gets low and drives #42 back into his own QB. Like the Wolverines learned above, don’t send a man in a #42 jersey at Antoine Brooks Jr.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is just outside the box to the top of the screen, On the “A”.

Again he gets low, this time getting under the tackle’s arms for a sack.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is on the line to the bottom of the screen.

This time he stands a tackle up and moves him out of the way.

Antoine Brooks Jr. only recorded 4 sacks in his career, but he was a disruptive force on blitzes with or without a sack.

Conclusion

It’s already been stated that Antoine Brooks Jr. will have to make an impact on special teams to make the roster, and I think he will make the roster for that reason. Beyond that though, what kind of a role would Brooks succeed in?

He is great in short zones and blitzes, and he can man cover less athletic TEs and RBs. He’s like a smaller version of Vince Williams right now. There’s not much room on the field for that kind of player, so I don’t see much chance of him getting snaps on defense this year.

I can see two routes to play time for Antoine Brooks Jr.

First, the Steelers to ask him to play a bit lighter than he did at the combine, and if that change, NFL training programs and experience can help him cover slot WRs, he could very well take over Mike Hilton’s role in dime defense. The only thing Mike Hilton is asked to do that I wouldn’t want Brooks doing in college is covering slot receivers in man, everything else Brooks can handle.

That’s one possibility. The other possibility is they groom him to fill Mark Barron’s role from 2019. Barron’s main value was covering TEs in man, and if Brooks can become proficient at handling the better TEs, he’d be valuable.

I’d love to see Brooks become a well-rounded enough DB to see the field, because he is dynamic attacking the flats and blitzing. He should be a lot of fun to watch in preseason either way.

If the Steelers win the Super Bowl after a shortened season, it will still be special

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/22/2020 - 7:45am
Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Think a championship that may be won on the heels of a regular season and postseason that were compromised by the ongoing pandemic will have a tainted legacy? Think again. History will likely view it in a good light.

I was going to shelve this particular topic and save it for a rainy day down the road—you know, just in case. But there’s no time like the present when you’re in a total sports shutdown and speculation on how various seasons will play out continue to pop up on a daily basis.

The three major sports leagues that are supposed to be in action right now—MLB, NBA and NHL—all face the prospects of having abbreviated seasons. Logistically, there doesn’t appear to be a realistic way to avoid it for any of them.

How would you feel about a World Series winner being crowned after an 82-game regular season that included only regional play so as to avoid excess travel amid the ongoing pandemic? At least Major League Baseball has had a chance to plan for that. What about an NBA or NHL champion coming on the heels of a regular season that was literally marked “incomplete” and a postseason that was perhaps a bit gimmicky—expanded or contracted field, shortened “best of” series, etc.?

When it comes to the gimmicky part, as far as Nashville Predators player Mark Duchene is concerned, he’d rather not have a ‘Covid Cup,’ if it meant winning it during a postseason that strays too far from the 16-team field, four-best of seven series tournament Stanley Cup winners must survive in order to hoist Lord Stanley at the end of each season.

“You don’t want to have a ‘COVID Cup,’ and I’m worried that if we come back and try and force this thing and it’s a little gimmicky and it’s not quite right, whoever wins the Cup is going to have people try and take it away from them their whole lives. And they don’t deserve that … Our game is one of the games that has the most integrity in the world and I know our guys are going to want this to mean something if we do come back.”

That quote from Duchene is courtesy of an article published in the Nashville Post on Tuesday.

Before I go any further, I think it’s fair to point out that Duchene, first and foremost, expressed concern for the health and safety of anyone involved in a possible Stanley Cup playoff tournament that may or may not be gimmicky due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But that obviously goes without saying. If there’s too much of a risk for the players, coaches, trainers and everyone tasked with working during any regular season or postseason, it’s simply not worth it.

However, in a hypothetical sense, where safety is about as close to a guarantee as it can get with this virus still a major concern around the world, isn’t Duchene being a little too dramatic with his worry over how history will view the winner of the 2019/2020 Stanley Cup?

With all due respect to Duchene, hockey players and their very die-hard fans, they didn’t trademark integrity. Other sports have plenty of it, as well.

I’d like to think the league I love the most—the National Football League—has plenty of it, including a rich history of champions and dynasties.

The Redskins of the early-’80s to the early-’90s were a mini-dynasty, appearing in four Super Bowls and winning three of them between 1982-1991. Two of those Lombardi trophies were obtained after regular seasons that were compromised by player strikes.

The Redskins clinched their first Lombardi trophy in franchise history thanks to a 27-17 victory over the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII.

Just how badly did the players strike compromise the 1982 regular season? It shortened it to just nine games. Also, the NFL postseason field was expanded to 16 teams—eight per conference. I often forget about that; when I think of that season’s Super Bowl, I recall Dolphins quarterback David Woodley connecting with receiver Jimmy Cefalo on a 76-yard touchdown pass early in the game. I remember Miami’s Fulton Walker’s 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. And, of course, the most iconic play from Super Bowl XVII: Running back John Riggin’s 43-yard fourth-quarter touchdown on fourth and one that put the Redskins ahead for good.

As for the Redskins’ second Lombardi trophy, that came on the heels of the strike-compromised 1987 campaign. Was the schedule truly compromised? Not really and yes. While the season was only shortened by one week, three of those weeks included games played by scabs who were signed by teams after the regular players walked out early in the year.

However, just like with the ‘82 Redskins, nobody talks much about the ‘87 strike and those replacement players when discussing Washington’s Super Bowl XXII championship.

Instead, people remember Broncos quarterback John Elway, the future Hall of Famer, coming up small in the Big Game for the second straight season. They talk about the Redskins falling behind, 10-0, before exploding for 35 second-quarter points on the way to a 42-10 victory. And, of course, they celebrate Doug Williams, the first African American quarterback to start a Super Bowl, win a Super Bowl and be named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Obviously, the 1980s were a time when the Internet and social media did not exist. Sports talk radio wasn’t nearly the industry that it is today. Things weren’t THINGS back then—they just happened. Legacies weren’t as important as they are in the modern era.

And when it comes to that last part—the legacy part—perhaps Duchene has a point.

But maybe not.

The NFL still has a few months left to see how things continue to unfold with the pandemic. Will the league be able to get a full season in? What happens if it’s delayed? How many regular season games will be trimmed from the schedule? How will the NFL figure out division winners and a postseason field and format?

I can tell you this: If the Steelers win Super Bowl LV on the heels of a 2020 regular season that only includes nine games, I won’t care. If the Steelers win the Super Bowl after a postseason in-which they have to play three “road” games in stadiums that don’t include fans, I won’t care.

I believe history would look at such an accomplishment in the same way it views the 1982 and 1987 Redskins championships. Naive? Perhaps. But to quote the Beatles: “I believe in yesterday.”

If you’re a player or fan of a team that is lucky enough to win a championship during this pandemic, cherish it, anyway—regardless of the circumstances or “gimmicks.”

It will still count in the record books.

The legacies of the gimmicky ones from yesterday are doing just fine today.

A Letter From the Editor: One last memo before opening a new door in my career

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/22/2020 - 6:30am
Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

With a new opportunity opening, it is time for this editor to say Thank You to so many people.

Well, there is no easy way to write this article. There was once a time when I never thought this article would be written, but here we are.

Okay, cut to the chase Jeff.

With a heart filled with nothing but respect and thanks, I am stepping away from Behind the Steel Curtain.

I am fortunate. I am not leaving because of a family emergency, illness or because of being fired. I am leaving because a new opportunity has come along and I just couldn’t pass it up.

Without sounding like Lebron James and “The Decision”, I am taking my talents to DKPittsburghSports.com. There are already pre-existing blood lines at DKPS with former BTSC writer Chris Carter still on staff, and when I was approached to write there about the Steelers and be their lead content manager for all three major Pittsburgh Sports teams they cover, I jumped at the opportunity.

This decision wasn’t an easy one, but after talking with family, friends and several people here at BTSC, it was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. This new gig will give me a chance to possibly sit in a press box and cover a game. To attend training camp and be behind the ropes. And possibly even attend a huge game in the future (hopefully in 2020). More than all that, it was the right decision for my family, and a step in the right direction for my career in this realm.

Leaving this space, a space I have been a part of for the last 7 years, 5+ as the editor, means I need to thank a lot of people who helped me along the way.

First, a huge shout out to all the readers who stayed with me when I took over for Neal Coolong those 5 years ago. When I came on board I didn’t know what I was doing, or how to do it. What happened next were readers, and contributors, jettisoning for fear of the direction of this new editor. What happened was me building my own team, and community. One I am very proud of saying I had a hand in cultivating.

This community is so passionate, knowledgeable and die hard it makes providing quality content for the site an easy task.

Next, a big thank you to everyone who ever produced content for me at some point during all these years. Bryan Anthony Davis, who started at BTSC at a kindergarten gathering at the school where his daughter and my son attend. Tony Defeo, the only contributor who has been here longer than me, and can infuriate the comment section like no one else. Cliff Harris is Still A Punk, Flip Fisher, Geoffrey Benedict, Shannon White, and any other writer who is on staff, or was on staff, I can’t thank you enough for your thankless, and tireless, work.

One of the aspects of the site I am most proud of is our budding podcast network. Almost 6k subscribers on YouTube, and a very quickly growing audio platform, the hard work we have all put in has paid off in a big way. Lance Williams, my partner in crime going back to my early days at BTSC, has been my right-hand-man all along the way. I’ll miss him being the hater, and me being the homer, on the air. Don’t ever change Lance. To Dave and Bryan, you all have worked so hard on this end of the site, and our work has paid off. There are plenty of good times coming for you all on this side of the site.

For the moderators, who keep things in check in the comment section. Holy cow, how can I thank you enough? You have allowed me to just focus on writing and managing content, and that simple fact has been priceless.

To my family, mainly my wife, who has been more than happy to take on her own work, with our 5 children, to ensure I do everything I need to do to make this site the very best it can be on a daily basis. It is a labor of love, and she always understood why it meant so much to me.

Lastly, I wouldn’t be doing my new job its due without describing what I’ll be undertaking over at DKPS. I will be joining Chris Carter and Dale Lolley on the Steelers team, as well as helping the Penguins and Pirates teams develop and create content. This is all based on the site opening up to free content, combined with premium content which will be paid. My content will be the free variety, with Dale and Chris’ work mostly being the “plus” content, but I hope you include DKPS as one of your many stops for Steelers content as you browse the internet.

So, what next? Who is taking over? Those responsibilities will fall on my former Deputy Editor, Dave Schofield. Dave has decided to take the job as editor and is working now to put his own touches on the position/staff. He will be publishing an article outlining his plan for the site a little later today. Be sure to check it out!

I know I wasn’t always super active in the comment section, but I will try my best to respond to any, and all, comments from people on this article. You may be rejoicing with the news of my decision, and that is just fine by me. Know I still appreciate you nonetheless.

If you’ve read this far, I want to thank YOU. You care enough to read 1,000 words on my decision to leave the site. It means you care. You care about me, you care about the site and you really care about your Steelers news.

Never change.

Stay strong everyone...

Podcast: What would a Steelers game at Heinz Field without fans be like?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/22/2020 - 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 now over, and with the Pittsburgh Steelers now in the offseason, 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:

  • What would a Steelers game at Heinz Field without fans be like?
  • Steelers Trivia
  • NFL Draft Breakdown: Antoine Brooks, LB/S, Maryland
  • 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.

The After Party podcast will be published in audio platform after 3:00 p.m. ET, and the audio can be found below:

There was no party this evening...it will return next week!

Black and Gold Links: Why the Pennsylvania Governor’s comments on Ben Roethlisberger are off base

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/22/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images for Pennsylvania Conference for Women

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 NFL Draft is officially over. After finishing last year 8-8, the Steelers, and their vast fan base, have another long offseason awaiting them. Just because the games are done doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how Governor Tom Wolfe’s comments on Ben Roethlisberger were way out of line.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Don’t mix politics and sports, but that happened.

Tim Benz: Gov. Wolf’s comments about sports fans were arrogant and inaccurate

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

While exploring the prospect of major sports events returning to Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf put his foot in his mouth.

Even while wearing a facemask. Yup, for this guy, that’s possible.

Apparently, Wolf isn’t satisfied telling Pittsburgh’s quarterback whether he can get his haircut. He’s also telling Pittsburgh fans whether we are going to “feel safe” watching him play.

Not if it’s safe to attend a game. He’s telling us how “everybody” is going to feel about it.

Apparently, Wolf is omniscient.

Keep in mind, Wolf isn’t talking about our worries over Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow. Or him gunslinging into double coverage. Pittsburghers are always going to have concerns there.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Time to bring the heat...

Believe it or not, Roethlisberger’s return promises an equal impact on the defense

By: Dale Lolley, DKPittsburghSports

The Steelers finished the 2019 season with the league’s fifth-rated defense in terms of yards against. They were sixth in points allowed and led the league in sacks for the third consecutive season while also leading the way with 38 forced turnovers.

But in the NFL things never stay the same from one season to the next.

And with the loss of starting nose tackle Javon Hargrave in free agency, there is a feeling that perhaps the defense won’t be quite as good in 2020.

That could be the case. It most certainly won’t be the same. But, there are some factors that just might make it better.

“We were a very young team last year defensively. We’re just going to continue to gel together,” T.J. Watt said this week on Sirius XM’s NFL Radio. “This is Blitzburgh. We send the heat a lot. We’re very comfortable with it. I don’t see us shying away from it at all. We’re very good in our disguises, and as we grow, we’re only going to get better.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • T.J. Watt is bringing Alex Highsmith along from afar.

From a distance, T.J. Watt taking Steelers rookie LB Alex Highsmith under his wing

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

T.J. Watt has spent the past month mentoring a teammate he likely still hasn’t met in person.

Since the NFL Draft concluded April 25, the Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker has been in the ear of rookie third-round pick Alex Highsmith, who was picked to provide depth at a position sorely needing it heading into the 2020 season.

All contact has been done on a virtual basis because of the coronavirus pandemic that has kept most teammates from personally interacting.

“Once Alex was drafted, I reached out to him and we’ve talked a lot on the side,” Watt said this week during an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I told him from the start that if you have any questions, don’t feel like you’re bothering me. You can always reach out to me whether it’s anything from drill work to an actual alignment or an assignment.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

Anthony Chickillo is now a member of the New Orleans Saints

The Steelers are well-represented on the PFF Top 101

Ben Roethlisberger’s injury history is a myth

Why Antoine Brooks Jr. is going to be one of your favorite Steelers

The Steelers are still about winning Lombardis

  • Social Media Madness

You can try to stop @CamHeyward, but you likely won't succeed. pic.twitter.com/IgJWIdnLwc

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 21, 2020

Two things are guaranteed when @mvp86hinesward scores a touchdown:
1. Six points
2. A big smile pic.twitter.com/FcOUgujIff

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 21, 2020

This bus makes frequent stops to the end zone @JeromeBettis36 | #tbt

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 21, 2020

Former Steelers’ OLB Anthony Chickillo signs with the New Orleans Saints

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/21/2020 - 3:26pm
Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Chickillo has reached a one-year deal with the Saints

Former Steelers’ outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo has reportedly signed a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints.

Former Steelers’ LB Anthony Chickillo reached agreement on a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints, per @RosenhausSports.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 21, 2020

Chickillo was released by the Steelers prior to the start of the 2020 NFL league. The move saved the Steelers $5 million towards the salary cap.

After signing a two-year, $8 million contract prior to the 2019 season, Chickillo had a disappointing year. Between injuries and legal issues stemming from an incident at the Lady Luck Casino at Nemacolin, Chickillo only appeared in 11 games in 2019. Not only did Chickillo not play as many games, his production continued to decrease as he only registered 0.5 sacks and 19 tackles wall playing 143 defensive snaps as the primary reserve outside linebacker.

Details of Chickillo’s contract with the Saints are not available at this time.

Although he was a salary cap casualty, it was never believed Chickillo was a candidate to return to the Steelers later in the offseason. With Pittsburgh dedicating their second selection of the 2020 NFL draft to Alex Highsmith with the 102nd overall pick in the third round, the Steelers appear to be satisfied with their reserve role at outside linebacker. Other players on the Steelers at the position include Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper who were both with the team in 2019. Adeniyi played 62 defensive snaps for the Steelers in 2019 while Skipper did not see the field for Pittsburgh but logged playing time in his brief stint with the New York Giants.

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

The Steelers are well-represented on the PFF All-Decade Top 101 list

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/21/2020 - 2:30pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers had plenty of players selected to the PFF All-Decade Top 101 list.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team who has been consistently competitive for a long time. Those competitive teams might not have always brought home hardware, I’m looking at you 2017 Steelers, but you can’t ignore the talent they’ve had on their roster year-in and year-out.

As Pro Football Focus (PFF) put together their All-Decade 2010s Team, they had 101 players listed as the best of the best during that 10 year span. Position didn’t matter, nor did their overall team’s success.

For the black-and-gold faithful, you might find some solace in knowing the Steelers were well-represented on that list. In fact, they had six players on the list.

Check out who finished where, and their explanation as to why they were placed at that specific position:

13. WR ANTONIO BROWN

The last year or so of drama and controversy has left Brown out in the wilderness, but while he was playing, he was as productive as any receiver in football. Only Julio Jones has a higher yards per route run figure than Brown’s 2.46 over the decade, and he has the fourth-lowest drop rate over that time at just 4.1%. Brown is one of just three players to amass over 10,000 receiving yards over the decade, and he has at least 14 more touchdowns than either of the other players to break that barrier (Julio Jones and Larry Fitzgerald). Antonio Brown right now is an NFL pariah, but he was one of the best receivers the game had ever seen when he was on the field.

37. QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER

At his best, Ben Roethlisberger was up there with the very best quarterbacks in football, but his ability to consistently be in the “next group” of passers even when he wasn’t at his very best is what’s kept him this high on the list and kept the Steelers contending for so many years. He went six straight seasons with an overall PFF grade above 80.0, and it wasn’t until last year’s cameo performance — before an injury ended his season — that we saw him post a grade lower than 75.0.

63. S TROY POLAMALU

Polamalu hasn’t played since 2014, but he was right in the middle of his prime at the start of the decade. He was the epitome of a game-changing safety who could line up all over the field, play the run, rush the passer, drop into coverage and disguise his intentions as late as possible with an incredible feel for where he needed to be. Polamalu ranked ninth in the NFL in PFF grade in 2010 before ranking first in 2011, 10th in 2012 and seventh in 2013 before tapering off in his final season in 2014. Few safeties could impact the game at all levels of the field like Polamalu, making him a unique Hall of Fame-caliber player who was still among the league’s best at the start of the 2010s.

92. RB LE’VEON BELL

Quickly becoming a cautionary tale as to the dependency of running backs on their situation, Le’Veon Bell was nevertheless a legitimate game-changing back for the majority of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has still yet to earn an overall PFF grade under 70.0 for a season, and his unique style of patient running worked in perfect harmony with the Steelers’ run-blocking to allow him to dominate. His receiving skills are among the best in the league at his position, and at his best, he has been arguably the best back in football. We may never see that player again unless the New York Jets can significantly turn their fortunes around, but this list will remember those seasons.

95. EDGE JAMES HARRISON

The decade only caught the second half of James Harrison’s incredible career. Yet, even as an aging veteran presence, he seemed to be bulletproof and capable of continuing on forever as an imposing and productive player. Even a complete position switch to an off-ball linebacker with the Cincinnati Bengals couldn’t prevent him grading well. And in his final cameo appearances for the New England Patriots, he still flashed the ability to generate pressure despite his age. Harrison is one of the best defenders the league has seen, maybe ever, and was an outstanding player in the past decade.

97. DI CAMERON HEYWARD

A former first-round draft pick, Cameron Heyward had a slow start to his career because of the talent and depth the Pittsburgh Steelers had along the defensive line. When he got a chance to step up and be the guy up front, he took his game to another level and has been one of the best interior players in the game. His best three seasons have come in the past three years. And he is coming off the best year of his career, one in which he broke 90.0 in overall PFF grade for the first time and was arguably the best interior lineman not named Aaron Donald.

Do you agree with the players who made the list, or do you think there is a player, or two, who deserved to receive recognition? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the 2020 regular season.

Dispelling the Myth: Ben Roethlisberger’s injury history

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/21/2020 - 12:40pm
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

When it comes to Big Ben’s durability, sometimes fans are quick to forget

A little over a month ago, I published in article about 3 things numerous Steelers’s fans believe but aren’t necessarily true. The general idea was looking at some narratives which seem to be widely accepted but don’t hold a lot of truth. Of course, as life continues on, more of these ideas come up.

One particular incident recently was during a discussion of Ben Roethlisberger returning from elbow surgery. With Ben missing 14 games in 2019, along with the fact he no longer has youth on his side, many feel Roethlisberger missing time is an inevitability. Even the national media speaks about other quarterbacks needing to lead the Steelers into the playoffs which I’ve also addressed in the past. But during this recent discussion, there was one particular question which was asked in order for someone to make their point where I don’t think they realize the actual answer. What was this question?

“When was the last time Ben Roethlisberger played all 16 games in a season?”

It was a serious question designed to prove a point that Ben Roethlisberger isn’t a durable player even before his season-ending injury of 2019. Many fans may ask this question themselves. But the answer, which is quite simple to fans following the team, it’s very shocking to many.

“2018”

Yes, Ben Roethlisberger played and started in every game the season prior to him landing on the Reserve/Injured List for the first time in his career.

Now some people may be quick to point out that Ben did miss time in 2018. He missed one snap against the Baltimore Ravens with an injury described by head coach Mike Tomlin as simply having “the wind knocked out of him.” Roethlisberger also missed part of the Steelers’ Week 13 game against the Oakland Raiders with a rib injury. Unfortunately, the biggest reason he missed a portion of that game was due to unreliable medical equipment available at the stadium. Roethlisberger was able to return to the game, but his absence was already felt to a point where the Steelers fell in defeat.

Interestingly enough, not only did Roethlisberger play 16 games in 2018, he started 15 games in 2017. The only game in which Ben did not appear was a meaningless Week 17 game against the Cleveland Browns where he rested before the playoffs.

Just a quick recap so far— that’s two seasons and zero games missed due to injury.

The previous season Roethlisberger played in 14 games. Once again, he did not play in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Cleveland Browns so the game was not missed due to injury. The other game missed came in Week 7 against the New England Patriots. In the Week 6 loss to the Miami Dolphins, Roethlisberger only missed 5 snaps. Following the game, he had surgery on his meniscus and was expected to miss four to six weeks. After missing the Week 7 game and the Steelers having a bye in Week 8, Roethlisberger returned for the Week 9 game against the Ravens.

So in the three seasons leading up to 2019, Roethlisberger played in all but three games, and only one was missed due to injury,

To find a season where Roethlisberger missed significant time before 2019 would be in 2015 when he missed four games and five starts. After a Week 3 knee injury against the St Louis Rams, Ben missed the next four games. Two weeks after he returned, Ben left the game against the Raiders with a foot injury. The next week, Landry Jones got the start against the Cleveland Browns only to leave due to injury as Roethlisberger came off the bench to lead the Steelers to victory.

Interestingly enough, the two seasons prior to the 2015 year when Rothlisberger missed four games, he started every game of the season.

So looking at Ben Roethlisberger’s recent injury history before the 2019 season is not the issue many believe. In the six seasons leading up to last year, Roethlisberger only missed games due to injury and two different years. Of those two seasons, one consisted of only one missed game missed while of the other had four contests in which Rothlisberger did not participate.

Of course this history does not mean Ben Roethlisberger will play every snap of 2020. Based on his age and coming off of major surgery, it’s hard to know what to expect out of Roethlisberger. But the narrative that Ben misses games every year due to injury, especially in recent seasons, is just not the case.

The Steelers are still about winning Lombardi trophies, and that’s why Big Ben’s video was a big deal

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/21/2020 - 11:05am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers hyping the apparent return to good health of their franchise quarterback in May does not mean they’re not still focused on Lombardi trophies in February.

If I had the ability to do so, I would go to the Twitter account of Adam Schein, some guy who talks sports at a bunch of different places (you can look it up—I had to), and post one of those “Here’s the attention you were looking for” memes.

Why? Much like in February, when he mocked Steelers fans for their excitement over that big tub of lard of a quarterback of theirs, Ben Roethlisberger, posting a quick video showing him throwing a football for the first time since having season-ending elbow surgery early in the 2019 regular season, Schein took to Twitter on Tuesday to do some more post-hype video mocking:

“Steelers used to be about Lombardi trophies in February. Now it’s haircuts and hype videos in May. This is what happens when you miss the playoffs in back to back years and Baltimore is loaded and Cleveland oozes talent and has real head coach.”

OK, that was more like shaming. Either way, it was mean.

Schein, of course, was referring to the video Roethlisberger and the Steelers posted to their social media accounts on Monday of the veteran quarterback throwing “legit NFL passes” in a workout session with JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner and Ryan Switzer.

The video was huge news. How huge? So huge, the quick cut to Roethlisberger getting his Big Beard trimmed by his barber buddy became the “Envelope-gate” of haircuts, as many people weighed in on that alone on Tuesday.

But I don’t want to talk about beards and barbers. I want to put the shine back on Schein.

Was it a hype video? Yes. Does that mean the Steelers aren’t about Lombardi trophies any longer?

What’s that phrase I always bring up that I don’t understand? I’ll try and use it in a sentence: The Steelers can post hype videos in May and still be about winning Lombardi trophies in February—the two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

Did I nail it? If not, well, you know what I mean.

The Steelers whole reason for the season is the Lombardi trophy. That’s always been the motivation since they started winning them in 1974.

One might say it was their motivation even last year, after Roethlisberger was lost for the season with the aforementioned elbow injury. If they weren’t trying to stay relevant after the kind of season-ending injury that normally cripples most teams with a quarterback of Roethlisberger’s caliber, why trade their 2020 first-round pick to the Dolphins in exchange for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick?

The Steelers were 0-2 at the time. They could have easily tanked it for Tua (or Joe Burrow, as it turned out). Instead, they added Fitzpatrick to an improving defense and made it better—elite, in fact. Pittsburgh rode that defense all the way to an 8-5 record, before ultimately collapsing down the stretch under the weight of some very inexperienced quarterback play.

The play by the young quarterbacks the Steelers employed in Roethlisberger’s absence in 2019—Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges—was spotty, at best, even during an 8-2 stretch that took them from 0-3 to 8-5 and the inside track for the fifth seed by mid-December.

But even when it looked like the Steelers were actually going to make the playoffs, most felt like they simply didn’t have the offensive firepower to do much more than go one and done.

It didn’t matter. They went for it, anyway. Why? That’s what champions do. That’s what organizations who are all about winning do. They never go down without a fight.

Schein’s logic is so flawed, I don’t even know where to begin. Yes, the Steelers missed the playoffs in back to back years. But the reason they missed the postseason last season was because they were without their best player. Isn’t it understandable that a team that seems to be one really good quarterback away from becoming a contender would hype the apparent return to good health of its Hall of Fame passer?

Yes, Baltimore is loaded. It has an MVP quarterback, a great running game, some good receivers and an excellent defense. With all of that talent, maybe 2020 will be the year the Ravens finally win their first playoff game since 2014. As for the Browns, a team that is oozing with talent and finally has a real head coach in Kevin “I’ve Never Been a Real Head Coach Before” Stefanski? Maybe they’ll finally win their first postseason game since 1994—or back when the Ravens were the OG Browns.

The Steelers have always been about Lombardi trophies, so much so, even Mike Tomlin is on the hot seat—at least with the fans.

That’s right, Steelers fans, like their favorite football team, are merely distracted by hype videos in May. They still want results in February.

It might be a favorite pastime for many in the national media to take shots at Pittsburgh, these days, but the Steelers pastime has and always will remain the same: Winning the next Lombardi trophy.

Film Room: Antoine Brooks Jr. will be your new favorite Steeler, Part 1: Run Defense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/21/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

The best highlights you’ll see of the Steelers rookie class come from their 6th round pick.

With the 198th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected my immediate favorite for the Isaac Redman award, the man with the highlight film to inspire every Greg Lloyd and Troy Polamalu fan in Steeler Nation, Antoine Brooks Jr.

Go ahead, tell me about 6th round picks, their chances of ever making the team, their chances of being meaningful contributors, I know all of it. There’s a reason players fall to the 6th round, and there are reasons Antoine Brooks Jr. fell to the 6th round. But set that aside for a minute, and let’s watch some film.

(This is going to be a serious film room, but really, if you can get through this article without being pumped up I’ll have to question why you like football.)

Antoine Brooks Jr. eats running backs for breakfast.

Antoine Brooks Jr. (#25) is just outside the box to the bottom of the screen.

Brooks anticipates the play, gets into the backfield quick enough that the RB can’t follow his blocker, and then finishes the play for one of his 27.5 tackles for a loss in 36 games as a starter.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is just outside the box to the top of the screen.

Miles Sanders takes one step with the ball, and it was his last. For this play at least. Brooks gets another RB before he can even get going.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is just outside the box to the bottom of the screen.

And another one. This time the RB can’t even get a step forward before a human missile separates him from the ball.

I wanted to show several of these plays, because they happened a lot. Remember the spot he is playing here, half LB, half Safety. A lot of college teams use these positions that are a LB/S hybrid and all about attacking, Antoine Brooks Jr. didn’t always play that role, but he was phenomenal in it when he did, especially against the run.

Stay inside the box, Antoine Brooks Jr. is outside.

You can’t defend every run play by just tackling the RB at the hand-off, it isn’t very sportsmanlike.

Antoine Brooks Jr. comes up to the line on this play, like a 5th lineman to the bottom of the screen.

So everyone saw what happens when you leave Brooks unblocked, but lead blockers didn’t help much either. Here the blocker is easily dodged and the RB is toast. Notice where Brooks lines up on this play. He frequently lined up on the edge, where he destroyed outside runs, rushed the passer as well as covering RBs or TEs in the passing game.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is just outside the box to the top of the screen, backing up as the play starts.

Here Brooks is in zone coverage, but as soon as he sees the RB decide to take the run outside he flies to the ball for another TFL.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is a few steps behind and outside the LBs, on the 31 yard line to the top of the screen.

This is more of a Strong Safety alignment to start the play, and he’s clearly in coverage. This off-tackle run is really well blocked, except they double the LB and don’t get a body on Brooks, and an otherwise really well blocked run gains 2 yards. One thing Brooks cannot be called is indecisive, he reads the play pretty quickly and flies to the ball. His first step to the hole is hard and he is flying, and it is half a step after the RB sees the lane.

Antoine Brooks Jr. doesn’t care about your blockers.

Fullbacks, Tight Ends and Offensive Lineman are people too, and their feelings matter, just not to Antoine Brooks Jr.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is lined up on the line, outside the DE, to the bottom of the screen.

The TE/H-back is unable to block Brooks, and the RB has nowhere to go. Brooks takes a big step up field, plants that foot and cuts inside, crashing into the inside shoulder of his blocker. He is able to cross the blockers face without getting driven forward and disengage to make the play.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is standing up, on the line, outside the DE, to the top of the screen.

This is fantastic run defense. Brooks controls the TE’s block, moving the TE into the line to seal off any inside hole, while giving himself the outside leverage to make the tackle. The body control Brooks shows, and how quickly he goes from controlling the block to making the tackle is impressive. He’s a natural football player.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is lined up on the line, outside the DE, to the bottom of the screen.

Brooks hits the pulling guard on the inside shoulder, sheds and gets in on the tackle, taking the RB off his feet to prevent any second effort nonsense.

There are a number of times you see Antoine Brooks Jr. end up taking on a pulling lineman, and while he obviously wasn’t winning all of them when he’s giving up a hundred pounds, he won a lot more than you would expect. We’ll see more of him beating OL blocks in pass rush in part 2 of this film room.

Wherever you find him, Antoine Brooks Jr. is a problem.

Here’s some other plays where Brooks is either lined up in a different spot, or the offense is doing something different. The results are still predictable when you run at #25.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is lined up inside, with him and #33 standing up in the A gaps. Brooks is to the top of the screen, his first step will be backwards.

Antoine Brooks Jr. was a MLB in high school, and it shows here. He follows the lead blocker outside, and is able to start engaging with the block while keeping his focus on the RB, and is able to get back and hold the run to 2 yards.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is lined up at safety, behind the line close to the middle of the play.

Brooks again shows MLB instincts, following the run easily before cutting down the runner in the hole for minimal gain.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is lined up on the line, outside the DE, to the bottom of the screen.

Dwayne Haskins decides to keep the ball on this option, and it looks like the right move, as Brooks is gunning for the RB and in position to make the play, but he is also able to cut sideways and make the tackle on Haskins. Brooks’ read and react speed is a legit weapon.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is lined up on the line, outside the DE, to the bottom of the screen.

Here Michigan initially fools Brooks with the option, but even though Brooks is inside the blocker and the QB goes outside Brooks gets off the block and runs the play down for a loss.

Bonus Clips: Special Teams

Special Teams are incredibly hard to judge on broadcast angles, as most of the play can’t even be seen. And the ones you can find the player generally just involve being able to see they were there, and not what they actually did.

Brooks played ST a good deal, kick returns and FG units he was a staple.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is lined up on the line, second from the top of the screen.

Brooks was in this role, dropping back to defend fakes most of the time. This play his team mates get the block, and you can see him start to celebrate before he sees the live ball in play. A quick scoop and a stiff arm and he’s got a TD.

Antoine Brooks Jr. wasn’t a consistent member of the punt team, but I had to include this play. Brooks is lined up outside to the left, in front of the three man wall protecting the punt.

You can see him shove a rusher outside before heading out to cover the punt, then you see him run in at the end.

How about a better look at the end of that play. Apologies to any fans or family members of Donovan Peoples-Jones.

This is incredible. Brooks sees #23 coming in hard and high, and ducks under him to set up a nasty collision with the returner.

Does this play say much about his ability on special teams, nope. But it is awesome. If he can replicate this play in an AFC North contest the draft pick would be worth it for that alone.

The takeaway

Antoine Brooks Jr. was a devastating force against the run. You could see games, like the Ohio State game in 2018, where the other team just started running away from Brooks and hoping he didn’t jack up the play from the backside. He didn’t always get the best of blockers, but he did it enough to make teams respect it.

If Antoine Brooks Jr. was 6’2”, 230 lbs he’d have gone in the first two rounds and we’d be comparing him to Greg Lloyd. Instead he’s 5’10”, 220 lbs and he’s a 6th round safety. And that’s what his film shows, he’s a LB in a DB’s body.

One of the relevant negatives to this part of the film room include the frequent times he left the game for a short while do to injury. He did not miss games, but he would miss time. His style of play is going to be hard on him, and he already has 36 games of that kind of wear. His other negative I want to cover here is the tackles he misses because of his style. I’m okay with players missing a tackle when they still disrupt the play, because as long as someone else is winning their job on defense, the play is probably a win, and you see that a number of times where he flies into the backfield but isn’t able to finish the RB. Not as many as I expected to find though.

In part 2 we’ll look at Antoine Brooks Jr. in coverage and rushing the passer, and I’ll give my thoughts on his role with the team.

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