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Podcast: Players who need to step up for the Steelers in 2018

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 5:38am

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

The 2018 NFL Draft is over and, believe it or not, there’s lots to talk about heading into a big week of offseason news for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the new show Steelers News:

  • Minicamp news and notes
  • Players who need to step up in 2018.
  • List includes: Bud Dupree, Stephon Tuitt, Vance McDonald and MORE!
  • Are we all WAAAY off regarding Le’Veon Bell’s contract requests?
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, goes over 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 our BlogTalkRadio page. If you’re old-school and just want the audio, you can listen to it in the player below. Be sure to follow us on iTunes by searching The Standard is the Standard.

The show is sponsored by Frank Walker Law, the top criminal defense firm to call in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia and home to one of the nation’s top-100 ranked trial attorneys in Frank Walker. For his PA office, call 412-212-3878 or to reach his WV office call 304-712-2089. You should also check out his website frankwalkerlaw.com to see how he can help you in your time of need. Frank Walker Law: Real Talk, Real Experience, Real Results.

Randy Fichtner is the Steelers' new lightning rod. He's OK with it.

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Tue, 06/12/2018 - 4:56pm

He has not called a play for the Steelers yet, but Randy Fichtner already received enough suggestions to fill out a game plan.

Le'Veon Bell's latest price tag is reportedly $14.5 million per season

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Tue, 06/12/2018 - 3:48pm

Le’Veon Bell has thrown out a lot of numbers in long-term contract talks with the Steelers that have dragged for more than a year. He’s rapped about wanting $15 million, and other times let his demands swell to $17 million

Jerome Bettis: 'OTAs have gotten too publicized'

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Tue, 06/12/2018 - 2:55pm

What was a drama-filled season for the Steelers has, naturally, become a drama-filled offseason. Le’Veon Bell’s contract situation has led to his absence for a second consecutive year. Ben Roethlisberger ruffled feathers with his comments on newly drafted quarterback Mason Rudolph. Then, Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown further stirred things up with their decisions to skip out on multiple days of voluntary organized team activities.

Will Justin Hunter finally become more than just an outstanding practice player?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/12/2018 - 1:58pm

Can the journeyman wide receiver finally show up on game days?

When the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Justin Hunter as a free agent prior to the 2017 season, not many fans gave it much credence. After all, the journeyman receiver had yet to show anything of substance at the NFL level, and he had the look of nothing more than an insurance policy if someone were to go down with an injury.

Then came the team’s training camp, and the Ben Roethlisberger to Justin Hunter connection was all anyone was talking about. While Martavis Bryant awaited word from the NFL when he would be reinstated, Roethlisberger was finding Hunter, and Hunter was making some ridiculous catches.

What took place after training camp was Hunter made the 53-man roster, but hardly played once Bryant re-joined the team. As you know, Bryant is now gone, and Hunter seems to have picked up where he left off regarding his crazy catches during the team’s Organized Team Activities (OTAs).

Will Hunter ever become more than a great practice player for the black-and-gold?

“I need every one of [these reps],” Hunter told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. “It gives me another op to show what I’ve got against the first team. As long as I keep it consistently, I’ll be straight.”

There is a spot for him on the team, if he can claim it, and Ben Roethlisberger outlined just what he needs to do in order to stake his claim on the wide receiver depth chart.

“Ben just says, ‘If I’m going to throw it to you, make a play for me,’” Hunter said.

Last year Hunter corralled just four catches for 23 yards and a touchdown, but it doesn’t mean he can’t produce more with Bryant gone. In fact, when you look at the team’s depth chart at receiver there is no reason why Hunter shouldn’t have a legitimate shot to make the team. Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington could be considered the locks to make the team, but other than the remaining spot(s) on the roster is up for grabs.

Will Hunter be able to break through and finally turn his practice performances into game day performances? Or will he continue his journey with another NFL team in 2018? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.

A single tweet which embodies Steelers fans’ frustrations with the Todd Haley offense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/12/2018 - 11:35am

There was plenty not to like about Todd Haley’s play-calling, but his 3rd-and-short calls were possibly the most frustrating.

I think it’s a safe assumption to suggest the vast majority of Pittsburgh Steelers fans didn’t like Todd Haley, or his offense. Whether it was his first year, when “FIRE HALEY” signs were seen all over the Heinz Field crowd, or his off-field escapades which saw him in the news for all the wrong reasons.

It was a rocky road for Haley, but his play-calling in specific situations might have been what truly angered fans the most. And his play-calling on third downs might trump them all when it comes to head scratching aspects of the Cleveland Browns’ current offensive coordinator.

Pro Football Focus (PFF) put out this tweet on Tuesday which illustrates one of the many reasons fans aren’t upset Haley is now elsewhere.

On 3rd and 10 or fewer yards to go, Big Ben and the Steelers weren't afraid to go long! pic.twitter.com/zTVI4P6n3q

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 12, 2018

While 3rd-and-10 or fewer is the sample size, it would be even worse to show 3rd-and-short data. We all know, on many of those 3rd-and-1 situations, Ben Roethlisberger would drop back and fire it deep to Antonio Brown along the sideline — only to have it fall incomplete.

Fans would collectively put their hands over their heads and just say one word:

“WHY?!”

It’s worth noting the team did connect on several of those third-down calls, including three times in the team’s playoff loss to Jacksonville. But there were far more which ended up in a Jordan Berry punt than those moving the chains for first downs.

When you think about it more generally, Haley’s 3rd-down calls — not just when throwing it deep — might have been his most notorious characteristic while in Pittsburgh. Speaking only for myself, I immediately think of the two 3rd-and-short jet sweep pitches to Le’Veon Bell in the playoff game which netted nothing but negative yards.

Whether it be bubble screens, sweeps or deep throws, I don’t want to imply that all of this falls on Haley’s shoulders. I realize most of you were not fond of Haley, but not every 3rd-and-short call was on him. Often, if Ben Roethlisberger saw a one-on-one matchup on the outside which he felt he could exploit, he’d take a shot.

Like the graphic above states, it’s a risk or a gamble. Whether you cash in on that gamble is another story altogether, but the Steelers under Haley loved to push the envelope on third downs. This is one of the many aspects of Randy Fichtner taking over as coordinator which will be interesting to watch. Does he take a more conservative approach in specific game situations, or let Roethlisberger continue to air it out?

Guess we’ll all have to wait-and-see...

NFL Insider doesn’t foresee Le’Veon Bell resetting the RB market, even though he should

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/12/2018 - 10:25am

Le’Veon Bell is hoping to boost the running back market with his next contract, but one NFL Insider doesn’t see that happening...even though it should.

“Times they are a changin’...”

Those words, written and sung by Bob Dylan, can certainly ring true for a lot of aspects of modern society, but they even hold strong for the NFL too. In the mid-90s through the early 2000s, the running back position was considered one of the most important on the football team —second only to the quarterback.

Now? It seems as if teams consider them expendable, and with the emergence of every Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara, teams are okay with letting high-priced running backs walk to pick up a younger and cheaper player in the NFL Draft.

Gone are the huge contracts to players like Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy, and even though Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is doing his best to reset the running back market, one NFL Insider doesn’t see him achieving his goal — even though he should.

Take a look at what Jason La Confora of CBS had to say about Bell’s current situation:

I do not expect Le’Veon Bell to come away with a market-setting, record contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I don’t know too many people in the NFL who believe he will. But to say that he has a strong cheering section behind him would be an understatement.

La Confora continues:

And the bottom line with the Steelers is that, except for quarterbacks, they aren’t going to guarantee massive amounts at signing and spread those guarantees three or more years out. And while one could clearly make the argument that Bell is just as important to this offensive juggernaut as Ben Roethlisberger or Antonio Brown, that receiver stigma, and Bell’s off-field issues, in the end, will preclude him from securing a landmark pact from the Steelers by the July 16 deadline, I believe.

Whether it should or not is clearly up for debate. There are several within the NFLPA and agent community who would argue that Bell, and a handful of others at his position, deserve to be compensated as elite offensive weapons and not pure running backs based on all they do for the passing game. The fact that they can beat linebackers in space in the backfield and win against corners or safeties in the slot and run precise routes and dominate in pass protection should thrust them into the same stratosphere we see top pass catchers routinely reach.

”If Jarvis Landry is a $16M-a-year player, then why isn’t Le’Veon Bell?” is a question an agent recently posed to me, with Landry securing that money from the Browns. My initial response was that Bell quite possibly would be if the Steelers shopped him as the Dolphins did Landry – who also began this offseason with a franchise tag before being dealt to the Browns – but that teams have already set their budgets and doled out their massive deals back in March. If the Steelers were going to go that route – not that they ever entertained it, as they had already budgeted Bell on the tag in 2018 and are in Super Bowl or bust mode, effectively – those trade talks would have been a February/March matter, not June.

More from the agent to La Confora:

But the agent made several salient points. “Landry wins in the slot; Bell can do that too and a lot more,” he noted. I agree – if Bell got the volume of slot targets Landry does, he could catch 100 balls and easily average the 10 yards per catch Landry does. But he is also dominant running between the tackles and on the perimeter so he would not be utilized in that manner. But is Bell a better football player than Landy? Of course. Absolutely. I don’t who could argue to the contrary.

While Steelers fans have grown tired of talking about Bell, the comparison to Bell’s situation and that of Jarvis Landry certainly is valid. Regardless of your feelings of Bell and how he has approached his current situation throughout negotiations, you can’t overlook his value to an offense.

Bell does it all — literally.

There are times I feel Steelers fans may forget this simple-yet-complex fact. While the fan base wants to see Bell take a significant pay cut to stay in Pittsburgh and help the team keep its core together, he also should be paid what he's worth.

This would be similar to someone working a 9-to-5 desk job. They show up, bust their butt and are one of the best at what they do. It comes time for the boss to give out raises and, during the meeting, he states how he isn’t going to pay this person what they deserve because he has spent too much money on other members of their staff.

It happens, but it doesn’t mean this individual isn’t going to be miffed about it, and possibly want to go elsewhere where they will be compensated for their skill and effort.

Bell is in the precarious position of being the best at a position which simply isn’t valued as much as it used to be. La Confora brings up some tremendous points, but is ultimately correct when predicting how Bell won’t be resetting the running back market anytime soon.

Ben Roethlisberger's reputation for being big, tough and elusive will be his greatest legacy

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/12/2018 - 8:32am

Ben Roethlisberger's reputation for being big, tough and elusive will be his greatest legacy regardless of how many Super Bowls he wins. But he might still be elusive enough to win one or two more.

I was talking to my mom over the weekend and, for whatever reason, the conversation steered towards the Steelers and, ultimately, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

My mother, who’s a few months shy of her 68th birthday and has never been known for her football expertise (I know you’re going to say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), said what she always says when Big Ben’s name is mentioned: “It’s amazing how tough it is for the defenders to get him on the ground.”

She’s always been fascinated with Roethlisberger’s toughness, and when it comes to that, she’s no different than most fans of No. 7.

My mom is also quite aware of Roethlisberger’s height.

At 6’5” tall, she wondered out loud if Big Ben was, indeed, the tallest quarterback in the NFL. After doing some research, courtesy of gooddeedseats.com, I see that Roethlisberger trails only the 6’8” Brock Osweiler and the 6’6” Joe Flacco in height.

So, basically, Roethlisberger is the tallest quarterback in the NFL (see what I did there)?

Another thing my mom can't help but notice about Roethlisberger is that, as she puts it, “He always waits until the last second to do something.”

If you’re familiar with Roethlisberger’s style, you obviously know Mom is referring to his street-ball tendencies, improvisational skills (how many times has he flipped a “pass” to a running back right before being taken to the ground?) and his elusiveness--the willingness to run around in the pocket, escape the pocket to roll to one side of the field, run all the way back to the other side of the field, all the while looking to make a play downfield.

The way my mother, again — not a football expert in the slightest — talks about Roethlisberger, it truly captures his essence.

And when it comes right down to it, that essence is what we’ll remember when the big guy finally does hang up his cleats for good.

The beauty of talking football in the offseason is it really does give you time to reflect. It’s easy to get caught up in discussing things like Home Ben vs. Road Ben, his often cryptic and head-scratching quotes to the media or whether or not he’s accomplished everything he could have, both in a personal and team sense, since he came to town 14 years ago.

But in June, when training camp is still over a month away, and all you have are memories and YouTube highlights, you truly get to appreciate what makes Roethlisberger special.

Obviously, as fans, we don’t want the Roethlisberger story to come to an end before another Super Bowl or two has been won.

Can that happen?

Just apply Roethlisberger’s physical attributes to his personal life in recent years.

If you’ve followed his career since winning his last Super Bowl, Roethlisberger has displayed great mental and emotional toughness. Through extreme adversity brought on by his own demons, he was forced to grow up, become a family man and, as it pertains to the Steelers, transform into the kind of team leader befitting his franchise-quarterback status.

Following the departure of offensive coordinator and friend Bruce Arians six years ago, Roethlisberger was forced to “tweak” his style, something that couldn’t have been easy for a man of his accomplishments to do during the very prime of his career. But the 6’5” Roethlisberger “stood tall,” so to speak, and rose to the occasion. Working with Todd Haley, an offensive coordinator that probably was never on his Christmas card list, Roethlisberger went on to have some of his best years statistically.

As for his elusiveness, improvisation and street-ball skills, Roethlisberger may have done his best work during the past two offseasons, racing from one side of the field (by hinting at retirement in 2017), all the way over to the other side (saying he’d love to play three-to-five more seasons).

It remains to be seen how Roethlisberger’s final years as the Steelers’ quarterback will play out. But regardless of what happens, his legacy has already been established in the eyes of many....or has it?

Maybe there’s another Super Bowl or two in Roethlisberger’s future.

After all, like Mom told me, “He likes to wait until the last second before doing something.”

Remaining Free Agents: Who’s left, should the Steelers need to add to their defense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/12/2018 - 7:10am

BTSC examines the guys on defense who need jobs, and if they would be a possibility in Steel City.

As stated in Part One, the free-agent bonanza in the NFL typically happens in March, but there are still valuable and viable options for the Steelers to enhance their already talented 2018 roster. Perhaps one of these men can help and, more importantly, fit this budget-conscious team.

BTSC previously examined the available players on offense that might be possibilities for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In some cases, they don’t have needs at the positions involved. In this second installment, we will examine the defensive side of the ball and whether or not they would be realistic and helpful options for the Black-and-gold. With the salary cap space always being an issue, we realize that not every player would be a possibility. But the following are the best at each position that free agency has to offer at this late juncture.

Defensive Line

Best Remaining: DT Johnathan Hankins - Indianapolis

Other Options: 4-3 DE Robert Ayers - Tampa Bay, DT Alan Branch - New England, 4-3 DE Ryan Davis - Buffalo, 3-4 DE Karl Klug - Tennessee, 4-3 DE Courtney Upshaw - Atlanta, 3-4 DE Quinton Dial - Green Bay

Tyson Alualu provided some very valuable depth along the defensive line last year. With Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave entrenched as starters and Alualu subbing now and then, the defensive line isn’t as high a priority to upgrade as other units. A guy like the 30-year old Klug (13 tackles, 1.5 sacks in 2017) would be a decent and inexpensive option, while Hankins (2.0 sacks in 2017) might be too pricey for his lack of production. The likelihood for either one is doubtful, as Pittsburgh could get that type of production out of a young player with upside like L.T. Walton or Lavon Hooks.

Outside Linebacker

Best Remaining: Connor Barwin - Los Angeles Rams

Other Options: Junior Galette - Washington, Tamba Hali - Kansas City, Ahmad Brooks - Green Bay, Lamarr Houston - Chicago

It wouldn’t be a terrible thing if the Steelers were to add depth at OLB. The situation is solid on one side with T.J. Watt, but Bud Dupree hasn’t exactly set the world on fire and he’s got a lot to prove in his fourth season. After Bud, there’s even more of a dropoff. Galette (20 tackles/three sacks) has had injuries and off-field problems and just isn’t worth it with his low production. Maybe a one-year contract for a veteran hand like Houston (five sacks) or Barwin (five sacks) could be helpful, but you do run the risk of them being too deep into the twilight of their careers, like Hali.

Inside Linebacker

Best Remaining: NaVorro Bowman - Oakland

Other Options: Brian Cushing - Houston, Lawrence Timmons - Miami

A lot of fans wish the Steelers would find the cap space to take a flyer on Bowman (80 tackles/one INT), since they didn’t definitively address their ILB deficiencies in the draft. However, he’s got a troubling injury history. The team may be content with just bringing in Jon Bostic and having a healthy Tyler Matakevich. Will that be enough to help a position that was severely lacking after Ryan Shazier went down? That seems to be the most pressing concern. Timmons (58 tackles) is still a possibility at the veteran-minimum, that seems as likely a scenario as any. Steelers Nation has been split on that possibility though.

Cornerback

Best Remaining: Bashaud Breeland - Washington

Other Options: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie - New York Giants, Jeremy Lane - Seattle, Kayvon Webster - Los Angeles Rams, Delvin Breaux - New Orleans

Carolina considered Breeland too damaged and nullified their three-year deal for $24 million. The Steelers would probably steer clear of the fifth-year corner for that reason and his price tag as well. The Steelers have talent and questions with their current group of corners, but they’re going to ride Joe Haden and try to develop Artie Burns more. Cam Sutton and Mike Hilton have shown great promise too. A younger player like Lane could contribute, but showed little last year with the Seahawks. Meanwhile, the veteran DRC (No interceptions in 2017) is showing decline and nearing his career climax. The Steelers will probably not pursue any corners in the late preseason.

Safety

Best Remaining: Eric Reid - San Francisco

Other Options: Kenny Vaccaro - New Orleans, Tre Boston - Los Angeles Chargers, Tyvon Branch - Arizona, Mike Mitchell - Pittsburgh, T.J. Ward - Tampa Bay

This is the most talented position group remaining, with Reid and Vaccaro topping the list. But the Steelers really addressed safety during the off-season/draft by adding Morgan Burnett, Nat Behre, Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen. With Sean Davis and Malik Golden already in the fold, there isn’t really a reason to add here.

...

Will the Steelers make any more moves or merely work with what they’ve got? Stick with BTSC for all of the up-to-date offseason news.

Daniel McCullers faces stiff odds to make the team in likely final shot with Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/12/2018 - 5:51am

The Shade Tree is about to get his final shot to make the Steelers team and be a difference maker.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Daniel McCullers out of the University of Tennessee, fans were excited to see what the man dubbed the “Shade Tree” would bring to the team as the new nose tackle.

But this giant of a man never lived up to the hype. Though he stuck around with the team throughout his rookie contract, he watched from the sideline more than he got onto the field to make a difference. This past offseason, with McCullers as a Unrestricted Free Agent, the Steelers brought him back with a new one year contract.

However, they very well might have called it a “last chance” contract.

The current depth chart along the defensive line is as follows:

Defensive End: Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, L.T. Walton and rookie Joshua Frazier

Nose Tackle: Javon Hargrave, Daniel McCullers, but Alualu, Walton and possibly Frazier could swing to the nose tackle position if needed.

Talk about an uphill climb to make the team, and McCullers knows it.

“It’s a big training camp coming up,” McCullers acknowledged to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’m coming in at my best shape and [showing] them I’m ready, just go out there and dominate every deal like I can. Take no breaks; if you get tired, keep going, keep pushing. Use my technique and stay low, that’s what they’re looking for.”

McCullers will have a new position coach leading the way in Karl Dunbar, and it will be up to Dunbar to do something John Mitchell never could — get McCullers motivated to do the things he says he was always going to do. Play low and use proper technique.

After 2017, a year in which McCullers played only 13 defensive snaps, he understands what lies ahead.

“Yeah, it [last season] was, but you live and you learn,” McCullers said. “You have to get better, improve each day and be the best you can be.”

“I want to be part of this team,” McCullers said. “I feel I can contribute a lot. I like the system, I like the plays, I feel I can make a big impact.”

McCullers may want to be a part of this team, but he will certainly have to earn it. Looking at the depth chart above, he will have to prove his worth as a nose tackle, and someone who actually has the potential of getting a helmet on game day, rather than remaining a fixture on the inactive list.

“I have to do it. I feel I can help this team a lot, help them get all the way to the Super Bowl.” McCullers added.

Will McCullers finally prove the doubters wrong? The odds might not be in his favor, but the Steelers have stuck with him all this time, which should stand for something. What do you think will be McCullers’ fate? Let us know in the comment section below!

In case you didn’t know, Mike Hilton is becoming one of the better slot CBs in the game

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/11/2018 - 1:55pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers found a diamond in the rough with Mike Hilton.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those teams who has to frustrate the heck out their rivals. It just seems like the organization has a knack for finding talented players and simply turning the page.

The perfect example of this is when the team drafted Senquez Golson in the second round. The hope was they had found their slot cornerback for years to come, but what they received was an injury prone player who never stepped foot in an actual NFL stadium for even a preseason game.

As opponents smirked and likely did a fist pump over the Steelers’ trials and tribulations, the team then picked up another Ole Miss cornerback who went undrafted, Mike Hilton, and gave him a future/reserve contract.

What happened next was nothing short of miraculous.

Hilton played so well throughout training camp and the preseason, the team had no option but to keep him on the team’s 53-man roster. But he wasn’t just a player who made the roster, he was their first cornerback off the bench in their nickel sub packages, and in today’s NFL this player is practically a starter.

Those who followed the team in 2017 know how good Hilton was for the Steelers, but Pro Football Focus has selected Hilton as one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL today. Hilton was recently highlighted in an article on slot cornerbacks where he was among names like Chris Harris Jr., Byron Jones, Patrick Robinson and Kendall Fuller.

Take a look at what they had to say about Hilton:

Mike Hilton, Pittsburgh Steelers

Despite being an undrafted player and largely unheralded going into 2017, Hilton became one of the most valuable players on a Steelers’ team that earned a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. An example of a player who was predominantly a slot player in college, Hilton excelled at many of the intangible things a nickel player must do: generating 17 total pressures and finishing first among cornerbacks in run-stop percentage. He was no slouch in coverage, either, allowing just 53 yards into his coverage from Week 12 on.

Just look at some of those statistics:

  • Ranked first among cornerbacks in run-stop percentage
  • Allowed just 53-yards in coverage from Week 12 on

Those aren’t just flash in the pan statistics, those are statistics for a player who is on the rise. While Hilton might not be able to flex out to the outside, like Cameron Sutton can, he owns the inside...and that works just fine for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Hilton finished the 2017 season with the following statistics:

  • 2 interceptions
  • 6 pass defenses
  • 1 forced fumble
  • 4 sacks
  • 42 total tackles

Not too shabby for a player who was left on the scrap heap of the NFL, right? After the Steelers lost an Ole Miss cornerback when Golson couldn’t stay healthy, they gained another one in Hilton.

What does 2018 have in store for Hilton? After a full season of regular playing time under his belt, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Hilton get even better at what he does and become an elite slot cornerback in the league.

What if JuJu Smith-Schuster would have stepped out of bounds in the Patriots game last year?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/11/2018 - 11:49am

We take a look back at JuJu Smith-Schuster’s huge catch-and-run and wonder ‘what if’.

Last year, after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ heartbreaking loss to the New England Patriots in Week 15 at Heinz Field, I received an email from a follower of the site asking me to take a look back at the JuJu Smith-Schuster catch-and-run in the waning minutes of the game.

The reader asked one question, “What if JuJu didn’t cut back into the middle of the field?”

At the time I was too disgusted to really want to go back and look, but I try to respond to all emails sent to me regarding the website. So I went back and looked, and I’ll be damned if this reader didn’t have a point.

Take a look at the play below, but don’t get enamored with the play itself. Watch the point where Smith-Schuster goes by the blocking Le’Veon Bell and has a decision to make:

Do I cut it inside, or stay along the sideline and use my blocker, Jesse James, to help me get as much yardage as possible before going out of bounds.

He decides to cut it inside, and we all know what ensued afterwards, but what if JuJu would have stayed to the outside with James as a blocker?

If you have to, watch the play again and focus on the :51 second mark of the video. Now, let’s set the stage for what could have happened.

With under a minute left and only one timeout remaining, down by a field goal, the worst-case scenario for Smith-Schuster, if he stayed along the sideline, would have been he was forced out of bounds and wouldn’t have gotten the offense down to the 10-yard line, as he did by cutting the play inside.

While sacrificing the extra yardage, what would have then happened is the Steelers would have already been well inside Chris Boswell’s, and they would have been able to keep their lone timeout in their pocket, which they ended up burning while the team got to the football and clocked the ball. So, instead of 1st and goal from the 10-yard line with :34 left and no timeouts, the team might have been facing a 1st and 10 from the 20-yard line with 1 timeout and :34, or more, left on the clock.

Talk about a difference scenario.

Now, before you rush to the comment section to berate me, realize I’m not suggesting Smith-Schuster should have had the foresight to see what could have taken place. He not only was a rookie in the biggest game of his career, but in the heat of the moment not everyone is thinking about logistics — he was trying to score and win the game.

However, when you watch the play you have to wonder what if he would have stayed along the sideline and, at worst, was forced out of bounds? Would the Steelers have had better plays called than the out route pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey which forced a hurry up situation resulting in Ben Roethlisberger’s game-clinching interception while trying to force the football to Eli Rogers?

A lot of what ifs there, but it makes you realize how one decision can alter the football game, and some might say the Steelers’ season. As always, let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

When is it time to remove the voluntary drama from the Steelers’ OTAs?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/11/2018 - 10:34am

Steelers players have the option to skip the annual OTA sessions held during a three-week period at the team's South Side complex. But while the players aren't required to attend, this doesn't prevent people from getting upset over any absences.

The Steelers just concluded their annual 3-week OTAs (Organized Team Activities) on Thursday and will now prepare for their yearly 3-day minicamp which kicks off this Tuesday.

What’s the difference between OTAs and minicamp?

There really isn’t much of a difference. Like OTAs, minicamp is a 3-day session in which Steelers players run around the South Side facilities in their helmets and shorts, hammering away at those fundamentals, while also becoming familiar with any new wrinkles thrown into the playbooks of defensive coordinator Keith Butler and new offensive coordinator, Randy Fichtner.

The only difference is my official stance will change from “I don’t care” to “offended,” if every single Steelers player isn’t at minicamp. Why? Because minicamp is mandatory, meaning NFL players are required to show up and punch the clock.

In case you didn’t get it by now, OTAs, on the other hand, are voluntary activities which NFL players aren’t required to attend.

While my official stance on Steelers’ OTA attendance is always “I don’t care,” that’s not the case for a lot of people such as the fans, the coaches and — this year — Reggie Bush, who criticized the team’s culture and desire after Antonio Brown missed several sessions because he said he didn’t want to catch passes from the backup quarterbacks.

The reason Brown wasn’t around to catch passes from the backups was because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also decided to make his OTA participation a hit-or-miss proposition.

What does this all mean? Does this mean the Steelers lack the necessary focus and drive to compete on the football field in 2018? Is it just a bad look for a team that went one-and-done in the postseason back on January 14?

You can draw your own conclusions, but you won’t be forced to share because, just like OTAs, opinions are optional.

Isn’t it silly that NFL players and their fans engage in this little dance every year around this time?

OTAs may be voluntary, but that doesn’t prevent the absentees from capturing the headlines, headlines attached to stories that often include passive-aggressive quotes from coaches and teammates.

Seriously, it’s like being told by your significant other that it’s perfectly fine to go hit some golf balls while she entertains the family friends who are visiting for the weekend,

But then you have this text exchange three hours later:

”I really could have used your help today.”

”Honey, you told me to go. Do you want me to come home?”

”It’s fine.”

”What’s wrong?”

”Nothing.”

”I can come home right now.”

”Never mind.”

Star running back Le’Veon Bell predictably hasn’t been around for any off-season activities, including every single OTA session. The ironic part of Brown being called out for his absences was that he did the same thing to Bell at the onset of these voluntary activities.

Again, you can attach any meaning you like to players missing OTAs.

In Bell’s case, it could be because he’s a selfish jerk who’s trying to send a message to the Steelers about his ongoing contract dispute.

In the case of Brown and Roethlisberger, you could come to the conclusion that they’re just being me-first divas.

If it’s someone like former Steeler Troy Polamalu, who rarely attended OTAs, well, you probably didn’t care since he was just an awesome dude.

If we’re being honest, Brown doesn’t need OTAs and neither does Roethlisberger.

As for Bell, his absence is just one less chance he’ll suffer a non-contact knee injury.

Obviously, the people who benefit the most from any sort of off-season football — even training camp — are rookies and those fighting to stay in the league. They’re the ones who need the reps. They’re the ones who need to hammer away at those fundamentals. They’re the ones who need to absorb any new wrinkles thrown into the playbook.

But I get that people might become upset over some members of a team not taking part in a team activity.

However, there is one way to avoid this annual wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over OTA attendance.

Make it mandatory.

Let’s face facts, OTAs are just a way for NFL coaches to compensate for shorter and less physical training camps. They’re an unofficial way to engage in some extra evaluating and team-bonding during the off-season.

Fine, if that’s the case, work out a deal. Compromise.

Combine OTAs and minicamp, shave off a few days, and make it mandatory that every single player be in attendance for three weeks of football in shorts.

I might be on the side of the players in a lot of cases, but I certainly wouldn’t lose much sleep if their six-month off-season was interrupted by a few weeks of football in shorts.

This will obviously have to be collectively bargained when the next union deal expires, but I think something could be worked out.

After all, as a particular taboo, hot-button topic taught us recently, when you give an NFL player an option, he’s not always going to choose the one you want him to.

In charity event, Steelers' JuJu Smith-Schuster meets foe with more bite than bark

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Mon, 06/11/2018 - 10:22am

Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster has probably never been tackled quite like this.

OVER/UNDER: Will the Steelers win more than 11 games in 2018?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/11/2018 - 8:29am

The schedule is difficult. The division will be better. Just how will the Steelers finish in 2018?

The offseason brings about many things fans can’t stand. Predictions would certainly be high on the list of the most disdained items during the offseason, only to be trumped by Power Rankings, but during the slow months major media outlets crank out content to keep themselves relevant.

I get it. After all, I run this website you’re currently reading, but when I was checking out several of those major media outlets just referenced, I found a Sports Illustrated article which was predicting how teams will finish in 2018. Of course I wanted to see their prediction for the Steelers, and here’s what they had to say about the Black-and-gold.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: 11–5*

As long as the Steelers have the Killer B’s, they’re going to win this division. Antonio Brown is a top-two (or the top?) receiver in the league, Le’Veon Bell is the best running back in the NFL, and Ben Roethlisberger is the second-best quarterback in the conference. Randy Fichtner replaces Todd Haley as offensive coordinator, but the changes you’ll see should only be minor. The Steelers did well to pick up linebacker Jon Bostic in free agency and nab safety Terrell Edmunds in the draft. Who knows what will happen with Bell in Pittsburgh long-term, but as long as he’s on the field in 2018 for this squad they remain atop the division.

Pivotal game: Week 11 at Jacksonville

The Steelers got thoroughly out-everything’d by the Jags in their two meetings last season. Jacksonville forced seven turnovers, while the Steelers could create just one. The 45–42 final score from their playoff contest is not indicative of how totally in control the Jags were for more than three-and-a-half quarters of the game. Now Pittsburgh has to go on Jacksonville’s turf in hopes of not making it three straight embarrassments.

The 11-5 record is good enough to get the Steelers into the playoffs according to the results in the article, as well as to top the AFC North. Here would be the final standings in the AFC North if these predictions hold true.

Pittsburgh Steelers — 11-5
Baltimore Ravens — 6-10
Cincinnati Bengals — 6-10
Cleveland Browns — 4-12

Talk about a step backwards for the once-proud AFC North division, but if you’re like me, you want to know what the AFC Playoff Picture would look like too.

Here you go, but keep in mind there was no deciphering the difference between all these 11-5 teams:

New England Patriots — 13-3
Pittsburgh Steelers — 11-5
Kansas City Chiefs — 11-5
Los Angeles Chargers — 11-5
Jacksonville Jaguars — 11-5
Houston Texans — 10-6

Okay, back to the question at hand — the Steelers’ overall record.

Do you think the Steelers will win more or less than 11 games this season? Check the schedule closely:

Regular Season Schedule:

Week 1 — 1:00pm at Cleveland Browns

Week 2 — 1:00pm vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Week 3 — 8:15pm at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (MNF)

Week 4 — 8:20pm vs. Baltimore Ravens (SNF)

Week 5 — 1:00pm vs. Atlanta Falcons

Week 6 — 1:00pm at Cincinnati Bengals

Week 7 — BYE

Week 8 — 1:00pm vs. Cleveland Browns

Week 9 — 1:00pm at Baltimore Ravens

Week 10 — 8:20pm vs. Carolina Panthers (TNF)

Week 11 — 8:20pm at Jacksonville Jaguars (SNF)

Week 12 — 4:25pm at Denver Broncos

Week 13 — 1:00pm vs. Los Angeles Chargers

Week 14 — 8:20pm at Oakland Raiders (SNF)

Week 15 — 4:25pm vs. New England Patriots

Week 16 — 4:25pm at New Orleans Saints

Week 17 — 1:00pm vs. Cincinnati Bengals

How do you see the season panning out? The Steelers going over 11 wins, under 11 wins or a push where they finish with 11 wins? Let us know by voting in the poll below, and be sure to explain yourself in the comment section below:

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