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Team Defense: How crucial is it in today’s NFL?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 7:40am

As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft and free-agent market, the conventional wisdom suggests emphasizing defensive help. But does this mean the team should pass up an opportunity to bolster its offense?

Ranked defensively, four out of the top-5 NFL teams during the 2017 regular season played either in the conference championship games (Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars), the Super Bowl (Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots), or both. This fact alone speaks to the continued importance of defensive football. But on the other hand, Super Bowl 52—arguably featuring the league’s two strongest teams—was more like a track meet than a defensive showcase. The Pats and Eagles combined for a total of 1,151 yards of offense, putting 74 points on the scoreboard in a game which featured only a single punt (by the Eagles).

Digging deeper into the defensive stats from this past season, it’s difficult to escape a couple of conclusions. First, as bad as they looked, particularly during the latter part of the season, the Black-and-gold defense finished the season only two spots below the top-5 teams, ranking No. 7. What’s more, Pittsburgh’s defense surrendered only 13 more total points (308) during the season than the Super Bowl champion Eagles (295).

Secondly, we might reflect on the difficulty of explaining how yielding only 13 more points to opponents distributed over a 16-game schedule somehow makes the Steelers’ defense inferior, whereas the Eagles’ defense is widely regarded as staunch. If anything, this should underscore the fact that, nowadays, NFL teams lean far more heavily on offensive firepower than on the capability to stop (or even slow down) the opponent’s offense. If you’re among those who thought, with very good reason, that the Steelers’ secondary was highly suspect this past season, consider the mind-boggling fact that the Eagles surrendered considerably more passing yards (3,637) than the Black-and-gold (3,217).

Granted, the Eagles were better than Pittsburgh at stopping the run. Philadelphia surrendered only 1,267 yards rushing compared to the Steelers’ 1,693. Overall, though, there’s only a scant distance between Pittsburgh’s defense and Philadelphia’s. As for the Patriots, their pass defense surrendered 4,020 yards during the regular season, 803 more yards than Pittsburgh. In fact, the 5,856 total yards surrendered by New England on defense during the 2017 regular season ought to dispel any lingering notion that a shutdown defense is necessary to reach the Super Bowl.

This raises the question of exactly how far the Steelers might be prepared to go during the off-season to fill their most glaring defensive holes, as well as how much they’ll be willing to sacrifice to meet those needs versus drafting quality players on the offensive side of the ball. During training camps prior to at least the past three seasons, Steelers Nation entertained high hopes that a combination of high draft picks and free-agent acquisitions might shortly mold the Black-and-gold defense into a modern version of the fabled Steel Curtain. Yet here we are in 2018, seemingly back to the defensive drawing board and looking ahead with uncertainty, yet still hoping the Steelers will find the right combination on defense.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the Steelers’ offense. Despite being blessed with some of the most talented players in the league, including a Hall of Fame quarterback pulling the trigger, the Black-and-gold offense was anything but an irresistible force for the most part in 2017. As for the Eagles, they certainly didn’t win a Super Bowl on the strength of their defense, which was a veritable doormat in the big game. They did so by matching the Patriots score for score, forcing New England to play catch-up throughout the game.

As NFL stats reveal, Pittsburgh is hardly the only NFL team struggling with the challenges of building a top defense in this Age of Offense. The cumulative impact of rule changes the league implemented to produce higher-scoring, supposedly “more exciting” games for fans has been to relegate defensive players largely to the roles of little Dutch boys, desperately trying to jab their thumbs into the dike to staunch a raging torrent of touchdowns.

But many pro-football fans don’t want to admit the increasingly obvious reality that, nowadays, defense wins the day with less frequency than ever before, even in the league’s premier event. In Super Bowl 51, the Patriots had no defense for more than half of the game, while the Falcons’ defense returned the favor in the fourth quarter, folding like a cheap tent. In Super Bowl 52, rather than taking turns, neither team played respectable defense throughout the game.

So while it’s quite likely the Steelers will use their high, 2018 draft picks to bolster the defense, it’s also important to remember that, for all of its warts plus the horrible injury to Ryan Shazier, the Steelers’ defense nevertheless was nearly on a par with those of the two Super Bowl teams. That’s why, if Pittsburgh has the opportunity to grab a top talent who can help them jump-start an underachieving offense (e.g. a Gronk-caliber tight end), the impact of adding such a player might be vastly more significant than any defensive talent they might acquire.

Yes, defense still matters—but not nearly to the extent it did back in the days of Greene, Lambert and Blount. So everyone can wave their little, picket-fence “Defense” signs until their hearts are content but, for the most part, it’s not going to prevent Steelers’ opponents from driving us mad by converting ridiculous 3rd-and-long situations, nor will it alter the essential reality of today’s NFL. This is a track meet alright, but half of the players on the field are wearing clodhoppers.

One of the best ever called it quits

Steelers.com News - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 7:30am
The best tight end in Steelers' history called it quits on this day in 2016.

HIGHLIGHTS: Steelers Tight End TDs in 2017

Steelers.com Videos - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 6:55am
All of the touchdowns scored by Steelers tight ends during the 2017 NFL season.

Updating the Steelers’ salary cap situation after making several moves

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 6:17am

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made some moves, which means it is time to update their salary cap situation.

The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to sign and retain their own players as the the new league year approaches on March 14. Each new signing brings the Steelers closer to the brink, regarding the NFL’s salary cap.

A recent restructure of David DeCastro and Stephon Tuitt opened up much-needed cap space. It can be speculated what the relief will be used for.

  • Will it be used to franchise or extend the contract of Le’Veon Bell?
  • Making big moves in free agency?
  • Freeing up space for the projected $11 million in spending that the current cap space does not take into account at Over the Cap?

Current cap space: $7,647,724 (2017 carryover is included, any dead money, along with projection that the cap should rise.)

What is not included:

Bell: Will he be on the roster come March 14, if so at what price?

ERFA and RFA players: Pitt still has numerous players who are not signed and likely will.

New free agents: Steelers have holes to fill, will the fixes come via free agency?

Six draft picks: $5 million (Possibly more depending on compensated picks.)

52nd and 53rd players.: $1.1 million minimum. (I have asked several of the capologists why these positions are not included year round. They are stumped as well and have no answers.)

10-man taxi squad: $1.4 million (estimated)

The 2019 carryover: $3.5 million (estimated)

OTA per diem: $250,000 (estimated)

As you can see from the above, Pittsburgh still needs to make additional moves. The Steelers have never been shy regarding restructuring contracts and kicking guaranteed money down the road. Nor has the Black-and-Gold have ever been concerned with banishing current players who are seen as not living up to their contracts.

Extending current players under contract is always an option, and many speculate this will transpire with Ben Roethlisberger and others.

What single move would you be most against? What move would you be most in favor with? Do you think Pittsburgh will keep Bell? Do you think Pittsburgh will make a splash move on the free agent market?

Let us know in the comment section below!

Black and Gold Links: The Steelers answer at ILB is not currently on the roster

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 5:00am

While some always think the Steelers can just go to the ‘next man up’, this isn’t the case at ILB.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a huge hole to fill at inside linebacker. This isn’t news. After Ryan Shazier’s injury which equated in spinal stabilization surgery, the Steelers had no answer to fill his vacant position.

They tried Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort before deciding signing Sean Spence off the couch, literally, would be their best option at the position. If this doesn’t scream the team doesn’t trust the other players on the depth chart to do the job well, I don’t know what does.

The vast majority of Steelers fans are in the same camp when it comes to the inside linebacker job. Fill it via free agency or the 2018 NFL Draft. Some, myself included, feel the team should sign a free agent and draft a linebacker as well.

However, there is a small contingent who think Matakevich and/or Fort, or a combination of the two, could fill Shazier’s spot alongside Vince Williams. And to those, I say, “No.” The Steelers’ defense is dictated on speed and athleticism, and while Matakevich might be a special teams ace, he is not the answer in the team’s defensive scheme. Fort might be a great depth player, but he has serious deficiencies in his game.

Shazier wasn’t perfect, far from it, but his athleticism and speed made up for a lot of the mistakes he made. When you don’t have that type of athleticism and speed, you are exposed — a lot. This is exactly what happened when Matakevich, Fort and Spence all to a shot at the role.

For those who love Dirty Red, sorry, but the Steelers answer to their inside linebacker woes is not currently a member of the organization.

Now time to check in on the other news surrounding the black-and-gold outside the walls of BTSC.

Given Ryan Shazier’s career-threatening injury and with Vince Williams beginning the final year of his contract, the Steelers begin the offseason with a shortage of long-term solutions at inside linebacker.

The position already is considered a point of emphasis for free agency in March and the NFL Draft in April, and the Steelers could add players from each pool of talent.

The Steelers ended the season with Williams playing alongside Sean Spence on first and second downs and L.J. Fort on passing downs. Until Shazier’s injury Dec. 4, Williams wasn’t being used as a regular three-down linebacker, leaving the field in place of slot cornerback Mike Hilton in subpackages.

NFL teams, per the collective bargaining agreement, can exercise a fifth-year option on first-round draft picks in the spring before the player enters his fourth season. The Steelers did that with inside linebacker Ryan Shazier last April, and he will count $8.7 million against the salary cap.

The salary is injury protected so Shazier will receive his money even though he is unlikely to play in 2018 because of his spinal cord injury.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Shazier’s catastrophic injury won’t alter the team’s stance on whether to pick up a player’s fifth-year option in the future. Outside linebacker Bud Dupree is a candidate in April to receive a fifth year. Next spring, the focus will be on cornerback Artie Burns.

“That’s the risk you run when you put that option into effect,” Colbert said. “Any player can get injured on any play, and that is our game. We understand that, and we understand the risk involved, and we try to make those decisions knowing that those type of things can happen.”

The franchise tag window opens Tuesday. That means the Pittsburgh Steelers have the option to place that designation on All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell any time between Feb. 20 and March 6.

The franchise tag for Bell is an estimated $14.5 million. The club then has until July 16 to negotiate a long-term contract.

According to a quick survey I conducted this weekend, working out such a deal would be an unpopular move.

Granted Twitter polls should be taken with a mountain of salt. But I posted one while hosting an ESPN Pittsburgh radio show Saturday. The results were interesting.

The question was: “What do you want to see the Steelers do with the Le’Veon Bell?”

Roughly 600 votes later, the tally read:

Franchise tag him: 31 percent

Sign him long term: 35 percent

Let him walk in free agency: 34 percent

So, while signing Bell to a long-term deal was slightly favored by the Twitter poll voters, 65 percent of presumed Steelers fans don’t want to see their team secure the services of a guy who has totaled 4,345 yards from scrimmage the past two years (including the playoffs) beyond 2018.

5 factors which will impact the Steelers’ offensive production next season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 1:23pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense will be looking to pick up where they left off in the 2018-2019 season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense ended the season on a high note after putting up 42-points on the highly touted Jacksonville Jaguars defense. Despite that game being a loss, the Steelers’ offense will have high expectations surrounding it again heading into next season.

There are a lot of factors which will impact the team meeting these expectations, or falling short of the lofty goals they set for themselves. Here I will outline some of those factors:

Le’Veon Bell’s contract

I am confident in saying Le’Veon Bell will be playing for the Steelers next season, but what his contract looks like will be interesting to watch. If the team has to rely on the franchise tag for a second year in a row, I would expect another holdout from Bell until the regular season. This certainly had an impact on the team’s offensive slump early in the season. The team needs Bell to be there, and ready, for them to hit the ground running.

Randy Fitchtner’s debut as OC

Gone is Todd Haley, and in is Randy Fichtner. Fichtner and Ben Roethlisberger have a tremendous relationship, and it will be up to Fichtner to get every last ounce of potential out of an offense with some of the best playmakers in the NFL. Will Fichtner’s debut be praised, or despised? Only time will tell, but there is no doubt the pressure is on.

Vance McDonald’s future

When healthy McDonald was dynamic for the Steelers’ offense. It became clear he and Roethlisberger had a strong connection on the football field. Will the Steelers pony up the cash to keep a tight end who isn’t just a good blocker, but also brimming with potential as a down field threat? McDonald returning would help complete the team’s offense from top to bottom.

Red-Zone efficiency

Art Rooney II has stated this should be priority No. 1 for the offense this offseason, and he is spot on. The team’s red-zone successes, or failures, will ultimately dictate whether the 2018-2019 Fichtner offense is anything better than the 2017-2018 Todd Haley offense. Fichtner knows the system, and his personnel, better than anyone and should have some ideas to increase the production in the red area.

The offense returns

The Steelers’ offense will return everyone, assuming Bell and McDonald return, and this should be a huge factor in the performance of the team. JuJu Smith-Schuster isn’t an unknown commodity, Martavis Bryant started to come into his own in the last quarter of the season and Antonio Brown is the best in the NFL at his position. Throw in the offense line and Ben Roethlisberger and the offensive expectations should be larger than life.

...

Will the live up to the ongoing hype? Or fall flat?

HIGHLIGHTS: Best of Bell in 2017

Steelers.com Videos - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 11:57am
Check out some of the best plays by Le'Veon Bell this past season.

Ranking the top 10 head coaches in the NFL heading into 2018

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 11:43am

Taking a stab at ranking the top 10 NFL head coaches heading into the 2018-2019 NFL season.

The 2017-2018 NFL season is officially in the books, and after the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots, most are putting together their rankings for the long, and at times arduous, NFL offseason.

A recent top 10 list of the best offensive lines in the NFL drew the ire of Steelers fans everywhere, so I figured I would take a stab at some of my own rankings, starting with head coaches.

Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams isn’t just the youngest head coach in the league, the man took home the Coach of the Year award. You might assume he would top the list, but I typically make my rankings by the eye test. I look at the team’s accomplishments, how they may have elevated the team this past season, and possibly how they have struggled in certain areas.

On to the list...

1. Doug Pederson

When you win the Super Bowl with a backup quarterback, and beat arguably the best coach/quarterback combination to do so...you earn the top spot on the list.

2. Bill Belichick

Say what you want about the scandals and his grumpy demeanor, Belichick is one of the best ever. People forget how many injuries the Patriots suffered this season, and he still got back to the Super Bowl.

3. Sean McVay

Coach of the Year, and for a reason. McVay was a huge reason for Jared Goff’s resurgence, and the Rams have the look of a team to be reckoned with in the years to come.

4. Doug Marrone

Doug Pederson gets a ton of credit for winning it all with Nick Foles, but Marrone got to the AFC Championship game with Blake Bortles. Think about that for a second. The defense, and running game, are among the league’s best.

5. Sean Payton

Payton’s work with the Saints’ rookie class is noteworthy. He was a Minnesota miracle away from the NFC Championship game. Some were doubting his abilities just a year ago, but Payton’s work this season should have silenced the critics.

6. Mike Tomlin

Tomlin has dropped on these rankings for some obvious reasons, none greater than the team’s flop against the Jaguars in the Divisional Round game at Heinz Field. Yes, the team was 13-3, but Tomlin has some work to do to get back into the Top 5, where he once took up residence.

7. Mike Zimmer

Another coach who did a lot with a backup quarterback. No Teddy Bridgewater or Sam Bradford, Zimmer road Case Keenum to the NFC Championship game. However, I can’t help but feel the Vikings’ season was a bit of smoke-and-mirrors. Let’s see if Zimmer can do it two years in a row.

8. Dan Quinn

The Falcons were a few runs away from winning Super Bowl 51, and the Super Bowl hangover didn’t stop Atlanta from making it back to the postseason. Quinn has a great roster in Atlanta, and he is a coach who deserves to be in the top 10.

9. Andy Reid

Postseason flops aside, Reid is still a coach who should be on this list. Why isn’t Reid higher? Because of the aforementioned postseason flops.

10. Mike McCarthy

It almost seems as if McCarthy and Ron Rivera could be default coaches at No. 10. Both have good quarterbacks, and when healthy are always in the discussion for postseason play. In fact, there are several coaches who could be at No. 10. I just chose McCarthy because he has the best quarterback.

Roosevelt Nix’s story to the Steelers is material which turns into movies

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 9:12am

You hear success stories all the time, and you can add Roosevelt Nix’s story to the Pittsburgh Steelers to the list of feel-good stories.

In the National Football League, you hear rags-to-riches stories all the time, and you can now add Roosevelt Nix’s story to the growing list.

Jeremy Fowler of ESPN detailed Nix’s story from High School aide and night club bouncer to the Pittsburgh Steelers fullback.

As I stated, these types of stories happen often within the football world, but Nix’s personal story certainly adds to the huge news of his new 4-year contract with the Steelers announced just over a week ago.

After being cut by the Atlanta Falcons, Nix turned to his alma mater in Columbus, OH to work with students as a substitute. He worked out at 4:30am before school to stay sharp in case another NFL organization called. After school he would workout again and head to his part-time gig as a bouncer at a club in Columbus. Nix even took the written part of the local police academy test to become a police officer.

“I was literally praying and hoping I didn’t need one,” Nix said. “I wasn’t planning on not being successful in football. At that point in time I was just looking for anything to stay afloat. To have it all in front of you and taken from me, it was a mad scramble to be successful any type of way. The schedule was tiring. Sometimes it made me wonder if anything would happen.”

Nix kept working, but no teams were calling.

“My agent’s trying to shop me and no one’s looking. It was like, ‘Damn, what are we doing?’” Nix said. “That was the most difficult part. Luckily, my friends and family were a huge support system for me.”

Then, after the 2015 season, the Steelers put a call into Nix’s agent and brought him in for a workout, which turned into a future/reserve contract with the team.

After dropping 30-pounds prior to the workout with Pittsburgh, Nix was informed by Mike Tomlin he would be playing fullback, the same position he occupied when cut by the Falcons. However, the former defensive tackle at Kent State felt this situation was different.

“Coach T saw something in me,” Nix said. “It was a great thing. I’m not sure what he knew.”

Fast forward a bit and Nix, who started as a big-play special teams guy, has turned into the lead blocker for the most dynamic running back in the league, Le’Veon Bell, was a reserve selection for the Pro Bowl and just inked a brand-new contract with the black-and-gold.

For many players the story doesn’t end this way. It ends with them barely able to make ends meet and trying to find their way through a life which used to revolve around the game of football. But for Nix, he stays humble, realizing how fortunate he truly is. In fact, instead of going out and getting a new fancy car, he chooses to drive the same used Ford Taurus he drove to his first training camp in Pittsburgh in 2015.

“Driving the same car I showed up to camp with,” Nix said.

Nix’s story is great, and his play on the field has equaled the feel-good nature of his story. Here is to hoping for many more great years for No. 45 for the Steelers.

Should the Steelers replicate the 2017 Chiefs trade to get a future QB

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 6:41am

Should the Steelers pull off a Day 1 NFL Draft trade for a future starting quarterback?

In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs moved the 27th overall pick, a third-round pick, and there 2018 first round pick for the Bills’ number 10 selection. Kansas City used the pick for their quarterback of the future, Patrick Mahomes.

The Steelers are sitting with the number 28 selection in this year’s draft, and could they look to make the exact same move to find their future quarterback?

The perfect trade partner here is the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers are waiting on a coin toss to see if they are drafting 9th or 10th. After trading for Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers will be looking to add more draft picks to complement the league’s most expensive player.

The Steelers would only make this trade if they are able to fill their other needs in free agency. With adding a veteran Linebacker and Safety, the Steelers could be able to ensure the team’s future is bright.

This move would be contingent on Josh Allen’s availability, and this trade would only be announced once the 49ers are on the clock. The Steelers would also need to fall in love with Allen’s upside (much like the Chiefs did with Mahomes). Keep your eye on the Steelers draft visit’s come combine time, if you see the Steelers brash spending a lot of time in Wyoming don’t be surprised to hear Commissioner Goodell announcing a trade on draft day.

Allen is an extremely talent yet raw prospect. However, being able to sit and learn behind Ben Roethlisberger could make a seamless transition, whenever Ben does decide to hang up the cleats.

Would you trade two 1st round picks and a 3rd for the chance to find the next great Steelers QB?

Honoring DMR, Colbert, Bell & more

Steelers.com News - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 6:00am
If you missed anything this week, we have you covered with our weekly recap.

Social Media Madness: The week that was with the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 02/18/2018 - 5:23am

The Pittsburgh Steelers might not be playing, but they were active on social media. Time to see what the players are doing in the offseason.

The NFL offseason can be long and arduous, and there are times when fans just want to know what is going on with their favorite team.

While every NFL team has a good number of players who are active on social media, the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly have plenty of players who show fans just what they are doing during their time away from the team.

In a new feature to BTSC, we will highlight some of the social media craziness the Steelers are partaking in the past week.

This week’s posts include:

  • AB joining Drake in a music video
  • Vince Williams having some real talk about real issues
  • Brett Keisel shearing beard for charity
  • JuJu goes back to school...kinda
  • and MORE!

Check out the latest on the black-and-gold from the world of social media!

Antonio Brown joins Drake in music video

Bad things ! There’s a lot of bad things that they wishin... n wishin ... n wishin.... #GodsPlan pic.twitter.com/2dBHURwPJJ

— Antonio Brown (@AB84) February 17, 2018

Left this day feeling humbled and inspired. @Drake, keep being a blessing to those around you #GodsPlan video is here and it's worth your guys time. Go check it out on @Drake's page pic.twitter.com/OIfIFuvg3j

— Antonio Brown (@AB84) February 16, 2018 Shear Da Beard

#SheerTheBeard #FearTheBeard @bkeisel99 pic.twitter.com/oAo2QHKYib

— Arthur Moats (@dabody52) February 17, 2018

#ShearDaBeard was amazing! Thanks all. Can’t even explain. You had to be there. pic.twitter.com/05mPS89yn4

— Brett Keisel (@bkeisel99) February 17, 2018 JuJu Smith-Schuster heads back to school in fashion

Told my mom last year that I’d go back to school since I left USC early. I went back to college today. pic.twitter.com/yHnbwnsELH

— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) February 15, 2018 Vince Williams bridges the gap between fan and athlete, to have a real conversation about real topics

This is the first time I've read every mention that has come to my phone. Today has been an insightful day.

— Vince Williams (@VinnyVidiVici98) February 15, 2018

I appreciate all the convo on my page. The only way we get through this is with understanding one another.

— Vince Williams (@VinnyVidiVici98) February 15, 2018

NFL.com loses all credibility by having the Steelers’ offensive line 8th in the NFL

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 1:43pm

As if you needed a reason to shake your head at an NFL entity, the latest rankings of top offensive lines in the league is a joke.

To be honest, any type of rankings are purely subjective, but this fact doesn’t mean common sense shouldn’t come into play at some point.

Fans love to debate rankings, and when NFL.com recently released their Top 10 offensive line units, I’ll admit I took the bait. Why? Because I wanted to see where the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line was ranked among the best in the NFL.

As I scrolled down the page, I saw team after team, with no hypocyloids in sight. I thought I might have missed them in the top five, so I scrolled back up. Nothing. Now I’m beyond intrigued. I’m wondering how in the world the Steelers’ offensive line isn’t in the Top 5.

I continue down.

6th — nope.

7th — nope.

Then I see them...at 8th.

My initial reaction was, “What the _____?!” You can fill in the blank with whichever expletive you prefer. So, before showing you the top 10, it is important to also include how author Matt Harmon came up with these rankings.

The rankings for this list were created using a 1-32 listing of both pressures allowed (pass blocking) and average rushing yards gained before close (run blocking) for every team. The rankings were then finalized with the lowest composite score coming out ahead.

NOTES: Next Gen Stats defines a “pressure” as a pass-rushing play in which a defender gets within 2 yards of the opposing quarterback at the time of the throw or sack. Other outlets collect pressures using different methods, and these have value. What is and is not a pressure will always carry some level of debate, but NGS provides us a unique advantage in that the numbers rely not on the subjective eye test, but rather on objective results that are consistent across all plays.

”Yards gained before close” (YGBC) measures the amount of rushing yards a running back gains before opposing defenders come within 1 yard of the player. In addition to making sense intuitively, this metric correlates with other measures of run blocking success. The league average is 0.29 YGBC.

Not sure if I buy all of that jargon, but on to the Top 10:

1. New Orleans Saints
2. Buffalo Bills
3. Los Angeles Rams
4. Baltimore Ravens
5. Los Angeles Chargers
6. Minnesota Vikings
7. Oakland Raiders
8. Pittsburgh Steelers

Pressures allowed: 180 (10th). Average YGBC: 0.35 (11th)

Score: 21

The Steelers’ offensive prowess starts up front, as both their run- and pass-blocking units were among the 11 best groups in the NFL. The excellent trio of Alejandro Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro has played together for the better part of three years, and the chemistry shows. The group deserves a wealth of credit for adapting its blocking to fit the unique running style of Le’Veon Bell. The All-Pro back’s world-renowned patience makes him more challenging to block for than most, but Pittsburgh’s group executes the assignment to perfection. The Steelers’ O-line also does its part to keep Ben Roethlisberger clean, as the Pro Bowl passer was under pressure on just 21.7 percent of his dropbacks.

9. Atlanta Falcons
10. Jacksonville Jaguars

Were you like me and thought the Steelers line should at least be a Top 5 unit? Or do you think the group as a whole took a huge step backwards throughout the season? Let us know which side of the fence you stand on in the comment section below!

Why Steelers Nation should trust the process on defense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 11:55am

The Steelers’ defense is evolving, and fans should trust the evolutionary process.

Already a month has passed since the Steelers’ dream season got put on ice. Minority owners around Art Rooney II tried to persuade him to start looking elsewhere and move on from Mike Tomlin. Even the defensive coaching has come to question.

Keith Butler, the Defensive Coordinator for the past three years, has slowly turned the defensive unit around. He replaced one of the most iconic figures in the organization at that time, Dick LeBeau. His first stint in Pittsburgh began as linebackers coach for 11 seasons. Following another playoff disappointment back in 2014, Keith Butler gets promoted in the off-season and, with him, brought back a familiar face, “who ride, we ride,” Joey Porter. Since then, Butler has kept the legendary 3-4 Defense that LeBeau mastered, but also wasn’t afraid to mix up play-calling styles.

As time went on, and they continued to grow with their youth and a few veteran players, they’ve started to pick up steam. Remember how pundits and fans used to get on Dick LeBeau, “That isn’t Steelers football. This defense is old and slow!” So far, Mike Tomlin and Keith have worked hard to change that narrative. It’s been a gradual process.

The coaching staff has elevated the play of many young players. Since Butler has taken over, he’s improved the total defense to its second highest mark in over five years. Guess what? The pass rush has continually gotten better as he’s gotten them ranked in the top-10 during his tenure with the organization.

Out of nowhere, ‘Blitzburgh,’ is reborn and back and better than ever as his defense racked up the most sacks in the history of the franchise (56), which, by the way, was No. 1. “Oh yeah, that’s right, but what about the playoffs?” some will ask. Doesn’t this sound familiar when they had their last ugly end in the playoffs three years ago to the Ravens after less than a week earlier, the players were proudly showing off their t-shirts and Championship hats on how they ran the North? Yup, ‘oh yeah, the New Blitzburgh!’ The Defense that was ready to put their stamp back on the great Steelers’ winning tradition!

Since the loss to Jaguars, many have been left scratching their heads. Many questioned if the Steelers were looking past the Jaguars. The irony of all this was, when the Steelers suffered their first lopsided loss to the Jaguars back in Week 5, it was Ben Roethlisberger and the offense that lost the game, but this time the defense melted down! Many were left dazed in Heinz Field as well as throughout Steelers Nation. Should that be reason enough to consider new assistants?

Let’s face it, Butler has done a phenomenal job seeing his challenging work pay off with a new and improved squad. What still needs to be looked at is the health and availability of their play-makers. Joe Haden went down with a fractured fibula in an eventual comeback win against the Colts in Week 10, then Shazier goes down with a severe back injury in Week 13 on Monday Night against the Bengals. He was immobilized for more than three months while he struggled to regain feeling in his legs. Bottom line: all guys under the Tomlin and Butler era have stepped up big time.

For being a linebacker’s guy, Butler has his guys continue to do the grind work at that area. Forty percent of the sacks this season was contributed by linebackers. What should fans continue to expect in the next stage of his tenure with the team? Which brings me to Joey Porter. I’ve got to believe he’s had his handprints on this, being a former player. Let’s face it, he’s been there clearly with his players from beginning to end, no matter what’s been said about him.

The only glaring problem right now for the Steelers is the health of Shazier. “Never once has he asked “why me?” Colbert told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He shows us everybody has problems, but he’s going to work to overcome his as we should ours.” He’s already been guaranteed his fifth-year option for $8.5 million this season whether he plays or not. This begs the question, what should the Steelers do about the Inside Linebacker spot in this year’s draft?

They’re still going to need a free safety who can defend the middle of the field, or can they obtain one during free agency? There also seems to be the notion floating around that the Steelers should take a shot at Malcolm Butler of the Patriots. According to Spotrac, he signed a one-year $3.91 million tender last March from NE and he’s currently about to become an Unrestricted Free Agent on March 6th at 4:00 p.m. EST. I’ve got to believe the Steelers will try to offer a similar figure as they did last year. What a huge grab this would be for the Steelers to snag away from NE if Belichick and company aren’t careful.

The reason why fans shouldn’t bail on Butler is that he’s been consistent in guiding a younger group the last three seasons. Also, he continues to shake up the play-calling and is on point with different player packages. I say give him another two more seasons and we’ll sit down and talk. Only then, should the decision be made. If there’s one thing for sure about the Steelers, is that nothing’s for sure.

Mike Mayock’s first set of rankings gives Steelers plenty of options

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 9:35am

The Pittsburgh Steelers are narrowing down their team needs, and Mike Mayock’s first set of rankings give the team some needed options early in the draft process.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have entered the official 2018 NFL Draft season, and narrowing down the team’s needs are priority No. 1. Most would say inside linebacker and safety top the list, with plenty of other positional needs following in some shape, or form.

At the NFL Network, NFL Draft analyst Mike Mayock puts out positional rankings several times leading up to the selection process, and his 1.0 rankings were just released. For the Steelers, who select 28th overall in the first round, they will likely have their options with some top prospects at key positions.

Below are some of Mayock’s rankings, listed by either High Priority Positions (ILB, S, etc.) or Other Positions of Need (OL, RB, etc.) Check out his rankings, and see if you agree, or disagree. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section!

High Priority Positions Linebacker

1. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

2. Roquan Smith, Georgia

3. Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

4. Rashaan Evans, Alabama

5. Uchenna Nwosu, USC

Safety

1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

2. Derwin James, Florida State

3. Ronnie Harrison, Alabama

4. Jessie Bates III, Wake Forest

5. Justin Reid, Stanford

Interior DL

1. Vita Vea, Washington

2. Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

3. Maurice Hurst, Michigan

4. Taven Bryan, Florida

5. Harrison Phillips, Stanford

Wide receiver

1. Calvin Ridley, Alabama

2. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

3. Courtland Sutton, SMU

4. James Washington, Oklahoma State

T-5. Dante Pettis, Washington

T-5. DJ Moore, Maryland

T-5. Anthony Miller, Memphis

Other Positions of Need Edge rusher

1. Bradley Chubb, N.C. State

2. Marcus Davenport, UTSA

3. Arden Key, LSU

4. Harold Landry, Boston College

5. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State

Interior OL

1. Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

2. Isaiah Wynn, Georgia

3. James Daniels, Iowa

4. Will Hernandez, UTEP

5. Billy Price, Ohio State

Tight end

1. Hayden Hurst, South Carolina

2. Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State

3. Mike Gesicki, Penn State

4. Mark Andrews, Oklahoma

5. Will Dissly, Washington, Tight end

Running Back

1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State

2. Derrius Guice, LSU

3. Ronald Jones II, USC

4. Sony Michel, Georgia

5. Nick Chubb, Georgia

A Hall of Fame career came to an end

Steelers.com News - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 8:10am
Jack Ham was a leader for the Steelers of the 1970s and retired on this day.

The Steelers Way — much more than just winning

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 7:49am

What does that actually mean? A heartfelt explanation of why I feel the Pittsburgh Steelers are the greatest organization in the sport.

I was born in the early 70’s and learned to love the Steelers watching their games on a old black and white TV at my great grandparents’ house, sitting on the floor, surrounded by family. The funny thing was almost all my family loved the Steelers, but my great aunt was a Oakland Raiders fan. I have no idea how this happened and I never cared to ask. All I can say is there were some pretty intense conversations and rivalries going on, both on the field and in that living room.

Those Sundays after church are still precious memories, and were vital for my development into a die-hard, Black-and-gold bleeding, Steelers fan. My uncle would tell me about the Rooney family and about the Steelers’ history.

I should acknowledge that my uncle and most of my extended family, including myself, have, in one way or another, worked in the coal industry. Many of the coal mines in the area sold their product directly to the steel mills in Pittsburgh, and, therefore, had cultivated business acquaintances and friendships in the city. Many stories about the charitable nature of Mr. Art Rooney Sr., “The Chief”, and what his family businesses and team meant to the city followed. Word spread about how he treated his fellow man, and reports on how he ran the Steelers organization helped to galvanize the Steelers’ blue-collar reputation.

One of the first stories my uncle told me was about Mr. Rooney keeping his promise to Rocky Bleier about giving him a chance to tryout after he had been seriously injured during the Vietnam War—even though it was unclear if he would ever be able to walk normally again, much less run. We all know how that whole story worked itself out and now Rocky is a beloved character in Steelers lore. I believe this was simply a handshake promise between two men back when a man’s word still meant something, and I feel certain that, if Rocky hadn’t been able to make it back onto the field, the Steelers would have offered him some kind of position in the organization.

I base this belief on how the team has handled similar situations since that time — like keeping Sean Spence on IR for two seasons after his devastating knee injury so he could get the best physical therapy available, thereby giving him his only realistic chance to ever play again. Recently, the team patiently offered support to a troubled and immature young man named Martavis Bryant. This was never more evident than last season when, coming off of a year-long suspension, Bryant struggled to reclaim his identity within the offense and proceeded to voice his displeasure through his Twitter account, all the while receiving poor advice from his girlfriend. The Steelers’ brass recognized what was going on and didn’t overreact to the situation, instead focusing on the player’s long term value to the team and disciplined him accordingly. Now you only need to look at how the Steelers have handled Ryan Shazier’s injury to see the Chief’s values and teachings still at work today.

I understand the NFL is a business, and that fact can’t be overlooked. The Steelers have to deal with free agency and the salary cap just like every other franchise, but the team’s loyalty to their employees is legendary. This has created a foundation of stability that can’t be overstated. I mean seriously, three coaches since 1969? That’s unheard of these days! I believe the Steelers look at their personnel decisions like an old fashioned marriage. When the going gets tough many will tuck tail and run but, if divorce isn’t an option, you’ve got no choice but to work things out together. This mindset permeates the organization and has cultivated a winning atmosphere around the team. Just ask the Browns how difficult this culture is to achieve.

This loyalty and perceived family atmosphere hasn’t been achieved without some difficulties. The Steelers have always been resistant to change. In the early 80s, many of the Steelers’ greats were starting to get a little long in the tooth and their play had started to slip. The front office stayed loyal and most of those greats were able to retire as Steelers. Many of those legendary players had only worn black and gold throughout their entire pro careers. Understand this could never happen today in the age of free agency. The Steelers could have had the foresight to try and stave off the end of the greatest era in professional football history by doing some wheeling and dealing, but that just wasn’t in their DNA.

One hard and fast rule within the Steeler organization is not handling contract negotiations during the season, which has been a sense of frustration for many. They also have refused to overpay for free agents, even their own. They resist the impulse to mortgage the future for the present. This might be an old fashioned way of thinking, but it has served them well in the past. Look no further than the Redskins or the Dolphins for teams that have a more up-to-date view on team development to gauge their rates of success.

My uncle was convinced the Steelers represented the working class man—that they believed in hard work and there weren’t any shortcuts to true success—that a man’s word was his bond and honesty mattered. Mr. Art Rooney Sr. was known to quote the golden rule that you should always treat others as you would want to be treated.

I believe this is still the Steeler Way and it’s why I’m proud to be a member of the Steelers’ family!

Pittsburgh Steelers for life!

Steelers 2018 Free Agent Market Watch: The Running Backs

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 6:33am

BTSC takes a look at the top free agents at each position and how they may or may not be a consideration for the Steelers. Here are the running backs.

Le'Veon Bell is the hottest free agent that could move in 2018, but again there is much doubt on whether he will be available to the rest of the NFL. Most people believe that the Steelers will again place the franchise tag on Bell, assuring him great money at $14.5M and another year in Pittsburgh, however its still very complicated. Bell has expressed that he does not want to play under the franchise tag again and may hold out or retire if tagged. Bell wants a long-term deal, but giving him one could greatly handcuff the Steelers financially. Thus the Steelers have a big-time decision to make.

Like James Conner in 2017, the Steelers could draft a young back in April's draft. However, there are some quality backs that the Steelers could take a flier on via free agency to act as an insurance policy for Bell.

BTSC continues to look into the 2018 free agent class with a closer review of other available rushers. But as always, salary cap issues could make signing a lot of players difficult.

Dion Lewis - New England Patriots

I would love to see Lewis back in the city and stadium he called his collegiate home. Although Lewis is historically injury-prone, he is dynamic with the football. Last year, he stayed healthy all year and gained 895 yards and averaged 5.0 YPC. Lewis also was on the receiving end of 32 balls for 214 yards. He'd be a great compliment to Bell at the right price.

Carlos Hyde - San Francisco 49ers

Hyde is another guy that can't stay on the field, but relatively shines when healthy. Hyde had eight TDs, 938 yards and a YPC of 3.9 in 16 games last year. If Bell leaves, he could be considered.

Isaiah Crowell - Cleveland Browns

His 152-yard performance against the Steelers in Week 17 of 2016 is proof that Crowell could go off at any time. In 2016, Crowell rushed for 952 yards, averaging 4.8 YPC and had seven touchdowns on the campaign. But in 2017, Crowell struggled behind an improved line. No. 34 rushed for 841 yards and only scored twice. Crowell is very shifty and changes directions well for a big back. Crowell could be a possibility only if Bell departs, but I don't see him in a complimentary role.

Rex Burkhead - Cincinnati Bengals

New England used Burkhead perfectly at the RB position last year and he became more dangerous of a weapon as he got healthier. In only 10 games, Burkhead averaged 4.1 YPC and had 264 yards on the ground and 254 via the air. The 5'11" slasher from Nebraska lacks power, but has good footwork and is adept at moving the chains and finding the end zone. He had eight TDs in 2017 combined. Burkhead could be a good compliment to Bell, but I see him getting paid elsewhere.

LeGarrette Blount - New England Patriots

I truly don't expect Blount to ever be asked back to Pittsburgh, nor would I presume he'd want to return. Blount's tenure in Steel City remains a stain on the team. His arrest with Le'Veon Bell for smoking weed in a car was one blemish, but his insubordination against the team because of limited carries behind Bell was more serious. There were reports that Blount was a locker room cancer and some feel that he orchestrated his own release to return to New England. However, others feel he was greatly mismanaged in Pittsburgh. The guy was money the past two seasons as he was an integral part of championships for both NE and Phily.

Fullbacks

The Steelers seem to not be out on the market and pretty set at the FB position with Pro Bowler Roosevelt Nix just signing a four-year extension. So, Fullbacks need not be listed here, but since I don't adhere to convention...here are the top FBs available.

Zach Line - New Orleans Saints

Anthony Sherman - Kansas City Chiefs

John Kuhn - New Orleans Saints

Mike Tolbert - Buffalo Bills

Other Notable Free Agent Running Backs:

Jerrick McKinnon - Minnesota Vikings

Alfred Morris - Dallas Cowboys

Jeremy Hill - Cincinnati Bengals

Thomas Rawls (RFA) - Seattle Seahawks

Orleans Darkwa - New York Giants

Jamaal Charles - Denver Broncos

Podcast: The “Terrible Towel Cafe” breaks down the recent Steelers news

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 02/17/2018 - 5:20am

Getting black-and-gold fans ready for another week!


On this episode of the “Terrible Towel Cafe” Michael takes Steelers fans through the many offseason Steelers moves already made.

Check out the latest episode in the player above and prepare yourself for a heaping helping of java from the Terrible Towel Cafe in the weeks and months coming!

HERE WE GO!!

...

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 checkout 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.

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