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Report Card: Grading the Steelers 16-6 Preseason Week 3 win over the Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/27/2018 - 6:47am

BTSC grades the Steelers Week-3 performance against the Tennessee Titans.

The Steelers played at Heinz Field for the first time in the preseason. While it was a turnaround from last week’s pasting by the Packers, and a reason for Steelers Nation to back off from the ledge, not everything in the house that Rooney built has been repaired. But there was so much more good than bad in the 16-6 victory over Tennessee.

Once again, grading games like this is an extremely difficult and somewhat thankless task. But twelve quarters of work is helping to tell the story of the players this team will comprise, come Week 1 in Cleveland. While the coaches’ grades, of course, are what count the most, the media and fans evaluate as well.

So let’s take a look at BTSC’s early perceptions:

Offense

Sure, Ben Roethlisberger exhibited some rust. But he threw 18 balls in less than two quarters to “Taylor Swift” it (Shake It Off) sufficiently to be okay for the regular season. Ben looked great on the TD pass to Justin Hunter, and was a victim of drops by his receivers as well. Hunter wasn’t amazing all day, but he offers yet another deep threat for Ben. James Conner needed to establish himself as a pass catcher, and it was imperative for Jaylen Samuels to prove he can traditionally run the ball. They both did that. Jesse James and JuJu Smith-Schuster looked good. JuJu had six catches early and Double-J came off well as a blocker. Speaking of blocking, Zach Banner could quickly be turning into an answer as a valuable backup on the offensive line. Although they didn’t put up a ton of points, adding Vance McDonald, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell to Randy Fichtner’s attack is a mouth- watering scenario.

Overall Offense Grade: B

Honor Roll: Ben Roethlisberger, Justin Hunter, Jaylen Samuels (the rusher), James Conner (the receiver), Jesse James, Zach Banner, JuJu Smith-Schuster

Defense

The defense was horrendous a week ago. While all concerns weren’t completely alleviated, it seems like Keith Butler’s crew might be turning the corner. After the initial drive, the defense didn’t allow a first down again until the third quarter. The Titans dropped balls and squandered opportunities to give the Steelers some breaks. The pass-rush looked good, the secondary looked much better, but the middle is still somewhat scary. All in all, it looks like this group is coming together and Cam Heyward’s return helped spark it.

Overall Defense Grade: B-

Honor Roll: Stephon Tuitt, Vince Williams, Terrell Edmunds, Farrington Huguenin, L.J. Fort, Ola Adenyi, Lavon Hooks and Matthew Thomas

Special Teams

The Boz was the Boz — and you can’t beat that. Jordan Berry performed much better than in the previous two games and Danny Smith’s kick coverage was very good. They were flying around and not letting the Titans move. But as far as the return game goes, it was average.

Overall Special Teams Grade: B-

Honor Roll: Tyler Matakevich, Matthew Thomas and Nat Behre

This was a much better effort, and the Steelers are starting to look more like a contender than a pretender. With next week being a showcase for reserves and practice-squad hopefuls, consider this as the most telling preview for the regular season. With key players returning from their various bumps and bruises, 2018 looks more promising based on this exhibition.

Overall Team Grade: B

With new contract, Vince Williams will now be a Steeler for life

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/27/2018 - 5:43am

The Steelers have signed inside linebacker Vince Williams to a four-year deal. Suddenly, he has gone from underdog youngster, to veteran leader. And the Steelers’ defense may need him now more than ever.

When the Steelers announced on Thursday that they had signed inside linebacker Vince Williams to a four-year deal through 2021 season, it just felt right.

In-fact, even though this is now the third contract Williams has signed with the Steelers since they picked him in the sixth-round of the 2013 NFL Draft (he inked a two-year extension in 2016), it feels like he has finally arrived as a legitimate member of the black-and-gold defense.

Despite starting 11 games in his rookie year, following a season-ending injury to veteran Larry Foote in Week-1, Williams saw his playing time decline in 2014.

Why?

Ryan Shazier, that’s why. The Steelers surprised a few folks by drafting Shazier with their first-round pick in 2014, a move that would soon prove to be vital to their defense’s future, as No. 50 quickly became the centerpiece and all-everything successor to Troy Polamalu, albeit at the inside linebacker spot.

With the veteran Lawrence Timmons playing alongside Shazier, this left little room for development for Williams, who only started two games through the 2015 season and was mostly a special teams ace.

But when Pittsburgh inked Williams to that aforementioned contract-extension, it was seen as a move that would allow the team to part ways with the older and more expensive Timmons following the 2016 campaign. Despite Timmons’ resurgence in the latter part of the season, this is precisely what happened, as the Dolphins made the veteran a free agent offer he couldn’t refuse in the offseason.

No worries, considering Williams’ splendid play while filling in for an injured Shazier early in the ‘16 season (Williams combined for 26 tackles in back-to-back victories over the Chiefs and Jets).

With Williams and his hard-hitting style acting as the thunder to Shazier’s lightning, the inside linebacker spot was set. This was further reinforced when Shazier got off to the best—and healthiest—start of his career in 2017, while Williams started all 16 games and would go on to set career highs in tackles (68) and, quite remarkably, sacks (eight).

But, as you know, the unthinkable happened on December 4, when Shazier was lost for the rest of the season with a horrific spinal injury, leaving the Steelers’ defense without its centerpiece, without its all-everything successor to Polamalu.

Suddenly, Williams’ thunder didn’t seem so loud without Shazier’s lightning strike.

The lack of lightning limited the Steelers’ defense down-the-stretch and into the playoffs, as teams exploited the loss of such an important component.

Fast-forward to today.

Despite the signing of the veteran Jon Bostic in free agency and the sudden opportunity presented to third-year man, Tyler Matakevich, Williams may lack his lightning counterpart for at least another season.

The plan is for the Steelers to use safeties in the box to compensate for the loss of Shazier in 2018.

Will this work? It remains to be seen, but it’s nice to know the defense will now have a veteran presence at the inside linebacker spot to keep things in order.

And make no mistake, at age 28, Williams is a veteran. He’s no longer a youngster that can rely on older and/or more talented players to carry the load. He now must do a lot of the heavy lifting for a unit that has to find a way to play its part for a franchise that is one of the favorites in the AFC to make it to Super Bowl LIII.

Yes, Williams has a bit of a problem in pass-coverage (most guys who play the thunder role in a duo aren’t known for their range), but that’s why the onus is on a combination of those other linebackers and safeties to provide that service.

Ideally, what the Steelers need is to find another inside linebacker who can do the things Shazier once did. That may not happen this year, but if and when it does, that youngster will have a wise veteran to learn from, a man who rose up from the ranks of lower-round pick to the position of team leader.

A team can’t get by on first and second-round talent alone. While every unit needs at least one stud, it also needs a lower-round pick or UDFA to develop into someone dependable (think 2009 UDFA Ramon Foster more than holding his own on an offensive line full of studs).

The Steelers need Williams right now, and they’ll probably need him over the next four years.

Vince Williams has earned his new contract and his stripes as a veteran member of the Steelers’ defense.

Walking down Jefferson Street to recall the great Joe Gilliam

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 08/26/2018 - 3:02pm

A quarterback who wasn’t known for the right reasons deserves his credit within Pittsburgh Steelers’ lore.

I grew up in western Pennsylvania in an era of labor unrest — bricks dropped from overpasses as “scab” truck drivers drove by and balloons filled with skunk oil tossed into the worship services of steel executives. But I was far too young to have much sense of that tense labor situation in the NFL during the summer of 1974. Up to that point, there had never been a season in any of the four major sports leagues diminished by labor unrest. Since that time, while salaries have skyrocketed across all four leagues (albeit at different rates) we’ve since then suffered through “replacement players,” “replacement refs,” sundry shortened seasons and even a blank space on Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The unrest in ‘74 didn’t cost us any regular season games, but it did cost Terry Bradshaw his starting job. Jefferson Street Joe Gilliam crossed the preseason picket line and the season-opening color barrier, becoming the first African American quarterback to begin a season as an NFL team’s starter. The racial issue, like the labor issue, meant nothing to me. The only thing that mattered to me, or to most other Steelers fans, was Joe’s ability to toss the rock.

He started the first six games of that 14-game season, going 4-1-1. (I remember like it was yesterday Steve Davis, #35 filling in admirably for an ailing Franco in that sister-kissing game in Denver that ended 35-35.) To be sure, all due credit goes to the defense that was, if not at its peak, very close. Joe threw his share of interceptions, but then so had Terry. What struck me, though, was his poise — his calm in the pocket. He was chock-full of self confidence on the football field. I can still hear the deep tones of John Facenda on that year’s highlight reel referring to Gilliam’s “buggy-whip arm.” Where Terry was big and brutish, Gilliam was sleek and stylish. I didn’t just root for him, I wanted to be him.

Joe’s play eventually became as erratic as his off-field behavior and Ray Mansfield’s posterior became something of a revolving door as Terry Bradshaw and Hanratty both shared the reins of the team. The Steelers went on to finish the regular season 10-3-1, and the post-season 3-0.

I continued to hope for Joe’s return. At that age, I knew about as much of the demon grip of drugs as I did about labor issues. But the one thing I knew for sure is that you can’t fake talent, and if Gilliam had it those Sundays in September, surely it couldn’t be gone. He was eventually cut, and I vaguely remembering hearing on the evening news a few years later that he was playing in a semi-pro league somewhere. The next time I heard about him, his story had changed from a story of hope to a cautionary tale.

Joe ended up, for a time, homeless. Those stories were widely circulated around the time of Super Bowl XXX. Largely forgotten was the talent, but not completely forgotten. Terry Bradshaw, now more known for his time in the booth than in the pocket, was asked his opinion on the greatest quarterback to ever don the black-and-gold. This was long before the arrival of Big Ben and our perennial debates on who wears the crown, Terry or Ben. But back then, Terry’s vote was for Joe Gilliam.

You can still find sundry accounts of Gilliam’s latter life on the Internet. There were successes and their were setbacks, but in the end, death. None of that, however, can change the talent he had as a player, nor the joy I had watching him sling it.

Steelers Nation doesn’t waver or depart, no matter what

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 08/26/2018 - 1:29pm

Every member of Steeler Nation bleeds black and gold, and these colors don't run. It's a lifelong commitment.

There are two seasons for any Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Football season and waiting-for-football-to-return season. Football season has returned and you can feel it in the air. Locally, schools are back in session and this Friday night represented the first contest for many High School teams. Next week there will be multiple matchups featuring Top 25 teams to kickoff the 2018 College football season, and if that isn’t enough to get your old heart muscle pumping, the NFL starts playing for keeps the week after that.

Now unless you have been living under a rock, or just coming out of a coma, you know by now the NFL is in big trouble. Thousands of fans are plastering comments all over Facebook and Twitter, and passionately telling anyone who will listen, how they will never watch another NFL game because of the anthem protest controversy. Now you have even more disgruntled fans proclaiming they refuse to watch this new kinder, gentler NFL created by the new ‘Helmet Rule’.

I got a little secret for you. Not gonna happen. So why do they all waste their time making idle threats? Because sometimes people love to make grandiose promises they never intend to keep. I have a neighbor who keeps posting all over social media a picture that is supposed to show the Seattle Seahawks burning an American flag in their locker room after a game. Says he will never watch another game. I have a couple of issues with his impassioned plea. One, we have no idea if that really happened, or if the image has been doctored. Real news or fake news? Who knows? I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, not a Seahawks fan. Second problem I have with his agenda. Dude isn’t even a football fan! Probably hasn’t watched a game in twenty years. I believe him when he says he will never watch another game. He wasn’t going to be watching anyway.

Football has established itself as part of the American culture. Every Friday night moments witnessed on a football field become ingrained as cherished family memories. Lifelong friendships are bonded together around tailgating experiences and mutual support for your college alma mater every Saturday. Rooting for your favorite NFL team means you are a part of something much bigger than you. That you are a member of a group, the majority of which you will never encounter, that share a common passion and goal. Anybody that truly knows what it means to be a part of Steeler Nation knows that love for the Steelers and the game of football isn’t going away any time soon.

As I stated in the first article I ever wrote for BTSC, the NFL definitely has an image problem. They view the decline in participation among young athletes as potentially the single biggest threat to the longevity of the sport. They have responded by orchestrating the Heads Up program designed to teach proper tackling techniques starting at the youth levels. They have also installed new rules at both the college and professional levels in an attempt to make the game safer for the players. Or at least appear to be safer. These new developments were meant to benefit the NFL’s overall image.

Make no mistake about it, the NFL league offices are not filled with a bunch of Mother Teresas lovingly praying for the health and well being of the players. This seemingly new found emphasis on player safety has been generated solely to protect their bottom line. However, the initial reasoning responsible for inspiring change is irrelevant as long as it produces positive results. That possibility still remains in this situation.

The NFL is big business. Multiple franchises are now worth billions of dollars and the league itself can only be described as a financial success story and entertainment empire. The NFL will continue to make decision based on what’s best for their business, even if we view the game as something so much more.

Steeler Nation is not a business. Steeler Nation is a family. If I had a family crest, you better believe the Steeler emblem would be part of that crest. Being a member of Steeler Nation means you are emotionally invested in a lifelong endeavor. As long as the Rooney family owns the team and the franchise continues to reflect their core values, I will remain a Steelers fan. Players come and go, but true fandom remains.

So to all the fans proclaiming they are going to stop watching the NFL due to the anthem protests or the new helmet rule, let me get this straight. You are going to quit rooting for your team because of the actions of a few players and politicians, or because of a rule that potentially could have been penalized on only 3% or 4% of tackles last season?

Makes total sense to me. Arrivederci. I highly doubt you were ever a football fan anyway. Definitely not a card carrying member of Steeler Nation.

4 areas where Steelers showed development in win over the Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 08/26/2018 - 10:54am

Most of the arrows are pointing up after the 16-6 victory over Tennessee at Heinz Field.

Capturing the Steelers-Titans game on DVR, and taking a closer look with less focus on scheme than on fundamentals and player development, here are my takeaways from the film study:

1. James Conner

I love how Conner is being groomed to take over Le’Veon Bell’s role. He actually did a pretty good impression of Bell in the empty-set passing game. Conner looked very natural catching the ball. On the opening series, they motioned him out wide and then brought him on an underneath route where he caught the ball with his hands and made ten yards after the catch running into the teeth of the Tennessee defense.

That’s a nice scheme by Randy Fichtner. Better to have a 220-pound RB catching the ball in that area and lowering his shoulders into linebackers than someone like Antonio Brown. Later on the same drive, they called a screen to Conner, who snatched the ball out of the air effortlessly with one hand. The Steelers opened their second drive by hitting Conner in the flat on a slant-flat combo vs cover-3, and Conner ran through the tackle of the closing cornerback for a first down.

That drive resulted in a touchdown.

Conner finished with six catches for 52-yards. He also flattened a Tennessee OLB who was speed-rushing the edge with a vicious chip in pass protection.

Jaylen Samuels picked up where Conner left off in the second half, demonstrating the versatility he displayed at NC State. Samuels made a great backside zone cut on his first carry to gain 18-yards. On the next play, he caught a flat route and turned it upfield for a nice gain. Later, he squared his shoulders and ran hard inside for a first down on 3rd-and-1. He accounted for three first downs on the Steelers’ first drive of the second half and had a beautiful touchdown run where he showed elusiveness in the open field wiped out by a holding penalty. Overall, he rushed for 41-yards and caught four balls.

I’m not saying Conner or Samuels are Le’Veon Bell yet — they might never be. But Conner is a more confident and complete back than he was last season, and Samuels looked every bit the Swiss Army knife he’s been hyped to be. Most significantly, they both looked awfully good in the receiver role that Bell believes makes him so unique.

2. ‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger

No. 7’s short stint was productive — three drives, seven points, no punishment taken, no 3-and-outs. Big Ben looked decisive in the short passing game but, other than a dime he dropped to Justin Hunter for the Steelers first TD, he was a little “off” with his deeper ball placement. No worries there, though. I’d rather see the short passing game flourish early in the season. This offense has lots of new pieces and may take some time to round into shape. Playing ball-control until it does might not be a bad thing. The ball was out of Ben’s hand in a hurry and he knew exactly where to go with it.

Watching Roethlisberger move through his progressions is a thing of beauty. He reads a defense so quickly and he knows exactly where his counter moves are if the first option is no good. The accuracy will improve with reps (and having a certain No. 84 on the field won’t hurt, either). After a couple of games with the backup QBs in charge, it was a pleasure to watch the master shake off some of his rust.

3. For the Defense

On the other side of the ball, it sure felt like a message had been delivered to that unit after their embarrassment in Green Bay. I wouldn’t call their performance dominant, but it sure was an upgrade over what we saw last week.

Jon Bostic looked good at LB. He made a heck of a play on Tennessee’s first possession, knifing through a reach block to tackle Derrick Henry for a short gain on a zone play away from him. After a second quarter Landry Jones interception, Bostic exploded through a Tennessee guard to make a tackle for loss on first down. He plays with great leverage and uses his hands extremely well, while also possessing a knack for finding seams to the ball. He’s a really solid run defender and also made a nice open-field tackle on a 3rd-and-long play where he dropped under a deep “in” route, then rallied down to tackle the checkdown throw short of the sticks. His pass-defense has been questioned this summer but when he keeps the play in front of him he’s effective.

Stephon Tuitt showed up early, recording a sack on Tennessee’s opening drive where he absolutely blew through Henry, who showed zero interest in blocking him. Tuitt played with a low pad level all night, won the battle of the hands with the OL and would not be moved off the line of scrimmage in the run game. Ditto for Cam Heyward, who recorded a sack and a TFL of his own. The two played like men among boys at times.

Terrell Edmunds stood out as well. He always seemed to be around the ball, and his return of an interception in the second quarter showed flashes of real play-making ability with the ball in his hands. Edmunds laid out to undercut a Marcus Mariota throw, jumped to his feet and took off like a rocket up the field. He hit a seam and accelerated like a speed back. My immediate thought was, “Good Lord, get this kid on the kick return team.” For a franchise forever in search of a return man, the No. 1 pick sure looked like he fit the bill.

The better news was how active he was on the back end. He seemed to be barking out signals, demonstrating the communication skills Mike Tomlin raved about early in camp. When Edmunds rolled down into the slot, he pursued the ball relentlessly and would not be blocked by smaller slot receivers. It was the most impressive performance of the preseason by the young safety.

On the down side defensively, Bud Dupree remains a lazy pass-rusher. His hands are so inactive. I never see him work to get the OL’s hands off of him. Last night, as so often before, he used the same speed rush up field, with the occasional counter-club across the tackle’s face that usually resulted in him getting pinned inside. Twice he came inside to the B-gap on stunts. Neither time did he “dip and rip” as backers are taught to do in those situations (translation: get small and skinny and throw an uppercut to “rip” through the hands of the blocker); rather, he simply ran full-steam into the line, where he was easily thwarted by the OL. He did hurry Mariota on the play where Edmunds made the interception, but Tennessee blew the blocking assignment, so it’s hard to give Dupree much credit there.

The irony on Dupree is he’s gotten better at using his hands at the point of attack in the run game. He was more effective holding the edge on outside runs last night, which was largely a product of getting his hands into the chest of the tight end and using his strength to hold his ground. Where is that technique work and attention to detail as a pass rusher? Dupree is a gifted, explosive athlete. He makes the occasional play because of that natural ability. If he was half the technician T.J. Watt is, and if he ever learned the art of hand play that the great pass-rushers master, he might be special.

4. Villaneuva watch

I’m beginning to perceive Alejandro Villanueva as the weak link of the O-line. It’s hard for a 6-feet 8-inch dude to play low, but he’s constantly too high and rarely squares up on defenders in the run game. His elbows are outside his body a lot and he gives up his chest, which compromises his ability to drive block. Plus, he’s in that damned 2-point stance all the time, which creates leverage issues at the snap (as well as the occasional false step backwards, slowing his ability to get his hands on the defender). All of this was on display last night, as AV struggled to get a push on runs to his side and failed to cut defenders off on runs away from him.

AV is better in pass protection because his length creates a difficult target for defenders to avoid. He can be bull-rushed by smaller defenders who play with leverage, but this is clearly the stronger aspect of his game right now. That’s good, considering he protects the blind side of the franchise QB. To run the ball effectively, however, we will need AV to improve. The two-point stance might be a product of how hard it is to uncoil his 6’8 frame with force when he puts his hand on the ground. But if he’s going to remain in the two-point, he’s going to have to work very hard to get off the ball lower in order to become a better run blocker. I wouldn’t say I’m worried about AV — I just think he needs a ton of work on his fundamentals.

...

All told, this looked a lot more like the 13-3 squad fans watched last season than the disinterested group of imposters who took the field last week in Green Bay. Next week will be all about the backups and fringe players. Tonight, though, we saw some encouraging things from the varsity squad, so don’t tear that Terrible Towel to pieces just yet!

Winners and Losers after the Steelers’ 16-6 win over the Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 08/26/2018 - 9:13am

After a game, there are players who performed well, and some who didn’t. This is where the Winners and Losers column comes in.

The Pittsburgh Steelers won their second meaningless game Saturday by defeating the Tennessee Titans 16-6 in Week 3 of the NFL Preseason. While the outcome of the game means nothing in regards to the team’s standing heading into the regular season, many players are on the field trying to make plays to secure their spot on the team’s 53-man roster.

During this process, there are those who perform well, and others who fall short of the standard. This is where the Winners and Losers column comes in. After the game, when the dust settles, we decipher who fall into which category.

As always, you are more than welcome to comment on the list in the comment section below. Be a part of the conversation!

Winners

Health

This should always be the No. 1 winner after a preseason game, and although the Steelers had some seemingly minor injuries to James Washington and Jesse James, they came out healthy. Cameron Heyward’s knee didn’t look great, but he seemed okay and stayed in the game into the third quarter. Having Heyward, Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and others all healthy after the final tune up is the biggest winner of them all.

James Conner — 10 rushes, 18 yards / 6 receptions, 62 yards

I’m sure some will criticize this decision, but for the lack of holes in the running game, Conner showed me a lot in the game vs. the Titans. Conner has never been known as a great pass catcher, but did his job and made plays in the receiving game. To be honest, his stat line, in the receiving category, was very Le’Veon Bell-esque. In other words, I’m impressed with the complete back Conner is becoming, and this bodes well for the future of the running back position in Pittsburgh.

Terrell Edmunds — 4 tackles, 3 solo, 1 pass defense, 1 interception

I still go back to the 2018 NFL Draft when the Steelers took Edmunds and fans around the globe gave the same response, “What?!” No one knew what the team got, but every time I watch him play he impresses me more and more. Sure, he still has aspects of his game which need to improve, just like every other rookie in the NFL, but his progression is much further along than I expected at this juncture of the season. The interception of Marcus Mariota was sweet, and shows the athleticism the team has lacked at safety in years past.

PIT Defense — TEN: 5-15 3rd downs, 210 total yards (168 passing/42 rushing), 2 turnovers, 28:55 TOP, 6 points

After the loss to the Green Bay Packers black-and-gold fans were wondering if the team’s offense would have to score 30-points every game to win in 2018. Against a Titans offense sporting an athletic quarterback and plenty of running potential, the Pittsburgh defense stymied the opponent. After an opening drive which neared midfield, the Steelers’ didn’t allow a point until the 4th quarter, and didn’t let the Titans across midfield till late in the second half. 6 sacks, 2 interceptions and 6 points allowed is a great day at the office. This should help Steelers fans calm down a bit...for at least a week.

Matthew Thomas — 9 tackles, 5 solo

I have to be honest, I’ve read a lot about Thomas here on BTSC from some of our other writers, but hadn’t really noticed him outside of special teams throughout the preseason. I made a concerted effort to watch Thomas vs. Tennessee and I liked what I saw. Thomas, who saw time as the inside linebacker in a 4-3 style defense with Vince Williams moving to the outside, played great and his special teams play is superb. In my opinion, Thomas solidified his spot on the team in Week 3.

Losers

3rd Down Offense — 4-for-14 / 4th Down Offense — 0-for-1

After offense outputs of 31 and 34 points, the Steelers mustered just 16, 7 with the starters in the lineup. One aspect of the game which struggled was the 3rd down offense. The Steelers’ managed just 4 out of 14 conversions, and that simply isn’t going to cut it. While many of these occurred with the backups in the game, two came with the starters, and the failed fourth down conversion came with the starters as well. It is early, but if the Steelers’ offense is going to be as lethal as they want, they can’t just be a big hitting unit, but also one which can churn out long, time consuming, drives to ice games away.

Penalties — PIT - 8/68yds / TEN - 9/51yds

The preseason is both good and bad. It is good because the games go by so much faster with less advertisements and commercial breaks. It is bad because the product in the late quarters isn’t as good, and the officials seem be wanting to warm up their flag throwing arms. The 17 penalties in this preseason game came mainly in the second half, and it really killed the momentum of the game. You can’t always change this, but it is a frustration nonetheless.

Steelers solid in their principal tune-up for the regular season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 08/26/2018 - 7:50am

The Steelers’ defense had six sacks, throttling Tennessee’s offense whether on the ground or through the air, while Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff saw strong efforts by several players vying for roster spots.

In the first and only preseason game where starters will see substantial playing time, the Steelers accomplished practically everything they set out to do, using stout defense to defeat the Tennessee Titans 16-6 at Heinz Field. Ben Roethlisberger’s lone appearance in the preseason games was solid-but-unspectacular, as he completed 11 of 18 passes for 114 yards. But with Antonio Brown out of the lineup, and JuJu Smith-Schuster serving as Ben’s sole familiar wide receiver on the field, the passing game looked out-of-synch despite an impressive TD pass and catch from No. 7 to WR Justin Hunter near the end of the first quarter.

While it’s often noted that preseason games are meaningless, this performance included some surprising and promising efforts by some depth players who seem determined to make their marks in the NFL. Running back and fifth-round pick Jaylen Samuels was especially impressive in the second half, leading Pittsburgh in rushing with 41 yards on 11 carries, including an 18-yard burst and an apparent TD romp called back by penalty. Samuels also showed his versatility, grabbing a total of four catches for 36 yards as a receiver. He’s definitely got the look of a player with the potential to make important contributions to the Black-and-gold, particularly as he gains more experience.

While he completed only 7 of 11 passes for 65 yards, Mason Rudolph out-dueled Landry Jones and he continues to demonstrate qualities that might someday make him a starting NFL quarterback. Rudolph continues to improve his grasp of the pro game with each opportunity. That’s certainly no knock on Josh Dobbs, who also might develop into a capable NFL quarterback, but Rudolph appears to be improving his pocket awareness and capability to avoid the rush with each successive outing. In certain ways, he looks like he might develop into a type of quarterback similar to Roethlisberger in that he seems to have the ability to create big-play opportunities by moving around in the pocket and buying himself extra time.

On defense, ILB Matthew Thomas had quite an impressive performance, leading the Steelers’ defense with nine tackles including five solo stops. Once again, his special-teams play was quite solid. Thomas also continues to improve as he gets more opportunities to play, and he might be a player who pays big dividends down the road at a position of real need for the Black-and-gold.

As a whole, the Steelers’ defense was surprisingly strong, holding the Titans to only 42 yards rushing on 20 carries for an anemic 2.1-yards-per-carry average. Equally impressive was the defense’s ability to consistently get after the quarterback, notching six sacks and forcing several errant throws, one of which was snatched impressively by rookie first-rounder Terrell Edmunds who returned the ball 30 yards to put the Steelers in scoring position in the second quarter. This marked the first real opportunity Steelers fans have had under game conditions to see the speed and athleticism which Edmunds brings to the Steelers’ secondary. The ability he showed in weaving his way through a host of would-be Tennessee tacklers on the interception return ought to give the faithful of Steelers Nation high hopes that Edmunds will live up to his first-round pedigree by contributing some key splash-plays during the regular season.

On special teams, perhaps the most noteworthy development was Matt Wile’s punting. Wile had three punts for an average of 48.7 yards, including a 58-yard boot in the fourth quarter. In so doing, he outkicked Jordan Berry’s average (on two punts) by the healthy margin of 5.2 yards. Given the crucial role of punting in field position, Wile’s performance surely must have Berry looking over his shoulder. What’s more, this punting competition could very well be decided based on how they match up in the final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.

While it’s still conceivable that Tyler Matakevich might lose out at the final cut-down, he’s probably done well enough on special teams to compensate for his deficiencies as a backup ILB. But given the stiff competition existing in the linebacker corps, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see a changing of the guard at the depth positions.

In just about every way that a head coach might consider a preseason game successful, this game fits the bill. Big Ben knocked off some rust and emerged unscathed. The starters and high draft picks also knocked off some rust and generally performed well. But most importantly, Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff were able to make a good assessment of the players who deserve to be there when the roster is reduced to 53 men.

The icing on the cake, though, was that a few players who might have been discounted earlier in training camp used this opportunity to make strong cases suggesting they belong in the NFL. They’ve also shown that they’re capable of continuous improvement as the weeks and months of the upcoming regular season unfold. In the wake of this dominant, preseason win, it seems evident we’re looking at a handful of budding, future stars for the Black-and-gold.

Members of the Steelers and Mike Tomlin react to the team’s win vs. the Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 08/26/2018 - 6:28am

Check out the sideline and post-game interviews from players who were part of the Week-3 preseason victory.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Week-3 preseason performance was solid. While it wasn’t complete, there was plenty to be happy about after the team’s 16-6 win over the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field.

But there were still questions to be answered, and Steelers’ official website sideline reporter Missi Matthews was on the field to talk to several players and coaches regarding the game and what they thought of the overall performance of the Black-and-gold.

Check out interviews from Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, Jaylen Samuels and more!

Mike Tomlin

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media following today’s preseason win over the Titans. https://t.co/h6PRafSCVJ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 25, 2018 Ben Roethlisberger

Ben: "Proud of the way everyone played." pic.twitter.com/G02C9qk4e2

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 26, 2018 Vince Williams

Vince Williams talks about his new contract, and assesses the defense's performance vs. the Titans. pic.twitter.com/nbqsz7J5eq

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 26, 2018 Jaylen Samuels

Rookie running back Jaylen Samuels turned heads with 77 yards on 15 touches against the Titans. Has he solidified a roster spot? He’s not ready to say that. pic.twitter.com/UK2GmX4hFM

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) August 26, 2018 Terrell Edmunds

Terrell Edmunds wasn’t about to let Marcus Mariota give him the business on his interception return. pic.twitter.com/3jaW9z2E9m

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) August 26, 2018

Podcast: Breaking down what went right, and what went wrong vs. the Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 08/26/2018 - 5:46am

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

The 2018 season is officially under way with the 2018 preseason officially kicked off. This means there’s plenty of news for the Pittsburgh Steelers faithful everywhere.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the new season Steelers Post-Game Recap. On this show, Jeff Hartman discusses what went right and what went wrong in the latest game.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Q&A from fans
  • What went right
  • What went wrong
  • Looking ahead to Week 4
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold.

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

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out all episodes on 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.

Injury Report: James James and James Washington highlight injured in win over Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/25/2018 - 6:59pm

The Steelers seemingly escaped their third preseason game of the year without any major injuries, with James Washington and Marcus Tucker the only notable names to leave the game early

The Pittsburgh Steelers played their most complete game of the preseason so far against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday afternoon and their success was not only limited to their play on the field. Escaping any contest without a major injury is always something to be celebrated and it would seem the Steelers were equally successful in this regard at Heinz Field.

Sadly, that does not mean there are no incidents to report and Mike Tomlin highlighted three names with injury concerns during his postgame press conference. With both James Washington and Marcus Tucker forced to leave the contest early, it was no surprise to hear their names mentioned in the team’s injury update, but the inclusion of tight end Jesse James was somewhat unexpected. As Tomlin told reporters.

“[Marcus] Tucker is having his ankle evaluated, Jame Washington is having his oblique evaluated, Jesse James has got a contusion to his back. Don't know the severity of any of those, we’ll give you an appropriate update when we get it.”

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media following today’s preseason win over the Titans. https://t.co/h6PRafSCVJ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 25, 2018

Given the number of high balls thrown in the direction of James that seemed to end with hits to his back, the injury could have come on any number of plays. Both Tucker and Washington had obvious moments in the game when their injury occurred, but neither incident appeared especially dramatic and it can only hoped the evaluations will return with some positive news.

Washington's jersey is now off,m appears done for the day. Ice pack being applied to his lower left abdomen. But he's standing and chatting with teammates, giving all appearances that nothing is serious. https://t.co/HHfAyAtvGC

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 25, 2018

James Washington said he injured his abdominal muscle when he turned for a ball. He does not believe it will keep him out much time at all. Described it as a precautionary measure.

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) August 25, 2018

With Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble already sidelined due to injury, a long term issue for James could be a problem and as more information becomes available, we will be sure to update you.

Knee Jerk Reactions from the Steelers’ 16-6 win over the Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/25/2018 - 6:20pm

Jeff Hartman fills in for Bryan Anthony Davis and shares his real-time, initial thoughts of the Steelers preseason visit from the Tennessee Titans.

The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Tennessee Titans in Week 3 of the preseason, and that means the starters finally saw the field!

While many sites like to sit back, breathe, and digest the game that just ended, we here at BTSC prefer to show you our knee jerk reactions, as well as our more in-depth analysis in the days following the conclusion of the game.

This is usually Bryan Anthony Davis’ job for BTSC, but he is on vacation, so that means you get my knee jerk reactions from the Steelers’ 16-6 win over the Titans.

Take a look at my initial thoughts on the Steelers’ latest game action:

1st Quarter

Great first drive by the Pittsburgh offense. Some big third-down conversions, but you can see the rust on several plays.

Ben Roethlisberger really wanted to go for it on 4th-and-3, but Tomlin punts. It is preseason for the coaches too.

The Steelers’ defense can’t be so predictable. Backed up in their own zone, Marcus Mariota completes a first down pass to give them breathing room, and a first down.

After a Stephon Tuitt sack, the Steelers’ defense gives up a 3rd-and-10...this isn’t doing much to help boos the confidence of the fan base.

Mariota and company are churning out first downs, but finally punt the football. Will Ben be back out for a second drive?

Yes...he is.

The Steelers offense looks as diverse as ever. Roethlisberger is spreading the ball around, and despite missed chances by Ben on a pass to Jesse James, and a huge drop by JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Steelers are proving how potent their offense can be.

Huge TD catch by Justin Hunter, not sure how the refs missed the call live...clearly got two feet in.

2nd Quarter

Good to see the Steelers’ defense FINALLY get a three-and-out. About flippin’ time.

Wow. Ben is back for a third series. Gotta say I’m surprised.

If Ben has been missing tonight, it has been high. Not anything to worry about, but Jesse James just got flipped after a nice catch on a high pass.

JuJu vs. Adoree Jackson, college teammates, is a fun matchup to watch.

Steelers go for it on 4th-and-1, in the shotgun, and Roethlisberger’s pass for JuJu falls incomplete. So much for the just grind out a yard for a new set of downs.

Vince Williams with the sack. Steelers’ defense is getting to Mariota early and often.

Another three-and-out...I could get used to this.

Landry Jones takes over...and a bad snap kills the drive.

Jordan Berry, with two punts, has looked better than he did last week. Then again, I could punt the ball further than Berry did vs. the Packers last week.

Steelers’ defense is getting creative with their looks and sub packages. Matthew Thomas getting some looks in specific situations.

NICE INTERCEPTION BY TERRELL EDMUNDS!!

...and Justin Hunter not holding onto the football gives it right back to the Titans.

Another three-and-out, as the Steelers’ starting defense has played the entire half.

Landry with a chance with 1:11 to get some points. And he is doing nothing but checking it down...

Chris Boswell is good from 42-yards. And water is wet.

3rd Quarter

Surprised the Steelers’ starting defense, minus Stephon Tuitt, started the 2nd half. After a three-and-out, and a Cameron Heyward sack, I’ll suggest they call it a night...but what do I know?!

Mason Rudolph takes over, and Jaylen Samuels is the man so far in the second half. Looking good and decisive with his runs.

Chuks Okorafor getting recognized for all the wrong reasons. Holding in the red-zone...killer.

How about a Roosevelt Nix reception!!

Rudolph has looked good so far, but these holding calls in the red-zone are killers.

Boswell is good at kicking a football.

The more I watch Matthew Thomas, the more I feel he has a spot on this football team. Very athletic. Very versatile.

4th Quarter

My goodness, these penalty flags are ridiculous.

The Steelers’ third string offensive line isn’t giving Mason Rudolph a chance to even get to his second read at times. No time to pass at all.

However, Jaylen Samuels continues to look good running the football.

Matthew Thomas will make this team if for nothing more than his special teams play.

I am now reminded how poor the product is when fourth string players are on the field with regularity.

The would-be Titans’ touchdown, which would have been ruled out of bounds anyways, was a nightmare to watch. Glad it didn’t count.

Game over. 16-6 Steelers.

...

What do you think of the game immediately after? Now is the time we re-watch the game and get a little more in-depth with our analysis. Let us know what you think in the comment section below!

Steelers starters shine as they beat the Titans 16-6

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/25/2018 - 5:59pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers got their starters some playing time, and they didn’t disappoint as Pittsburgh’s preseason record improved to 2-1.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans met up on a picturesque afternoon in Week 3 of the NFL Preseason, and with it being the third game on the schedule, it means the Steelers’ starters saw their first, and only, action of the preseason.

Ben Roethlisberger, and the Pittsburgh offense, took the football on the opening kickoff, and after a promising drive, and two third-down completions, a Roethlisberger completion to JuJu Smith-Schuster on 3rd-and-4 came up short of the yards-to-gain and Jordan Berry was called on for his first action of the day.

Marcus Mariota and the Titans offense took over deep inside their own zone, and although they were able to churn out several first downs, the Pittsburgh defense stood tall on 3rd-and-8 to force a punt.

Roethlisberger and company came out for a second drive of the first quarter, and the second drive was a lot better in regards to result. James Conner continued to do damage in the passing game, and aided by a 15-yard roughing call against the Titans the Steelers quickly moved into Tennessee territory. On the cusp of the red-zone, Roethlisberger threw a beautiful pass to Justin Hunter who corralled it for the first score of the game. Chris Boswell tacked on an extra point to make it 7-0 with 1:28 left in the opening frame.

Touchdown‼️ pic.twitter.com/K8cL5nSxQn

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 25, 2018

The second quarter started with Mariota still in the game, but after a three-and-out the Titans were forced to punt the football back to Pittsburgh.

In a surprising move, the Steelers’ put Roethlisberger out on the field to start the second quarter for a third drive of the game. After moving into Tennessee territory, again, the Steelers’ went for it on 4th-and-1, but an incomplete pass intended for Smith-Schuster gave the ball back to Tennessee on downs.

After another Tennessee three-and-out, thanks to a sack by Vince Williams, the punt team was called on again for Mike Vrabel’s team.

Picking up where he left off. pic.twitter.com/3wtV6Feilu

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 25, 2018

With Landry Jones taking over for the Pittsburgh offense midway through the 2nd quarter, there was little production, and Jordan Berry was called on for the second time this game.

On third down, Mariota was flushed out of the pocket by Bud Dupree and his pass was intercepted by rookie Terrell Edmunds. Although the preseason, it was the rookie’s first interception of his young career.

Showing off the hands.
Showing off the wheels.

@rell_island6 pic.twitter.com/9AioOE2j9p

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 25, 2018

However, a third down pass which went in-and-out of Justin Hunter’s hands resulted in an interception, giving the ball right back to the Titans. Nonetheless, the Steelers’ defense, still sporting its starters, stymied the Titans offense and forced another three-and-out.

With 1:11 left in the half, and all three timeouts remaining, Landry Jones had a chance to put points on the board starting at the Tennessee 47-yard line. However, Chris Boswell was called on for a 42-yard field goal, and the kick equated in a 10-0 Steelers lead heading into halftime.

The Titans received the football to start the second half, but Blaine Gabbert fell victim to the Steelers’ starting unit, after a Cameron Heyward sack on third down it was yet another punt by the Titans.

Mason Rudolph took over under center in the third quarter, and after a Jaylen Samuels focused drive, the offense stalled in the red-zone thanks to a trio of holding calls on consecutive plays. The end result was another Chris Boswell field goal, which made the score 13-0.

The Steelers’ second string defense did its job on the ensuing drive, forcing another punt and keeping the shutout in tact. Samuels moved the Steelers into Tennessee territory, and the drive resulted in another Boswell field goal, making the score 16-0 with 1:04 left in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, the Titans finally hit pay dirt when Gabbert was able to hit the Tennessee tight end, Anthony Firkster, for the touchdown. Vrabel would send his offense back out to go for the two-point conversion, but it failed, making the score 16-6.

After a series of punts by both teams, the Steelers stood tall on 4th down to give the ball back to the Pittsburgh offense inside Tennessee territory, but another punt ensued. The remainder of the fourth quarter had fans enjoying a series of punts, and the game ended with the final score Pittsburgh 16, Tennessee 6.

The Steelers improved their preseason record to 2-1, and will host the Carolina Panthers in the fourth week of the preseason next Thursday before the team has to trim their roster from 90 to 53 players.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they continue to press on towards the regular season.

Steelers vs. Titans Preseason Week 3: 3rd quarter in-game update

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/25/2018 - 5:13pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back, and we keep you up to date with those who aren’t able to watch the game live.

1st Quarter In-Game Update

2nd Quarter In-Game Update

The Titans received the football to start the second half, but Blaine Gabbert fell victim to the Steelers’ starting unit, after a Cameron Heyward sack on third down it was yet another punt by the Titans.

Mason Rudolph took over under center in the third quarter, and after a Jaylen Samuels focused drive, the offense stalled in the red-zone thanks to a trio of holding calls on consecutive plays. The end result was another Chris Boswell field goal, which made the score 13-0.

The Steelers’ second string defense did its job on the ensuing drive, forcing another punt and keeping the shutout in tact. Samuels moved the Steelers into Tennessee territory, and the drive resulted in another Boswell field goal, making the score 16-0.

The Titans have the ball, and are driving, at the end of the quarter.

Steelers vs. Titans, Preseason Week 3: Second-half live updates, injury news and open thread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/25/2018 - 4:30pm

The Steelers are back on the gridiron! The 2018 preseason is here with the Steelers and Titans locking horns in Week 3. Keep tabs on all things Black-and-gold with our updates and open thread.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back on the field for the second time in 2018 as they prepare to face off against the Tennessee Titans Week 3 of the preseason.

Throughout the game, be sure to check back here for score updates, injury news and any breaking news from those on the sidelines following the team live. You can also follow along in the Twitter feed below.

For those wondering, you can enjoy some lively commentary with the best Steelers fans across the globe in the open thread for all BTSC members in the comment section below. Let’s remember to keep it clean, respect everyone’s thoughts and ideas, and ultimately remember we’re all here for the same reason—to root on the Steelers!

So enjoy the game and be sure to follow BTSC for all the latest news surrounding the team throughout the game and afterwards!

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

Steelers vs. Titans Preseason Week 3: 2nd quarter in-game update

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/25/2018 - 4:21pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back, and we keep you up to date with those who aren’t able to watch the game live.

1st Quarter In-Game Update

The second quarter started with Mariota still in the game, but after a three-and-out the Titans were forced to punt the football back to Pittsburgh.

In a surprising move, the Steelers’ put Roethlisberger out on the field to start the second quarter for a third drive of the game. After moving into Tennessee territory, again, the Steelers’ went for it on 4th-and-1, but an incomplete pass intended for Smith-Schuster gave the ball back to Tennessee on downs.

After another Tennessee three-and-out, thanks to a sack by Vince Williams, the punt team was called on again for Mike Vrabel’s team.

Picking up where he left off. pic.twitter.com/3wtV6Feilu

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 25, 2018

With Landry Jones taking over for the Pittsburgh offense midway through the 2nd quarter, there was little production, and Jordan Berry was called on for the second time this game.

On third down, Mariota was flushed out of the pocket by Bud Dupree and his pass was intercepted by rookie Terrell Edmunds. Although the preseason, it was the rookie’s first interception of his young career.

On third down, Mariota was flushed out of the pocket by Bud Dupree and his pass was intercepted by rookie Terrell Edmunds. Although the preseason, it was the rookie’s first interception of his young career.

Showing off the hands.
Showing off the wheels.

@rell_island6 pic.twitter.com/9AioOE2j9p

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 25, 2018

However, a third down pass which went in-and-out of Justin Hunter’s hands resulted in an interception, giving the ball right back to the Titans. Nonetheless, the Steelers’ defense, still sporting its starters, stymied the Titans offense and forced another three-and-out.

With 1:11 left in the half, and all three timeouts remaining, Landry Jones had a chance to put points on the board starting at the Tennessee 47-yard line. However, Chris Boswell was called on for a 42-yard field goal, and the kick equated in a 10-0 Steelers lead heading into halftime.

The Titans will receive the football to start the third quarter.

Steelers vs. Titans Preseason Week 3: 1st quarter in-game update

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/25/2018 - 3:39pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back, and we keep you up to date with those who aren’t able to watch the game live.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans met up on a picturesque afternoon in Week 3 of the NFL Preseason, and with it being the third game on the schedule, it means the Steelers’ starters saw their first, and only, action of the preseason.

Ben Roethlisberger, and the Pittsburgh offense, took the football on the opening kickoff, and after a promising drive, and two third-down completions, a Roethlisberger completion to JuJu Smith-Schuster on 3rd-and-4 came up short of the yards-to-gain and Jordan Berry was called on for his first action of the day.

Marcus Mariota and the Titans offense took over deep inside their own zone, and although they were able to churn out several first downs, the Pittsburgh defense stood tall on 3rd-and-8 to force a punt.

Roethlisberger and company came out for a second drive of the first quarter, and the second drive was a lot better in regards to result. James Conner continued to do damage in the passing game, and aided by a 15-yard roughing call against the Titans the Steelers quickly moved into Tennessee territory. On the cusp of the red-zone, Roethlisberger threw a beautiful pass to Justin Hunter who corralled it for the first score of the game. Chris Boswell tacked on an extra point to make it 7-0 with 1:28 left in the opening frame.

Touchdown‼️ pic.twitter.com/K8cL5nSxQn

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 25, 2018

The Titans had the ball on the ensuing drive to end the first quarter.

Steelers vs. Titans: First-half live updates, injury news and open thread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/25/2018 - 2:35pm

The Steelers are back on the gridiron! The 2018 preseason is here with the Steelers and Titans locking horns in Week 3. Keep tabs on all things Black-and-gold with our updates and open thread.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back on the field for the second time in 2018 as they prepare to face off against the Tennessee Titans Week 3 of the preseason.

Throughout the game, be sure to check back here for score updates, injury news and any breaking news from those on the sidelines following the team live. You can also follow along in the Twitter feed below.

For those wondering, you can enjoy some lively commentary with the best Steelers fans across the globe in the open thread for all BTSC members in the comment section below. Let’s remember to keep it clean, respect everyone’s thoughts and ideas, and ultimately remember we’re all here for the same reason—to root on the Steelers!

So enjoy the game and be sure to follow BTSC for all the latest news surrounding the team throughout the game and afterwards!

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 90-man roster and jersey numbers preseason Week 3

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/25/2018 - 2:30pm

Our updated 2018 roster list includes all the jersey numbers allocated to players for the Steelers third preseason game of the year against the Tennessee Titans

While the Pittsburgh Steelers will rest a handful of veteran players carrying injuries against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday afternoon, all healthy starters are expected to receive more snaps in this game than most have seen all preseason. Although playing time will be limited for the younger players in the first half, fans should see a lot of unfamiliar numbers on the field for the Black and Gold after halftime.

After some of the returning veteran names in the secondary opted for new numbers this offseason, there are changes to be aware of this year with Joe Haden, Sean Davis and Mike Hilton all sporting a different look in 2018. For those struggling to keep up with all of the new shirt numbers, our updated roster list should help you keep track of who’s who.

Not every jersey number is exclusive to just one player and there a handful of names who will be carrying the same number on offense and defense in preseason. Running back James Conner and defensive back Jamar Summers will both wear number 30, while Parker Cothern and Larson Graham are both wearing number 61 for example.

Simon Chester Pittsburgh Steelers vs Tennessee Titans 90-man roster - Preseason Week 3

Before you rush out to buy the jersey of your favorite undrafted rookie free agent, you might want to wait a few more weeks until the 53-man roster has been decided to see if they keep that number, let alone make the team. The final round of cuts if sure to free up a few more jerseys and it would be a surprise if there were not a few more number changes before the regular season begins.

5 players to watch in Steelers vs. Packers Week 2

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/25/2018 - 1:35pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be on the gridiron Saturday, and time to narrow the focus on 5 players to keep a close eye on when they play the Titans.

Football is back, sort of, and although the upcoming Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans game in Week 3 of the 2018 preseason is technically meaningless, it doesn’t mean there aren’t specific players fans are excited to see.

For the first, and only, time this preseason, Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncye and other starters will be taking the field, and there are plenty of players fans should be excited to watch on the field.

Maybe you haven’t kept good tabs on the Steelers this offseason? Don’t know who you should be watching? Here are 5 players to keep an eye on during tonight’s preseason fracas.

1. Bud Dupree — OLB

Dupree missed Week 1 with a concussion, and after the switch from left outside linebacker to right outside linebacker, fans want to see something flash from the former 1st round draft pick. Dupree played ‘okay’ in Week 2 vs. the Packers, but the improvement needs to continue. In a game where starters on both sides could play into the second quarter, Dupree will have plenty of opportunities to show his stuff against the best the opposition has to offer.

2. Terrell Edmunds — Safety

Edmunds didn’t have the best game in Week 2, outside of a stellar special teams play, and he will certainly be tested against the Titans when he is on the field. No one is expecting Edmunds to step on the field and be a starter, but the desire to see improvement from the team’s top rookie needs to be evident.

3. Ben Roethlisberger — QB B3.

Everything you’ve heard from training camp is how solid Roethlisberger looks. He came into camp in tremendous shape, and his arm looks as lively as ever. Not only has he looked good, but he is more in charge now than ever. Time to see the progression of the offense, even though slightly in the preseason, with No. 7 under center.

4. Stephon Tuitt — DE

Tuitt, who has had injury issues, is healthy, but doesn’t look comfortable on the field. Cameron Heyward will be in the lineup for the first time, which should take some attention off Tuitt and give him more one-on-ones. Tuitt can be a force, and maybe the preseason hasn’t gotten Tuitt’s full attention, but if there is a time when it should...it is now in Week 3.

5. The Secondary

Outside of Mike Hilton, who has been ruled out of the game due to a lower body injury, this will be the first time the Steelers’ top secondary will be on the field. Joe Haden, Artie Burns, Terrell Edmunds, Morgan Burnett, Sean Davis and Cameron Sutton will all be out there, and the excuse of not having everyone available won’t exist. Time to show out.

Other players to keep an eye on:

James Washington — WR
Chukwuma Okorafor — OT
James Conner — RB
Joshua Dobbs — QB
Ola Adeniyi — OLB
Offensive Line

3 Steelers position battles that could be decided against the Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/25/2018 - 12:22pm

There are some players who are dangerously close to not making the roster due to some of these roster battles. So, who wins them and makes the team?

We should start to face it. The Steelers have an unprecedented amount of position battles that will affect their Super Bowl hopes this season. I am not sure I truly remember the Steelers having so many battles that could literally go any way. Through two games, some of these battles are just about as uncertain as they were the first day of training camp. So, in this game against the Tennessee Titans, where the starters will play, it will be a huge dynamic to see who will step up with the starters and stand out in these position battles. If there is one thing Mike Tomlin will do, it will be to give the depth pieces who have impressed opportunities to jump to a starting role.

Thus, here are three position battles that could be decided against the Titans and my prediction of who will win these battles.

The ILB Battle

Participants: Jon Bostic, Tyler Matakevich, Matthew Thomas, L.J. Fort

This is easily the most important battle on the roster and I do not think it is really close. Given the dire need at ILB after Ryan Shazier was lost for last season and this season, the Steelers did little to nothing to change the corps. The two things they did was sign Colts ILB Jon Bostic and sign UDFA Florida State ILB Matthew Thomas. The one thing we do know is that Vince Williams has one of the starting slots locked down. Williams is likely going to be the leader of this defense this year, and there is no discussion as it pertains to the security of his starting spot.

Jon Bostic was brought in to specifically start across from Williams, but has not lived up to expectations in the preseason at all. With an up and down game against the Eagles and a rough night against the Packers, Bostic may not get the starting spot by virtue. Yet, there could be a number of factors that contribute to this. For one, he is learning the scheme and adjusting to it, so it could be an adjustment issue. Maybe, he will improve with time as he gets settled on the team, after all, his Colts tape did not look nearly as bad as he has the past two weeks. Perhaps, the flashes he had against the Eagles will show up more prominently. However, that is all theorizing, and as it currently stands, I am very worried about Bostic as a whole and I do not comfortably believe in him as the starter across from Vince Williams.

Tyler Matakevich, a special teams extraordinaire, was the top backup to Ryan Shazier last season before he got hurt in the same game Shazier did. Kevin Colbert was confident that Matakevich would show that he could be a starting caliber ILB in the league, but so far he has shown little to nothing to merit that acclaim. His coverage and run defense are in the same vein, and they have been nothing to write home about. From an abundance of missed tackles against the Eagles, to a complete non-factor against the Packers, it is no shock that Matakevich’s chances of claiming the starting spot are slipping quickly.

L.J. Fort is one of two athletic play-making ILBs on the Steelers roster, the other being Matthew Thomas. Fort might be the best coverage ILB on the team, but his run defense leaves much to be desired. The Steelers played Sean Spence over him last season, so I am not so sure where I want to instill my confidence into him being the starter would be, but he has made plays this preseason. I do think that he genuinely deserves a shot, but for whatever reason Fort is not trusted. It could be the mental aspect, much like Shamarko Thomas, or they genuinely believed that Sean Spence was better (he was not), but I doubt Fort will win the job simply from his run defense and lack of coaching confidence in him.

Matthew Thomas, however, is a very different story. The UDFA out of Florida State has been one of the top performers on the defense this preseason and got reps with second team against the Packers and took away snaps from Matakevich. Note, I have no problem with that, as I believe Matakevich should be the last ILB on the depth chart. Yet, Thomas has looked good in both run defense and coverage, but he has a lot of lumps to work out no doubt. His instincts, while improved, are not there yet. He can not correctly read a play action yet, and that will hurt him eventually, but he has been a very sure tackler.

Overall, I think the Steelers will give the job to Bostic, but riding out the lumps with Thomas might be a better idea. There is also the off chance that someone from outside the organization comes in and starts, very much like Joe Haden last season.

Prediction: Jon Bostic

Last Three Defensive Backs

Participants: Marcus Allen, Malik Golden, Jordan Dangerfield, Nat Berhe, Brian Allen, Coty Sensabaugh

This is a big mess, because all of these guys, aside of Berhe, are truly quality DB in their own ways. So, you can bet there might be one or two from this group that get the boot to the Practice Squad.

Brian Allen and Coty Sensabaugh both have had their up and down moments this preseason. Allen has covered Tight Ends extremely well and has made tremendous progress from a season ago. He, however, needs to be more physical on the line and in run defense. That has caused him to be beaten by quicker WRs and he became more of a non-factor in run defense. Sensabaugh has some very good coverage reps and some very bad ones. He has been burnt a few times, although not targeted, and he has completely blanketed guys often. It is the same Sensabaugh we saw last season during the regular season.

Nat Berhe, outside of special teams, has been rather lackluster this preseason. It is not just the touchdown where Matthew Thomas outran him, Berhe has been a liability in coverage and run defense the whole preseason and only offers special teams value, but Robert Golden was better than Berhe at that and with Marcus Tucker showing out on special teams, it is possible Berhe might be expendable with Tucker overtaking his role.

Marcus Allen needs to get on the field. We have not seen him much at all and the game against the Titans will be key to see if he finds himself on the Practice Squad or on the 53-man roster.

Malik Golden and Jordan Dangerfield are interesting options. Dangerfield and Golden have both played well. Golden is the only true FS on the roster and that in its own right could push him onto the 53-man roster since they absolutely need that. Golden has been terrific in coverage, but his tackling and run defense have been absolutely terrible. Dangerfield has been solid in all areas and due to his past experience, could find himself on the roster due to it. Dangerfield is a perfect fifth safety if they wanted one because he can play both up high or in the box and does it at an adequate level.

Prediction: Brian Allen, Marcus Allen, Jordan Dangerfield

Wide Receiver

Participants: Justin Hunter, Marcus Tucker, Damoun Patterson

Justin Hunter might feel his roster spot slipping from him, and fast. He has done little to nothing in both the receiving game and special teams. The coaching staff apparently likes him, but with him becoming invisible the whole preseason, one must wonder if his time is running out to prove he should be on the roster over both of the hungry, young guys.

Marcus Tucker might not be doing much in the receiving game, but he still has done more than Hunter in that area. I love Tucker’s story and how hard he plays on every play. When there are runs, Tucker blocks for the whole play, and puts his whole body into every play. However, Tucker has been fantastic on special teams as a whole and continues to show that he deserves a spot on the roster just for that alone.

Patterson had a terrific game against the Eagles but disappeared when facing the Packers. As it stands now, it is one game, but it should also stand that Patterson has an incredibly versatile of weapons to his arsenal. If he has good receiving games in these last two games, and continues to showing his special teams prowess, much like he did against the Eagles, Patterson has a shot to make the roster. The one thing he can not afford to do is disappear, that will only land him on a practice squad.

Prediction: Marcus Tucker

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