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Steelers scouts on hand to watch several big college matchups on Saturday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 11/11/2018 - 10:05am

With a number of big college matchups on the schedule on Saturday, scouts from Pittsburgh were noted at some of the key games.

The Pittsburgh Steelers might not have a game this Sunday, but that does not mean everyone in the organization had the weekend off. With a number of notable matchups on the college football schedule on Saturday, the Steelers were one of many teams with scouts on hand to watch the action unfold.

If Le’Veon Bell really was at the Michigan State/Ohio State game as had been rumored, he might have bumped into a scout from Pittsburgh.

NFL scouts from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens, Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles are slated to attend today's Ohio State-Michigan State game.

— Garrett Stepien (@GarrettStepien) November 10, 2018

Meanwhile another was as the Alabama/Mississippi State game.

Live scouting at the Alabama-Mississippi State game:#Ravens #Lions #Steelers #Bears #Titans #Eagles #Chiefs #Panthers #Bills #Jets #Jaguars #Dolphins #Giants

— Chase Goodbread (@ChaseGoodbread) November 9, 2018

And the Steelers also had the Penn State/Wisconsin game covered.

Scout schedule at two more games:

Penn State-Wisconsin: #Steelers #Titans #Jaguars #Eagles

West Virginia-TCU: #Giants (2), #Dolphins #Vikings #Ravens

— Chase Goodbread (@ChaseGoodbread) November 9, 2018

After already having been to the Wake Forest/N.C State game the night before.

The Browns, Chargers, Jets, Packers, Vikings, Eagles, 49ers, Raiders, Saints, Cardinals, Bills, Steelers, and Bears all had scouts in attendance at the Wake/NC State game lastnight.

— J Reid (@JReidNFL) November 9, 2018

The list of talent worth seeing at these games is far too long to list here and it would be safe to assume that these four contest do not even represent a fraction of the games around the country the Steelers would have been represented at this weekend.

Often an overlooked aspect of the pre draft discussion, especially when noting a team’s pre-draft interest, is the obvious fact that NFL teams will have done extensive scouting on many potential options far in advance of the draft. Dedicated regional scouts will have spent at least a year or more tracking certain prospects and their evaluations will go a long way in shaping a teams opinion about a player.

When it comes to success in the NFL, heart matters and the Steelers have just that

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 11/11/2018 - 9:08am

The Pittsburgh Steelers are team on the rise, but they are also much more than that.

In the run up to the second Ravens game I argued that it is games against potential playoff teams that can tell us if the Steelers are going to be a playoff team. Given how that game went, followed by crushing another likely playoff team in the Panthers, I’m feeling about as good about Pittsburgh’s chances this year as I have in just about any year. I noted in that same piece that it is a rare thing indeed for a consensus No. 1 seed to win the Super Bowl. Why? Because for all the measurables available to us, for every incursion of Billy Ball into the NFL, at the end of the day, like precious few other team sports, “want to” can make a huge difference.

We all know the sad calling Trent Dilfer has, being the poster child for the concept of Super Bowl winning game manager. It has happened, and will likely happen again, that a quarterback that just isn’t that good will hoist the Lombardi. But there is a difference between a guy called to not screw up, and a guy who has little talent, but who can still will his team to victory. Tim Tebow, take a bow. I know he’s a distasteful example, since his playoff victory came at the Steelers’ expense. But the man wasn’t even good enough to be a game manager. He was, however, determined enough to find ways to win.

Bubby Brister certainly was better at playing quarterback than Tebow, but the two had will-power in common. Bubby’s problem was he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Mobility matters, see Michael Vick in his prime. Intellect matters, see Peyton Manning. Arm strength matters, see Terry Bradshaw. But at the end of the day you have to put the ball where you want it. Bubby couldn’t. But he had moxie, drive, grit, heart. During his time under center the Steelers didn’t make the playoffs often, but were always competitive. In 1989 he lead the team to a playoff spot and a victory over the Oilers in the wild-card round. Pittsburgh lost the next week by one to Denver.

My hope is that the Steelers’ current struggles throughout the first quarter of this season will scrape off any remnants of cockiness or entitlement from the team. My fear is the most recent success will tempt the current players to take the foot off the gas. The team always has the Patriots standing in their way. The Chiefs look to be the real deal again this year. The fact remains, the Steelers are not going to coast into the playoffs, much less through them. They will need to fight, as underdogs. It worked in 1974. It worked in 2005. Pittsburgh’s quarterback isn’t as mobile as Michael Vick was in his prime. He’s not as brilliant as Peyton Manning in his prime. He’s not as strong armed as Terry Bradshaw in his prime. But he is mobile, smart, strong, and able to put the ball where it needs to go. Better still, he’s got fight in him. Which is why, after such an atrocious start to the season, the Steelers are still in the fight.

Eye of the tiger.

The Steelers victory over the Panthers was almost perfect, so don’t dare complain

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 11/11/2018 - 7:42am

The Steelers 52-21 victory over the Panthers on Thursday was so thorough, no fan could possibly find anything to complain about.

Thursday night, I was watching the beginning of the Steelers/Panthers game at a Primanti Bros. in Garfield.

Shortly after Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey crossed the goal line with a 20-yard touchdown catch to make it 7-0, visitors, a huge roar erupted on the other side of the bar. Were these people watching another contest, like soccer? Were they playing a super-intense game of trivia?

No, they were watching Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster reel in a pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and take it to the house for a 75-yard touchdown catch and run to make it 7-7. Turns out, this Primanti Bros. had some of its many flat screen TVs tune into the NFL Network feed and others—including the one I was watching—tuned into Fox, which, for some strange reason, was on a seven-second delay.

That was my only complaint about the Steelers ridiculously dominant 52-21 victory over the Panthers at Heinz Field.

Do you have any complaints? Are you unhappy with McCaffrey’s first two touchdown catches in which Pittsburgh’s defense seemed to lose track of him out of the backfield? Hey, it’s the NFL, bleep happens. Do you expect the defense to never give up touchdowns?

Look at how many touchdowns Carolina’s defense yielded to the Steelers offense—seven. Not only that, Pittsburgh didn’t punt until early in the fourth quarter, which, not coincidentally—and no offense to him—came immediately after backup quarterback Josh Dobbs entered the game.

That’s right, Thursday’s handling of the Panthers was so harsh and thorough, Roethlisberger, the quarterback who always insists on being out there with his guys, saw his final action of the night when he found rookie running back Jaylen Samuels for a six-yard touchdown pass to make it 52-14.

There was 14:55 left in the fourth quarter.

That touchdown pass to Samuels was Roethlisberger’s fifth of the night, a night that saw the decorated quarterback add more trinkets to his uniform, thanks to a perfect passer-rating of 158.3. I don’t know how to calculate a quarterback-rating, but completing 22 of 25 passes for 328 yards and five touchdowns is obviously one way to do it.

Do you want to complain about running back James Conner not tallying 100 yards for the first time since September 30? He probably would have had it not been for a premeditated decision of lessening the wear and tear on him by dividing the labor to other backs—including Stevan Ridley and Samuels, who combined to match Conner’s total of 13 carries on the night. Even if you take away Roethlisberger’s 18-yard scamper—a play that occurred late in the third quarter and would have caused me to get evicted from my apartment building had he actually scored—Pittsburgh’s offense still tallied 120 rushing yards on 27 carries.

Not a bad performance on a night that you decide to give your newly-minted workhorse running back a bit of a breather on a short week.

Pittsburgh’s offense posted 457 yards—including 319 through the air and 138 on the ground. It scored on all four of its trips inside the red zone—an area on the field new offensive coordinator has become quite adept at in his first season in charge. The Steelers were eight of 11 on third downs—including eight of nine before—again, no offense to him—Dobbs replaced Roethlisberger early in the fourth quarter. The time of possession could have been a little better than 30:35, and it may have been had Carolina’s defense provided a bit more resistance.

As for the Steelers defense, how can you possibly have anything to complain about?

Keith Butler’s unit yielded a measly 242 yards and three touchdowns, with 60 of those yards and one of those touchdowns coming in garbage time.

Seven of the Panthers 11 possessions ended in either a punt, a fumble or a pick-six. That pick-six was recorded by inside linebacker Vince Williams, who was the guy responsible for losing track of McCaffrey on his first touchdown just moments earlier. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt was the guy who pressured Panthers quarterback Cam Newton into the errant pass that floated harmlessly into Williams’ arms. Watt also had one of the team’s five sacks on the night, as the defense provided constant pressure on Newton, who looked far from the NFL MVP he was just three years earlier.

Heck, even Chris Boswell got into the act, by kicking a 50-yard field goal and—believe it or not—connecting on all seven of his extra point attempts.

Holy bleep, the Steelers scored seven touchdowns on Thursday!

So, finally, I don’t want you to respond to this article with your usual “I don’t know....” or “Great win, however........”

Save it.

The only thing the Steelers gave you to complain about on Thursday was not being able to complain.

NFL Odds and Predictions: Picking the full Week 10 slate of games against the spread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 11/11/2018 - 6:46am

We make our picks against the spread and versus the totals for every game on the NFL schedule in Week 10.

The Pittsburgh Steelers might have already won the most important game of the week, but there are still one or two games left worth watching on Sunday. After a week in which Jeff Hartman went 10-2 against the spread and 9-3 versus the totals, he will hopefully guide you down the right path with his selections for Week 10 once again, while I offer no such promises having gone 6-6 ATS and 7-5 versus the totals.

While Week 9 featured a number of close spreads, it is a rather different story this Sunday. Only three games are separated by a field goal or less and five games are currently showing a spread of more than a touchdown. As 16.5-point favorites over Arizona Cardinals, the Kansas City Chiefs will be the biggest favorite of any game this year if the line has maintained this level come kickoff.

With the Cincinnati Bengals (+5.5) facing a tough test at home against the New Orleans Saints (-5.5), the Steelers might yet end the week with an even bigger lead in the race for the division title. The Baltimore Ravens are on a bye in Week 10 and the Cleveland Browns are already so irrelevant it does not matter what happens with them for the rest of the season.

Selections have been made using the consensus Las Vegas odds from VegasInsider.com as per Friday night and we encourage you to play along with us by adding your picks below.

Distribution Map: Check out which games you’ll get to see after the Steelers’ TNF game

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 11/11/2018 - 6:05am

The bye week blues are real, even the mini bye week, but you still want to watch football, right?

If you were like me, before I decided to sign up for the DirecTV Sunday Ticket package every week I was wondering whether I’d be able to watch my beloved Steelers in the comfort of my own home, or if I’d have to go elsewhere to watch the game.

Before there were websites devoted to this, it meant a lengthy trip on the television guide screen to see which game was scheduled to air, but now it’s just a click away.

Even though the Steelers have already played this week, the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football, you likely will still be watching football. Check out which games you’ll see in your local viewing area.

For those who want to know which game they’ll see, check the map below, courtesy of 506 Sports:

[Steelers fans: Sign up for FanPulse, our weekly Steelers survey]

CBS Early Games

CBS Late Games

FOX Single Game

Black and Gold Links: Steelers vs. Panthers equates to huge ratings spike on Thursday Night Football

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 11/11/2018 - 5:03am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers have now won five straight games and continue to “stack wins.” After their 52-21 thrashing of the Carolina Panthers in Week 10, the team now has a chance to rest and relax and prepare for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11.

Today in the black-and-gold links article, we talk about how the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers going head-to-head in Week 10 equated to big ratings for the NFL. While most players, and even many fans, can’t stand Thursday Night Football, as long as the NFL, and by proxy FOX, see more money coming it, it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Let’s get to the news:

Steelers-Panthers game Thursday sees ratings spike on Fox, digital platforms

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Thursday nights continue to be a hit for the Steelers.

Not only did the Steelers improve to 8-1 on Thursday night games at Heinz Field with a 52-21 victory against the Carolina Panthers, the game was watched by 15.4 million viewers across all media platforms.

That is a 15 percent increase over the Week 10 Thursday night matchup in 2017 between Seattle and Arizona and represented a 10 percent increase above the combined ratings for the 10-game Fox Thursday night package in 2017.

In addition to rightsholder Fox, the media platforms included NFL Network, FoxDeportes, NFL digital, Fox Sports digital, Amazon and Yahoo Sports.

The Nielsen audience for the Steelers-Panthers game was 14.8 million viewers, a 13 percent increase over the 2017 Week 10 matcup.

The game also featured a substantial uptick in digital streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Twitch, NFL digital platforms, Fox Sports digital platforms and Yahoo Sports. The average minute audience of 782,000 viewers represented a 105 percent increase over the 2017 Week 10 time slot.

The Steelers, ‘instrumental’ in city’s recovery, are back home

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

DRESSED IN A BLACK Pittsburgh Steelers shirt, the woman sniffed back tears as she made her way through the still-crowded memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, gently, unconsciously rolling a small stone in her right palm. I never intended to start this “week with the Steelers” diary with a visit to Squirrel Hill, but you realize quickly that, in this town, there’s no way to separate the two: On this Monday morning, the two items above the fold in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are James Conner and the Squirrel Hill Massacre. There are more parallels: David and Cecil Rosenthal, two of the 11 victims in the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in United States history, were brothers of Michele Rosenthal, the team’s former community relations manager; head coach Mike Tomlin lives a block from the synagogue, near Art Rooney II, as well; two buses of Steelers players, along with Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris, attended the victims’ funerals last week. In Baltimore, eight days after the attack, Ben Roethlisberger sported cleats with the now ubiquitous “Stronger Than Hate” logo featuring the star of David as part of the Steelers logo.

That logo is everywhere at this memorial, held this week at Tree of Life -- still framed by yellow police tape and bursting with flowers, candles, rain-soaked signs and heart-breaking personal notes. It’s painted onto the stones that mourners have left behind for the dead, following Jewish custom. There are thousands of stones here now, some precariously stacked four, five high, on top of the nameplates, and when you begin to contemplate the massive, collective tapestry of grief they form, it’s instantly overwhelming. The rest of the world may have moved on already to the next mass shooting -- another 13 dead just 12 days later, in Thousand Oaks, California -- but the sorrow in Squirrel Hill lingers.

Even here, the Steelers mean something. Along with the stones, which feature the team logo, there is a man in a wheelchair paying his respects while wearing a throwback Troy Polamalu jersey. A woman stands at a steel barricade, bowed in prayer, holding up a giant poster asking people to put a Steel Curtain of love around the Tree of Life. “Obviously, everyone is still really feeling the pain, but the Steelers have been instrumental in uniting this community and supporting these poor families,” says Dr. Stanley Marks, a lifelong Pittsburgh resident, Pitt grad and the chairman of the nearby UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. “Forget sports -- this team is an important fabric of the community.”

After leaving Tree of Life, I walked up a small hill to the Commonplace Coffeehouse on Forbes Avenue, which had recently received a $650 donation -- free coffee for all on Saturday, Nov. 3 -- from citizens in Newtown, Connecticut, who experienced the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Just a few months ago, I was in Jacksonville, working on a story about a shooting at a Madden tournament. The killer walked right by a giant poster of the latest Madden NFL cover, featuring Steelers wideout Antonio Brown. Sports used to be our escape, but the Steelers represent the new normal now: Each of us connected, sometimes in multiple ways, to a mass shooting.

As I walked back to my car, a strange thumping noise stopped me in my tracks at the foot of the Jewish Community Center on the west side of Squirrel Hill, where the clock tower is in Hebrew, the flag is at half-mast and the steps remain covered in flowers. Eventually I traced the sound to a large bay window at the front of the building where toddlers in the center’s day care had crowded onto the windowsill and were pounding on the glass until each passerby stopped what they were doing to smile and wave back at them.

Even the bus drivers were pulling up short of their stop to open their doors to wave to the kids. As they did, the info screens on the sides of the buses flashed the words: Pittsburgh Strong.

Don’t expect to hear much about James Conner before Wednesday

By: Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk

Steelers running back James Conner exited Thursday night’s game and entered the concussion protocol. Don’t expect to hear anything more about him until Wednesday.

The Steelers have no obligation to comment any player’s health until next Wednesday, when the first injury report is due in advance of a Week 11 game against the Jaguars. With running back Le’Veon Bell facing a Tuesday deadline to report or sit out the rest of the season, the Steelers have no reason to say anything about Conner’s availability, or lack thereof, before Bell shows up, or doesn’t.

If Conner is expected to miss time (and with a concussion who knows?), Bell would have a burst of leverage as the door closes on his ability to play. If the Steelers need Bell, maybe they’d pay him more than $855,000 per week, or maybe they’d include an incentive package or something else like that in order to get him to show up.

Chances are the Steelers would simply hold firm on Bell’s franchise tender and assume Conner won’t miss much if any time. The team has shown no inclination to bend on Bell, and it’s unlikely that they’ll start doing it now.

Report: Le’Veon Bell unlikely to show up by Tuesday deadline, to sit out rest of the season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/10/2018 - 7:42pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers reportedly want Bell back, but Bell is willing to wait until free agency next year before he steps foot on a football field.

Le’Veon Bell has been in a holding pattern the entire 2018 season.

Every step in this process, the Steelers have been wondering what their All-Pro running back was going to do. While the Steelers knew they wouldn’t see Bell during offseason workouts, or even training camp, once Week 1 rolled around and Bell was an absentee...the real waiting began.

As players were asked incessantly about Bell’s whereabouts, week by week Bell left $855 thousand dollars on the table weekly.

Rumors were Bell would report during the team’s Week 7 bye week.

Nope.

Some thought when he bid farewell to Miami via Twitter, he was heading to the Steel City.

Well, he showed up, but just to play some pick up basketball at an LA Fitness.

It now came to the point where either Bell reports before Tuesday leading up to Week 11, or he is forced to sit out the entire season, this per the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFLPA and the NFL owners.

Most assume with Bell in the area, he will be showing up on Monday, or Tuesday, to get back on the field and possibly do some damage before hitting free agency next offseason.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, this isn’t likely to happen:

Steelers’ running back Le'Veon Bell is unlikely to report to the team by Tuesday's deadline, which would make him ineligible to play the rest of this season, multiple league sources tell ESPN.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 11, 2018

Schefter wasn’t the only NFL insider to have some sources, possibly the same ones, say how Bell isn’t going to be showing this season.

This from the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:

More coming on this for tomorrow’s @NFLGameDay: Despite owner Art Rooney’s comments on RB Le’Veon Bell, the team is not expecting their star RB to play for them this season, sources say. They want him back. But the belief is Bell will stay away & await free agency.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 11, 2018

The comments Rapoport is referring to by Art Rooney II would be comments he made to the NFL Network radio station on Sirius/XM Radio prior to the team’s Week 10 game vs. the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football. During the interview Rooney spoke about how the team fully expects Bell to return for the stretch run, and according to Rapoport the team wants Bell back, but Bell doesn’t reciprocate those feelings.

This could just be another rumor in this sordid timeline, or it could be the truth. Either way, fans will know soon enough whether Bell will be a part of this 2018 team, or if they will be moving forward with a backfield of James Conner, Stevan Ridley and Jaylen Samuels.

Steelers matchup with Bengals their only game left eligible to be flexed this season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/10/2018 - 12:58pm

Pittsburgh should have just one night game for the remainder of the year after it was confirmed that CBS had protected all but the Steelers Week 17 game.

When the NFL originally scheduled the Pittsburgh Steelers rematch with the Jacksonville Jaguars for Sunday night in Week 11, they assumed it would be a must watch encounter between two playoff contenders. However, with the Jaguars looking more like the team that failed to record a winning record in the nine years prior to 2017, the NFL and NBC decided to switch the game to a 1.00 p.m. kickoff and feature the matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears instead.

With several big games remaining on their schedule, there are a number of contest that might have been an attractive option to move to primetime. But those among us who are generally not a fan of night games should be reassured to know that all but the last game on year are now sure to remain as they are for the rest of the season after CBS confirmed they had protected all of Pittsburgh’s games that were eligible to flexed through Week 16.

The games in question that CBS has protected include the Steelers’ Week 12 game at the Denver Broncos, their Week 13 home encounter with the Los Angeles Chargers, a Week 15 visit from the New England Patriots and a Week 16 game at the New Orleans Saints.

As obvious as it would seem to be to flex Pittsburgh’s matchup with the Oakland Raiders in Week 14, it is not possible to change the schedule for a Monday night football game given the logistics involved in switching the teams.

If there is to be a change to a kickoff time, it would have to be in Week 17 when the Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals. But this is something that will only happen if the game has playoff implications for both teams. Should either team have a convincing lead in the division heading into the contest, those who have already made plans for the game can rest assured they will not have to alter them.

Ben Roethlisberger tops an elite group with a perfect game against the Panthers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/10/2018 - 11:27am

The Steelers quarterback became the only player in NFL history to have finished a game with a perfect QB rating on four separate occasions after his efforts against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night.

Ben Roethlisberger might not get much mention when the the discussion turns to the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, but the records the Pittsburgh Steelers signal caller has accumulated over the years cannot be ignored. By finishing his Week 10 game against the Carolina Panthers with a perfect quarterback rating, Big Ben added another title to his impressive career.

Since 1950, only one #NFL quarterback has registered a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in four regular-season games (minimum 10 attempts):#Steelers Ben Roethlisberger (@_BigBen7): 4
Peyton Manning: 3
Kurt Warner: 3
Tom Brady: 2
Craig Morton: 2
Ken O'Brien: 2

— Dom Rinelli (@drinelli) November 9, 2018

Ending the night with a stat line of 22 completions from 25 attempts for 328-yards and five touchdowns was good enough to earn Roethlisberger a perfect quarterback rating of 158.3, a feat he has now achieved more than anyone else in their career. Previously in a tie with Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning, who managed to record perfection three times, Roethlisberger now tops the group with Tom Brady back in fourth place with just two.

The last time Roethlisberger finished a game with a rating of 158.3 was back in 2007, a year in which he achieved the feat twice, while the first time he achieved the mark was in 2005. However, his numbers from Thursday night eclipse any he put up in those previous outings.

  • 2005 Week 1 vs. Tennessee Titans, Roethlisberger was 9 of 11 for 218 yards and 2 touchdowns in a game won by Pittsburgh 35-7.
  • 2007 Week 9 vs. Baltimore Ravens, Roethlisberger was 13 out of 16 for 209 yards and 5 touchdowns in a game won by Pittsburgh 38-7.
  • 2007 Week 16 at St Louis Rams, Roethlisberger was 16 out of 20 for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns in a game won by Pittsburgh 41-24.

While some might question Big Ben’s Hall of Fame credentials, he is also the only quarterback in NFL history to have ever thrown for more than 500 yards in a game three times and it is statistics like these that highlight just how exceptional he has been throughout his career. Perhaps more so than any other quarterback in the NFL, they illustrate the high level Roethlisberger is capable of playing at on his best days. When he is in a zone, there are few quarterbacks who can match him.

Steelers NFL Draft Prospects: College Game Day and Open Thread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/10/2018 - 10:35am

Time to check in on a rather dull week of college football to see who the Steelers may be targeting in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Welcome to week 11 of the college football season. This weeks top 25 match ups, highlighted by Miss. St at Alabama.

No. 8 Ohio State at No. 24 Michigan State; noon FOX No. 18 Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama; 3:30 CBS No. 2 Clemson at No. 17 Boston College; 8:00 ABC

There is also a game at Heinz Field on Saturday involving the ACC Coastal Division leading Pitt Panthers and the Hokies of Va. Tech. A win on Saturday doesn’t guarantee anything for Pitt but who, and be honest, thought the Panthers had any shot at ACC championship game this year. Many were calling for Narduzzi’s to be fired, but would a championship game save his job. Personally I love the guy and hope he gets a shot a Clemson.

Va Tech at Pittsburgh 3:30 ESPNU

This weeks highlight game:

No. 18 Mississippi State at No. 1 Alabama; 3:30 CBS

Alabama Crimson Tide

Ross Pierschbacher #71 C 6’4” 309

Lester Cotton #66 Lester Cotton G 6’4” 325

Jonah Williams #73 OL 6’5” 301

Irv Smith Jr. #82 TE 6’4” 241

Damien Harris #34 RB 5’11” 213

Terrell Lewis #24 LB 6’5” 256

Isaiah Buggs #49 DL 6’5” 286

Raekwon Davis #99 DL 6’7” 316

Anfernee Jennings #33 LB 6’3” 266

Mack Wilson #30 LB 6’2” 239

Deionte Thompson #14 S 6’2’ 196

Christian Miller OLB #47 6’4” 244

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Nick Fitzgerald QB #7 6’4” 230

Elgton Jenkins C #74 6’4” 313

Darryl Williams G #73 6’2” 310

Aeris Williams RB #26 6’1” 215

Jeffery Simmons DL #94 6’4” 300

Leo Lewis LB #10 6’1” 235

Johnathan Abram S #38 6’ 215

Jamal Peters CB #2 6’2” 218

Montez Sweat Edge #9 6’6” 245

Crimson Tide Breakdown

IDL Quinnen Williams

Williams came out of nowhere from before this season, but he has made everyone take notice. I am starting to think this guy is not just the biggest riser, but also the best player in the draft. His hands are the best I have seen since Aaron Donald, and he is just so strong. He toys with everyone he faces and goes straight into the backfield with ease. Anything move you think he would want, he has it. He has a swim, rip, cross chop, club and it is all just beautiful. He plays with great pad level, and due to that, his fantastic first step is just so overpowered.

His run defense is actually better, as he can just make about as many TFLs as you want to see, or his gap discipline is the best in the country, too. WIlliams is a complete prospect and is can’t miss star.

Round Grade: Top 3

NFL Comparison: Geno Atkins

TE Irv Smith

Here is a guy with an athletic background, and boy does it ever show. Smith can fly for a tight end and makes some incredible catches with his extensive catch radius. He is super smart and can catch any ball in traffic if you want him to. Those hands are strong and he so easily turns catches into huge plays just off of his speed. He is actually an underrated blocker, but just is not strong enough yet to be a great one.

His contested catch ability is somewhat lacking, which is concerning given his catch radius, and with less than ideal route running technique, Smith will need a good deal of time to refine his game. Add on top of that how raw of a blocker he is, and I expect Smith to be a day 2 type of project at TE.

Round Grade: Early 3rd

NFL Comparison: Chris Herndon

ILB Mack Wilson

The early ideal draft pick for the Steelers is Mack WIlson. This guy is a dude who can fly from sideline-to-sideline and not lose a step. His ability to work through traffic and evade blocks up front is some of the most impressive of his traits. No one is catching Wilson once he recognizes the play and comes flying downhill, as he is a rather sure-tackler too. His processing has been great, and man is he ever good in coverage. He can keep up with just about anyone on the field and have great coverage.

The one knock on him is over-pursuing, which seems to be common for all athletic ILBs for some reason. Wilson needs to keep his angles tight in order to counteract that.

Round Grade: Top 5

NFL Comparison: Deion Jones

Bulldog Breakdown

EDGE Montez Sweat

Sweat has shown some fantastic improvement this year. His pad level has dramatically improved and his hips have loosened up, and it shows with how much bend he now has. The guy can bend as long as he uses his quick first step and gets those hands going. He likes the cross chop-rip combo, and it has worked well. His counter moves continue to improve as well.

His run defense could use work, as he needs to set the edge better and then disengage too. That would be his one clear weakness, as a lot of runs are too his side, and man sometimes they go for a very, very long while, unfortunately.

Round Grade: Mid 1st

NFL Comparison: Ryan Kerrigan

IOL Elgton Jenkins

This guy is a huge sleeper in terms of offensive linemen. He is way more polished than people realize. His hands are great. The placement is just as good as you could get and he shows out every time he is bull rushed or tested. His hips are so loose and he can get up to the second level easily due to it. His processing of stunts in pass protection are also great.

He is not a great athlete, or entirely strong, the latter of which can be worked upon, but the biggest concern is a slightly narrow base. That allows the better IDL to beat him inside with rips and catch him off balance. He can still pull well with the lack of athletic traits, but he unfortunately can get evaded easier than one would like to see.

Round Grade: Mid 3rd

NFL Comparison: John Sullivan

Sleepers

UMass WR Andy Isabella #23

Isabella is really quick type of guy that has great slot receiver traits. He is the type of receiver to completely dice up a defense based off of that quickness alone. He is precise and smart out of that slot too. His route tree is huge and he is super precise with his breaks and routes. He finds the open spots in the zone rather easily and has strong hands to make catches in traffic. His body control is also great.

Of course, he is quick, but not fast and has yet to show he can truly be a great outside guy, which would relegate him to slot only. His contested catch ability is not very good and if he does not get separation there is a big issue. His release needs works and he can get caught up in press too often.

Round Grade: Mid 3rd

NFL Comparison: Danny Amendola

Wyoming EDGE Carl Granderson #91

I really like Granderson’s ability to bend around the edge and use his hands to maintain that leverage. His hands are violent and really tough to counter. His cross chop-rip combo is near unstoppable and he even has a spin to win inside. His run defense is spectacular and this year he has started to play lower and implement some bull rushing.

He needs a better first step, no doubt, and his speed-to-power conversion needs work for said bull rush to be any of significance. He is not very athletic so that step will never be explosive, but the processing and quickness have to come with it, simply put. He also needs to get stronger to maintain gap discipline inside on the run.

Round Grade: Mid 4th

NFL Comparison: Nate Orchard

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Let us know what games your watching and who you have your eye on this Saturday.

James Saxon, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back whisperer

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/10/2018 - 9:24am

James Saxon is the unspoken hero of the Steelers’ offense.

The Steelers have a vaunted offense. We all know this to be true. This year might just be the best offense out of all the elite offenses of the past five years, though. Randy Fichtner has come in and has changed the red zone and third-down fortunes for the Steelers. The WRs continue to shine under Darryl Drake. Richard Mann may have retired, but Mann looks to be a rather good WR coach as well.

Of course, Mike Munchak is the praised assistant coach, and rightfully so. Munchak is the best assistant coach in football and churns out elite OL like they are a dime a dozen. He has turned guys like Ramon Foster into pro bowlers from UDFAs, and his first rounders become all-pros.

However, there might be an elite position coach that gets lost in the shuffle behind the shadow of Munchak. He is Steelers’ RB coach, James Saxon. I have no clue how he gets lost in the shuffle so easily. This guy churns out productive running backs like Munchak does OL.

Let’s take a look into the impressive history of James Saxon, who you might not have known was this good.

His first tenure was with the Kansas City Chiefs, in which he had three great RBs, Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson, and Tony Richardson. From 2001-2007, he had an 1250 yard rusher each year, including the year where Holmes set the NFL TD rushing record at 27. His RBs combined for a total of 71 100-yard performances and combined for 7 pro bowls. He developed Johnson and helped Holmes elevate his game to an even higher level.

Then, Saxon headed to Miami where he met the backfield of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Saxon was an innovator of the wildcat, in which Ronnie Brown ran incredibly well. Brown made a pro bowl, and Williams had a career revival when he topped 1,000 yards in 2009.

After that, he headed to Minnesota and united with Adrian Peterson. That, to say the least, was one of the deadliest pairings I have seen. He helped AD get back on his feet and rush his way into an MVP award in 2012 when he returned from his torn ACL. I should also mention that he developed an all-pro fullback there in Jerome Felton.

So, in comes James Saxon to Pittsburgh. In his first year in 2014, he helped Le’Veon Bell become Le’Veon Bell. Not only did Bell ascend that season as a pass protector and receiver, but he was notably more receptive to his line. Saxon coached up all of Bell’s weaknesses and made him the best RB in football. The very all-pro RB you all know right now as Le’Veon was created because of this man, James Saxon.

When Bell would get injured, he helped re-invigorate an appeared washed DeAngelo Williams into becoming a bonafide star once again. Williams had over 1,000 scrimmage yards and showed receiving ability that he had not flashed before. Of course, he got hurt before the playoffs, but even in the playoffs, Saxon got the most he could have out of Fitz Touissant. Touissant developed into a decent RB. He was never great, but he at the very least became a good RB3.

On top of all that, he developed Roosevelt Nix into a pro bowl FB. Saxon has been great in developing raw pass protecting or run blocking RBs / FBs into fantastic players. Nix is no exception.

Now, we come into this season, where a Saxon product, Le’Veon Bell has decided to stay away from the team for contract reasons, and it thrusts second year RB James Conner straight onto the scene. And.....Conner becomes the second best RB in football? No, seriously, this season only Todd Gurley has been better than James Conner. Conner already has over 1,000 scrimmage yards in eight games and is on pace to break the Steelers franchise record for total TDs by a RB.

Last year, Conner was a vision-deprived, inconsistent with hands, raw pass protecting, RB that could not play three downs. Now, he is one of the best RBs in football and possibly better than Bell.

You have to credit one guy for this amazing growth — James Saxon.

Saxon, as his track record shows, has been perhaps the best RB coach in the NFL. His RBs have gone to the pro bowl 14 times, and have made the all-pro 5 times. Conner might just tick those numbers up one. I cannot stress how good Saxon has been. Jaylen Samuels has already shown growth in his vision and feeling comfortable as a RB. Saxon is already working his magic with him.

So, while we love Mike Munchak, don’t forget that this staff also as the best RB coach in the NFL, or as I like to call him, the RB whisperer, James Saxon.

The Effectiveness of Mike Tomlin: Teaching young men to endure better and worse

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/10/2018 - 7:58am

Two Questions I Would Really Like To Ask Coach Tomlin.

Every fan loves that feeling when you catch the head coach in a mistake. Guys like Mike Tomlin make a gazillion dollars and have legions hanging on their every word. How cool are you and I if we could do the job better? I daresay that most of us do it in much the same way: We pick some detail like a blown timeout or a stupid call, emphasize his role in that decision, and then (rightly) point out that he got it wrong while we were yelling the right answer out loud at our TV. We win. He loses. All is right with the world, except for suffering through the consequences of that blankety-blank blunder.

Every honest fan also knows that it’s also a combination of fantasy and envy when push comes to shove. If we know enough to see the mistake, we also know that all these details are little more than a typo in a really big article. They matter, but Coach Tomlin’s skill at attracting, managing and retaining strong personalities in the coaching room matters a whole lot more. So do his ability to manage number-nerds in the front office, egos at every level, and story-hungry reporters desperate for a headline. The sheer number of vital, do-or-die tasks may be the hardest part of the job. That said, there are two particular coaching challenges that may be the most important of all. Alas, but I doubt you’ll ever hear a question asked about either one, let even find a coach who’d give the details we’d really need to hear. Here’s the first:

1. “Coach Tomlin, you’ve got some young players like Artie Burns and Brian Allen who haven’t managed to ‘get it’ at the NFL level. You’ve also got some young men who seem to be finally – finally! – turning that corner, like Bud Dupree and Sean Davis. I get that everyone is unique but you’ve been at this a long time. You’ve got to have some teaching tricks that have both worked and failed more often than I’d think. What are the carrots and sticks that have worked for you and your Steelers? Open up a bit and share!”

It’s hard to succeed in the NFL and just as hard to keep succeeding after you first start moving up the depth chart. The instant you do, world renowned experts respond by poring over every snap you’ve ever played, looking in ultra-slow motion for any flaw an opponent could exploit. Imagine if people did that to you in your job? Eek, eepers and egad. And then if other people put your every lapse on looping reruns for prime time, national TV.

It would have driven me batty even if I had that level of native talent. For one, I’m a private person and public humiliation would send me into a rage. Strike one. I’m also a man who screams at himself in private. When I search for perfection it always involves some choice adjectives about the fool who made [those] errors. But we all know what happens to NFL players who carry one bad play in to the next one. Strike two. I also get angry at being frustrated, and what could be more frustrating than discovering you’ve got some tiny, subtle, deeply ingrained habit that opponents have learned to target? The proverbial “hole in your swing”? Not much. Strike two-and-a-half. Not a great way to start my new career!

This is getting embarrassing so let’s pick on Artie Burns instead. I’ve read, watched and asked a lot of questions about the young Mr. Burns and all that research has convinced me he suffers from one of two problems, or maybe a bit of both.

First, he may be the version of me who gets so wrapped up overthinking things that it creates the occasional “Doh!” moment where thought and reality lose their link. You know, like imagining he’s got Safety or Linebacker support against Tyler Boyd even though he’d never make that mistake in a classroom. How the heck do you “coach up” a pure, mental blunder? If you yell at the kid he’ll only push that much harder at himself, and that could make the “Doh!” moments even more common. But how can he learn if you shrug it off and say, “It’ll be okay” like Mommy patting your booboo? I have no answer but Coach Mike is a famous expert. “Coach, can you share?”

Second, it’s possible that Artie he has some tiny set of habits that helped in college but hurt in the pros. This is one I’ve dealt with in another context, so I can give a concrete example. Fact #1: if you glide forward as you throw a jab, your hand speed and your foot speed will combine; and since feet are faster than hands, a boxer can more than double the speed of his punch by stepping in as he throws it. Fact #2: top level boxers have skills and reflexes so amazing that they can time that movement well enough to hit you as you move; which more than doubles the impact of fist on face, and leads to deleterious results. Thus a little bit of lunging - especially smooth and subtle lunging - will definitely help you climb the ladder toward success. But the same habit will get you killed against the champions you want to face at the top.

FWIW I know of only two answers to this dilemma in the martial arts context: you must either be such a dominant physical genius that no one can match your speed (and then quit before you age), or you must tear down the habits that got you to success and then rebuild a sounder foundation (while surviving the dip as you abandon what used to work). Good frickin’ luck with either if you’re already competing at the top of the world.

I’m actually a pretty good teacher for this kind of thing. I can both see and teach the essential body dynamics. But Mike Tomlin and his coaches are among the best in the world at it. “Coach, can you share?”

It really is hard to overcome failure in the NFL regardless of your natural gifts. [Cough cough] Justin Gilbert [cough]. It may be even harder to conquer the problems that come with success.

2. “Coach, you’ve got a lot of first contract players who have shined right away, like Juju Smith-Schuster, TJ Watt, and others we could name. You drafted them very young and some have never had to overcome the failures that chased the men we critiqued above. How are you going to help them mature as pros and deal with the problems of success?”

We all remember what happened to Ben. Enter from stage left: A young bachelor as rich as Croesus, famous as an all-star QB, leading an NFL team of grown men, and forced to choose among the beautiful women begging for his attention… Exit on stage right: A young man drowning in disgrace who barely avoided jail time. I’m not throwing stones. I’ve often admitted how likely I would have been to fail in much the same way. The point is this: Big Ben nailed the how-to-win part, but he flunked the how-to-deal-with-winning follow up. And he isn’t alone in that kind of situation.

Pick your diva receiver, spoiled brat runner, crazy man linebacker, or what-have-you and you’ll see the same thing play out with disturbing regularity. How could it be different? Add it up: (i) men who are far too young to have true emotional maturity; (ii) a national stage to fill their heads with constant praise; (iii) the undefeated ego of someone who’s always won regardless; (iv) pockets with infinite money; and of course (v) pants bursting with [you know what]. Do the math and make your prediction.

It’s amazing how many of them actually stay grounded.

Speaking of which, what does that really mean? “Stay grounded” and “remember your roots” are awful pieces of advice – downright absurd! – for a lot of the young men we’re talking about. Antonio Brown grew up on the “Street Of Death” in Miami’s worst slum, without a father, evicted at 16 by his mother, and often living out of a car while trying to get through High School. Many of the “friends” who helped him then are the very sorts of people an NFL star needs to avoid. With the proviso that he also has to shun the sort of snobbery that forgets what brought him out of that pit.

Catch-22 much? [And no, that is not a play call!]

Nor is AB the only one. Artie Burns could give him a run for his money. Chuks Okorafor formed his character as an immigrant/refugee on the run from dire poverty in at least three different African hellholes. At least he had a family. None of these are unique stories in the NFL, or even particularly odd. We could make a list as long as your arm from all-stars alone.

Yes, the Steelers front office is both famous for and obsessive about “character” issues. Even so, talent and need can both have trump cards to play (Martavis Bryant, Chris Rainey), it isn’t possible to get that right every time, people can change for the worse as well as the better, and late round picks (hi AB!) may blossom in both talent and problems. As the old saying goes, you can’t play NFL football with a team of choir boys.

So I would love to ask Coach Mike this question too. “How do you help these kids to deal with success? My sincere compliments on your track record to date, but please share some tricks of the trade.”

No one will ask the questions. I doubt he’d be willing to answer them, at least not on camera. But if I ever get him talking over a dinner table it’s this sort of thing I’d most want to explore. I truly believe his answers could make me a better man.

10 Things I Think I Thought while the Steelers tamed and shamed the Panthers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/10/2018 - 6:50am

Trying to remember what I thought while watching the Steelers dismember the cats on prime time.

I’m tempted to simply list ten times, “I’m so happy.” But I had some actual thoughts that stuck with me even after such a glorious evening. Here are ten of them.

  1. I am becoming my father. Were he still with us he would have concluded, with 10:30 left in the first, that not only was the game over, but the season. Heck, he would have probably worried the Steelers would move to Reno. I’m not at black-belt level of pessimism, but I admit it, I thought we were in for a long night.
  2. Two plays, two touchdowns. Oh what a difference a minute can make. And it was all gold from there on in. Blowouts are way underrated.
  3. In fact, the only way this game could have been any better would be if, a. It was the Super Bowl. b. It was the AFC Championship game and the Panthers were the Patriots. c. Every Steeler were a rookie who’d made a vow of poverty. Not that I’m complaining.
  4. On that long pass to AB, Ben had so much time in the pocket I think I saw him take out his smartphone, look up BTSC and read my column. I presume that’s why he was smiling so big throughout the night.
  5. Scoring has gotten so high in the NFL that I’m seeing opponents’ field goals as victories for us, and their punts as the equivalent of a turnover. It struck me, however, that we had a higher percentage in scores per possession than Carolina had converting third downs. When Buck and Aikman pointed out at one point that we were 7 of 9, my jaw hit the floor. It’s a great thing to celebrate another outstanding performance by the D that has had us so worried all year. But that is one dominant offensive performance.
  6. Did you notice that we heard about Joe Haden about as much as we heard from the zebras? Every week that guy shows up to play. When I’m tempted to think, “Where would we be if we hadn’t allowed the Browns to tie us?” I think instead, “Where would we be if the Browns hadn’t been stupid enough to let Joe go?” And like Hines from back in the day, and AB on the other side of the ball, how can you not love that smile? I love a man who loves playing for the Steelers.
  7. I’ve often thought that if I were ever a GM, I’d only do deals with terrible teams. It’s the football equivalent of that old poker nugget of wisdom, “If you look around the table and can’t figure out who the fish is, you’re the fish.” Dumb GMs make the GMs they deal with look smart.
  8. Watching this game I actually started to look forward to the rest of our schedule. If we can do this to the 6-2 Panthers, we could certainly go 2-1 with News England and Orleans and the Chargers. Even if we go 1-2 and win the other four we ought to win, we finish 11-4-1 and have a shot at a bye.
  9. That said, if we weren’t as bad as we thought we were in September, we may not be as good as we think we are in November. You gotta admit though, we sure looked good.
  10. As if last night could not have gotten any better, we got our first snow here in Indiana. After my wife, kids and the Steelers, snow is my next favorite thing.

It doesn’t snow in Jacksonville, but here’s hoping we blow through there like AB plowing on Mcknight Road.

After Week 10, James Conners enters the NFL’s concussion protocol

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/10/2018 - 5:47am

James Conner will have a few extra days to hopefully get out of the league’s concussion protocol before returning to the lineup.

Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner left the field briefly and was examined in the blue medical tent along the Steelers sidelines in Week 10. On the play, before he headed to the sidelines, Conner took a shot by Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. Conner was helped up, but jogged off and appeared to have no ill effects from the hit.

Returning briefly to the game on the last play of the third quarter, Conner did not return to the game after the quarter change. Conner was having a solid game with 13 carries for 65 yards and an 8 yard gain on his lone reception before being sent to the locker room for further evaluation.

Steeler fans will question why head coach Mike Tomlin still had the Steelers workhorse in a blowout game while knocking on the door for another score with the team leading 45-14.

Conner will have 10 days to pass the concussion protocol before Pittsburgh takes on the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road in Week 11. Concussions are always a tricky injury and even with the extra time, there is no guarantee to pass the protocol necessary to retake the field in time for the game.

If Conner cannot pass the protocol, the scenario becomes muddied. Three-time Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell is still not with the team as he continues his extended offseason as he has not signed the franchise tag. Bell has until Tuesday to sign his franchise tag if he intends to play in 2018. Even if Bell signs his tender, it is unclear if the Steelers will activate him or use their two-week roster exemption.

The next man up would presumably be journeyman Stevan Ridley. Ridley, the former LSU Tiger, toted the ball eight times for 26 yards but offers little in the passing game and pass protection. Overall in 2018, he has 18 carries for 56 yards (3.1 YPC) and 3 receptions for 18 yards. Ridley made a week 17 start last season, but it was his first in three seasons.

Rookie running back Jaylen Samuels would be the third-down specialist and change of pace back. Samuels was ineffective running the ball during the Carolina game rushing 5 times for seven yards but had three receptions for 22 yards and a score. On the season, the former North Carolina St. running back has rushed 10 times for 26 yards while his only catches came in the Thursday night game.

The running back situation will be fluid the next week and will be a must see how the Bell situation pans out and if Conners can pass the concussion protocol. The Jaguars game comes at a critical juncture with the Steelers flying high with their five-game winning streak. Jacksonville, on the other hand, has lost three in a row and are buried at the bottom of their division. The Jaguars have the league’s best defense against the pass while they struggle at 24th against the run. Can the Steelers generate a running attack without Bell or Conner to succeed in this all-important game?

Black and Gold Links: Coming in for a landing, Jaylen Samuels helicopters his way to first NFL TD

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/10/2018 - 4:45am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers have now won five straight games and continue to “stack wins.” After their 52-21 thrashing of the Carolina Panthers in Week 10, the team now has a chance to rest and relax and prepare for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11.

Today in the black-and-gold links article, we talk about how Jaylen Samuels was able to show some flashes in his first extended period of play as an NFL player. Not only did he score his first touchdown of his career, but he did it in style, helicoptering his way into the endzone as he was being hit.

There was more to his performance than meets the eye...

Let’s get to the news:

Steelers’ Jaylen Samuels relishes 1st extensive NFL action, 1st touchdown

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jaylen Samuels entered Thursday night’s game with an NFL regular-season résumé that included all of 15 offensive snaps, five carries, no receptions and no touchdowns.

Did he emerge from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dominating victory with a much more prominent role going forward?

“I’m feeling more comfortable as the season is going on,” Samuels said after the Steelers’ 52-21 win against the Carolina Panthers. “And l’m looking forward to it going up from here.”

Samuels had eight touches (five rushes and three catches) for 29 yards from scrimmage – including a 6-yard touchdown reception from Ben Roethlisberger on the first play of the fourth quarter that served as something of an announcement of Samuels’ arrival in the NFL as the second half of his rookie season was getting underway.

A fifth-round pick, Samuels had 47 touchdowns in his career North Carolina State.

“I’d seen the end zone a lot in my college career,” Samuels said, “so to see it in the NFL for the first time, it was a beautiful thing. So hopefully it keeps riding up from here.”

Samuels’ career figures to continue ascending – but how high? And how quickly? In some ways, his first notable NFL game comes at a time in which his rookie season is at something of a crossroads due to circumstances out of his control.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that by the time the Steelers play their next game, Samuels is their featured back. It’s also entirely possible, though, that over the next week he could be demoted down a peg of the Steelers’ running back depth chart.

The arrival of Le’Veon Bell could mean the latter; a poor prognosis within concussion protocol for James Conner could lead to the former.

The reality for the near future of Samuels’ Steelers career is probably somewhere in the middle.

“I mean I just come to work every day; I don’t really worry about any of that,” Samuels said, though he did add a little later that he “definitely” saw his more extensive action Thursday as an “audition” for even more work.

A tight end/fullback/wide receiver in college, the 6-0, 225-pounds Samuels was drafted by the Steelers to be a running back. That’s the position room in which he spends his time, and that’s where he most often lines up.

“I have been in the running back (room) doing a lot of stuff just strictly running back,” Samuels said, “but they also have splitting out some, motioning me out of the backfield, getting me mismatches on DBs and linebackers just getting me to run routes from the slot or from (outside) receiver. So they are doing a lot of different things with me.”

Kevin Gorman: Steelers offense stole the show, but defense played starring role

By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Pittsburgh Steelers hung half a hundred points on the Carolina Panthers, but the biggest development was not Ben Roethlisberger’s five touchdown throws or his perfect passer rating.

Strange as it sounds in a 52-21 victory – their fifth consecutive – the play of the game Thursday night at Heinz Field came when the Steelers’ defense produced a turnover for a touchdown.

“That pick-six changed the whole game for us,” Steelers inside linebacker Jon Bostic said. “We got that momentum and kept rolling with it. That was big. Anytime you can score on defense, there’s a high chance you can win the game.”

After the Panthers opened with a 75-yard scoring drive, the Steelers made sideline adjustments. Their focus was on putting pressure on Cam Newton in the pocket, forcing the Carolina quarterback to give up the ball on the zone read and taking their shot at getting a tackle for loss.

Thirteen seconds after the Steelers tied the game, Newton tried to sell a play-action fake from his own 12-yard line. T.J. Watt didn’t buy it, wrapped his arms around the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder in the end zone.

Newton tried to slip the sack by throwing a sidearm pass, but Vince Williams was waiting in the middle of the field. The inside linebacker intercepted the throw and returned it 17 yards for his first career touchdown to give the Steelers a seven-point lead.

“It was just a domino effect,” Newton said. “We wanted to start fast, scored on the first drive and then, all of a sudden … They had a plan coming in and it was very clear what their plan was.”

The Steelers held the NFL’s No. 2 rushing offense to 95 yards on 22 carries – 49 yards below the Panthers’ average – and 242 total yards. The pressure got to Carolina, which converted only 36 percent (4 of 11) of its third-down attempts and punted five times.

That was by design, as Watt called Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s game plan “well thought-out.” They were willing to bend but not break against running back Christian McCaffrey, who rushed 14 times for 77 yards and had five catches for 61 yards and two touchdowns. But they wanted to stop Newton at all costs.

“We had a short week but we had a good game plan,” Watt said. “We knew anytime you have a zone read, they’ve got two options: They’re either going to give or keep it. If you go after (Newton), he’s got to give it every single time or he’s going to get a TFL.

“We just made him give it every time.”

Ben Roethlisberger has Steelers playing like team possessed

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

The liveliest party of the year just took place in Heinz Field, where they danced so hard in the end zone that they ran out of touchdown celebrations, and that’s when they weren’t throwing Cam Newton to the turf.

The Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t lying when they said they were just getting started.

“That team wanted to come in here and embarrass us,” Steelers guard Ramon Foster said. “We just answered the call.”

The 52-21 pounding of the Panthers on Thursday tied for the most points allowed in Carolina history and showed that the Steelers look ready to make their own history. Carolina last gave up 52 points on Christmas Eve in 2000 against the Oakland Raiders.

If Ben Roethlisberger can continue to deliver masterpieces like this against a good defense, the Steelers -- winners of five straight -- might have their best chance at a Super Bowl since the early Mike Tomlin years. The entire offense feels the good vibes when Roethlisberger “is heaving it like that,” Foster said.

Roethlisberger finished 22-of-25 passing for 328 yards, five touchdowns and a perfect passer rating of 158.3, the third such game of his career. He hit every throw, as if tossing into a big net. The Steelers worked the no-huddle offense, Roethlisberger’s specialty, on a short week, and the usually stout Panthers looked uneasy throughout.

Roethlisberger didn’t need an exotic explanation for his exotic play.

“When you convert third downs and score in the red zone, good things happen,” said Roethlisberger, whose offense converted 8 of 11 third downs and 4 of 4 red zone trips. “It always starts up front. You can say what you want about the skill guys, but we’re nothing without them up front.”

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions and open thread: Mini-Bye Week Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/09/2018 - 5:44pm

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

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

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

The rules haven’t changed...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

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

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

1. In terms of greatest Ben Roethlisberger (REGULAR SEASON) performances, where does his Week 10 game rank in your mind?

2. If the Steelers hadn’t pulled Roethlisberger, how many points do you think they would have scored last night?

3. OVER/UNDER number of sacks Bud Dupree ends the season with (he has 4.5 right now): 8.5

4. Can’t remember if I’ve asked this here before, or just on our podcasts, but I’ll ask anyway — How many wins will it take for the Steelers to claim the following:

AFC North Crown:
First Round Bye:
Home Field Advantage:

5. The win vs. the Panthers moves the Steelers’ record to 3-0 in the ‘Color Rush’ jerseys. Do you wish they wore them more, or like how it is a special event once a year?

6. What were your thoughts on the Eric Reid ejection? Too much? Or the perfect punishment for the crime?

Extra Credit: Better football move — Varsity Blues or The Program

No matter what, always remember...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

Ben Roethlisberger will pick up the tab for any fines to his offensive line after Week 10

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/09/2018 - 1:33pm

David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey came to Roethlisberger’s aid after Eric Reid’s ugly hit in Week 10. Roethlisberger has their back financially if the league comes down hard on them.

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Carolina Panthers in convincing fashion on Thursday Night Football, but it didn’t come without controversy and/or concern.

In the third quarter, Ben Roethlisberger scrambled for a first down. Noticing he had already passed the yard to gain, and realizing he wouldn’t be able to reach the endzone, Roethlisberger took to a feet first slide.

Panthers safety Eric Reed must not have seen Roethlisberger giving himself up, and hit the Steelers’ quarterback with his shoulder directly in the facemask. Roethlisberger’s head snapped back, and he is fortunate he was able to bounce right back up after taking such a blow to the head.

But the play didn’t end there. David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey both rushed to Roethlisberger’s aid. Not to see if No. 7 was okay, but to more or less let Reid know what he did isn’t going to fly. Not at Heinz Field. Not against this team.

Reid was ejected from the game, and one has to wonder if the Steelers wouldn’t have had tried to exact their own revenge on Reid had he remained in the game, or if the threat of this went into the decision to eject, rather than just penalize Reid.

Either way, according to Maurkice Pouncey, Roethlisberger told the offensive line if any of them get fines for their involvement in the skirmish, Roethlisberger has them covered.

This from Will Graves of the Associated Press:

Pouncey said Roethlisberger offered to pay for any fines the linemen might get for the scrum that ensued after the Reid hit.

— Will Graves (@WillGravesAP) November 9, 2018

You can’t blame Roethlisberger for doing something like this, especially after watching his teammates stand up for him in the way they did.

Will Pouncey and/or DeCastro be hearing from the NFL league offices this upcoming Monday? There is a chance, but I doubt anyone has a problem with it.

Stay tuned to more news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they go into a weekend break before returning and starting their preparations for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11.

Fan Rooting Guide, Week 10: Who Steelers fans should root for in other games this weekend

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/09/2018 - 12:14pm

BTSC's guide to the other weekend games that might impact the Steelers the most.

We were all aware of the significance of winning vs. losing when the Steelers took the field against Carolina on Prime Time television. The Steelers were winners again, and with a lot of games remaining, the playoff contenders and pretenders are becoming more defined...but contests will increase in importance by the week. Most of the time, Steelers fans know who to root for. But here’s a guide to significant matchups, and whose losses the Steelers would benefit more from, this weekend.

If the season ended today, the Steelers would be the third seed in the AFC, but there are plenty of teams to root for in other action. Here are the current AFC playoff standings.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs 8-1 (Would win AFC West and would earn them a First Round Bye)
  2. New England Patriots 7-2 (Would win AFC East and would earn them a First Round Bye)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers 6-2-1 (Would win AFC North and host Wild Card Cincinnati)
  4. Houston Texans 6-3 (Would win AFC South and host Wild Card Los Angeles Chargers)
  5. Los Angeles Chargers 6-2 (Would earn Wild Card and travel to Houston)
  6. Cincinnati Bengals 5-3 (Would earn Wild Card and travel to Pittsburgh)
  7. Miami Dolphins 5-4
  8. Tennessee Titans 4-4
  9. Baltimore Ravens 4-5
  10. Jacksonville Jaguars 3-5
  11. Indianapolis Colts 3-5
  12. New York Jets 3-6
  13. Denver Broncos 3-6
  14. Cleveland Browns 2-6-1
  15. Buffalo Bills 2-7
  16. Oakland Raiders 1-7

Atlanta Falcons at Cleveland Browns - Sunday 1:00 PM

This game is of little to no consequence to the playoff chances of the Steelers. But the Browns are the Browns and we root against the Browns, no matter how sorry we feel for them.

Who to root for: Atlanta Falcons

New Orleans Saints at Cincinnati Bengals - Sunday 1:00 PM

Who Dey think are gonna beat those Bengals? Hopefully Who Dat. My hatred for the Bengals eclipses my abhorrence of these idiotic catch phrases. Go Saints.

Who to root for: New Orleans Saints

Arizona Cardinals at Kansas City Chiefs - Sunday 1:00 PM

KC isn’t winning out. But they are safe this week. For the Steelers sake, that stinks.

Who to root for: Arizona Cardinals

New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans - Sunday 1:00 PM

No Brainer. The Steelers need to vault past the Pats. A former Belichickean (Mike Vrabel) could do the trick against his former team.

Who to root for: Tennessee Titans

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts - Sunday 1:00 PM

This game probably doesn’t matter, but after last season...I want to make sure Jacksonville is golfing come January. Go Colts.

Who to root for: Indianapolis Colts

Los Angeles Chargers at Oakland Raiders - Sunday 4:05 PM

The Chargers keep gaining momentum. Slowing that down would be good, I feel dirty, but “just win baby”.

Who to root for: Oakland Raiders

Miami Dolphins at Green Bay Packers - Sunday 4:25 PM

Would love to see Miami beat New England for the division crown. Would also love to fit into my size 38 jeans again. Neither are going to happen, but ‘Go Dolphins’ anyhow.

Who to root for: Miami Dolphins

...

AFC Bye-Weekers: Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans

Other games featuring AFC teams:

Buffalo Bills at New York Jets - Sunday 1:00 PM

Winners and Losers after the Steelers’ 52-21 win over the Panthers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/09/2018 - 11:03am

After a game, we take note of certain players who performed well and others who didn’t. This is where the Winners and Losers column comes in.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers took part in a big prime time game at Heinz Field on Thursday Night Football, and the Steelers presented their loyal fan base a 52-21 whopping for their fifth straight win of the season.

During the game, some perform well, while others 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 falls into which category.

As always, feel free to comment on the list in the comment section below. Be part of the conversation!

Winners

Ben Roethlisberger
Stat Line: 22/25, 328 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INT, 158.3 Passer Rating

Roethlisberger lit up the scoreboard with a perfect passer rating. The fourth time he has done that in his career. Putting Roethlisberger on this list is easy, but I wonder how many points this team could have scored had he played the full game?

Antonio Brown
Stat Line: 6 rec., 96 yards, 1 TD, 6 targets

Everyone was expecting a big game from Brown, and he delivered. On the day he was cited for a traffic violation, Brown put together a find outing, catching every pass thrown his way — including a 53-yard bomb for a touchdown. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Brown’s stats (receptions and yards) might be down this year, but as long as he is hitting pay dirt and the team is winning I don’t think he will be complaining much.

JuJu Smith-Schuster
Stat Line: 3 rec., 90 yards, 1 TD, 1 rush, 13 yards, 5 targets

Right when Steelers fans starting sweating after watching the Panthers drive down the field with ease and put up a TD, JuJu struck again. The first play from scrimmage set the tone for what comes next, more on that in a second, but remember when everyone said Smith-Schuster doesn’t have the speed to get deep? In his second year he has proven this is laughable.

Vince Williams
Stat Line: 4 tackles, 3 solo, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 Pass Defense, 1 QB Hit, 1 TFL, 1 TD

Williams looked bad on the opening drive. He looked as if he couldn’t hang with McCaffrey for a full game, and maybe he couldn’t, but it didn’t matter after Smith-Schuster struck on the first offensive play for the offense, and then Williams’ pick-six completely changed the game. Going from 7-0 to 14-7 in a blink of an eye is remarkable, but Williams had himself a night. Very worthy of being in this category.

Bud Dupree
Stat Line: 2 tackles, 2 solo, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 QB Hit

Don’t look now, but Dupree has been on this list for two straight weeks. Dare I say, he is starting to resemble an NFL pass rusher. Is he elite? No. He is about elite as Joe Flacco is elite, but he is becoming a threat. And that is just what the Steelers need out of Dupree. If the offense wants to put extra attention to Watt, it is up to Dupree to win his matchup — and he has been. He has notched 4.5 sacks so far this season, and is on pace to be on the verge of a double-digit sack total season. Bet you didn’t see that coming this year!

Roosevelt Nix
Stat Line: 2 receptions, 17 yards, 2 targets, 1 FF

In an effort to get some players on the list who aren’t normally here, Nix deserves a spot. His two receptions for 17 yards weren’t just fun to watch, but also helped move the chains on Pittsburgh drives. But what Nix brings to this team is so much more than full back play. His special teams play, and his forced fumble on a kickoff, was the final nail in the coffin.

Cameron Heyward
Stat Line: 3 tackles, 2 solo, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 QB Hits

Since the Steelers have altered their gap assignments for their defensive front, Heyward has been more of a plugger, and less of a dynamic playmaker. But on Thursday night we all were treated to some of the 2017 Heyward who registered double digit sacks. Heyward was dominant and did his part in collapsing the pocket and giving Cam Newton happy feet on more than on occasion.

T.J. Watt
Stat Line: 1 tackle, 1 solo, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 2 QB Hits

Watt didn’t necessarily light up the stat sheet, but he was a force on the field. It was his pressure which forced Newton’s bad throw to Vince Williams. It was Watt who sent a message to Newton with a wicket hit to his throwing shoulder. Not every game is going to be for padding stats, and Watt’s Week 10, while statistically mundane, was disruptive.

Coaching Staff
Stat Line: 52 points, and a huge prime time win on a short week

Kudos to Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and Randy Fichtner. They all deserve a pat on the back after a tremendous game play on a short week. I can only imagine the hours spent from Sunday night till Thursday morning watching film, meeting with players, practicing and just overall prep on a short week. Oh, and the Steelers were only penalized ONCE in this game.

3rd Down Units
Stat Line: Offense: 8-10, Defense: 4-11

More 3rd down dominance on both sides of the ball. This is an indicator of a team on the rise, and if they keep this up they will be tough to beat down the stretch.

Red-Zone Offense
State Line: 4-for-4

Remember when the knock on the Steelers were their poor red-zone numbers? Not anymore. After a perfect evening in the red area, it will be interesting to see where they rank come Week 11. My guess is at the top of the league, or very close to it.

David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey
Stat Line: The enforcers

When Eric Reid hit Roethlisberger high while sliding, the enforcers stepped in to make sure Reid knew exactly what he did, and that it wasn’t acceptable. For a second I felt I was watching a hockey game when the team goes after someone for going after their superstars. They can be called enforcers on the ice, and I think it is safe to say the Panthers wanted no part of No. 66 or No. 53. I loved the response by the Steelers.

Losers

Artie Burns
Stat Line: Garbage time play, still gets burnt

I don’t even know what to say about Artie Burns anymore. He doesn’t see the field outside of special teams until the fourth quarter, and while in the game gets burned and commits a horrible defensive pass interference call in the process (the Steelers’ only penalty of the night). Burns is in a bad place right now.

Report Card: Grading the Steelers’ 52-21 win over Carolina in Week 10

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/09/2018 - 9:49am

BTSC breaks out the red pen and assigns grades to the Steelers after their home tilt against a familiar Thursday Night foe.

Despite my less than prestigious BTSC teaching certificate, I have to issue the necessary disclaimer. You know the story; of course, I’m not a football coach, or a teacher, but I play one in blogs and podcasts. Before the Steelers donned the Color Rush unis, I found myself noticing just how equal the two teams actually are. And then I realized that these teams both battle each other every last Thursday Night if the preseason. Then the game happened and the judgements followed.

Grading games is an extremely difficult and somewhat thankless task. While the coaches’ grades, of course, are what count the most, the media and fans can’t help but evaluate as well.

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

Offense:

James Conner didn’t have to set the tone this time. Because Ben Roethlisberger found JuJu Smith-Schuster on the very first play. Ben was absolutely tremendous and his supporting cast was as well. AB, Vance, JuJu, Samuels and Jesse James all caught TDs from the 15-year vet.

Overall Offense Grade: A+ Defense

I was super concerned after the first Carolina drive, but Keith Butler continuously brought pressure with the Front 7. They punished Newton with 5 sacks and were thoroughly dominant. Don’t let giving up 21 fool you, one score was due to a horrendous penalty on Artie Burns. Then he was removed. But the Steelers only gave up 242 total yards and surrendered 95 yards on the ground to a team that ranked No. 2 in the league.

Overall Defense Grade: A Special Teams

Boswell was perfect on the night. Jordan Berry didn’t have to punt untill late. Rosie anoxia forced a huge fumble that Anthony Chuckillo recovered. It was a big night for Danny Smith’s group.

Overall Special Teams Grade: A+

Overall Team Grade: A+

Valedictorian: Ben Roethlisberger

Honor Roll: James Conner, the O-line, Vance McDonald, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jesse James, Antonio Brown, Vince Williams, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Stephon Tuitt, Cam Heyward, Mike Hilton, Morgan Burnett, Rosie Nix, Chris Boswell

Detention: Artie Burns

What started out to look like Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey would run roughshod over Pittsburgh, turned into the most complete game the Steelers played in years. What a great statement.

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