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Steelers injury situation doesn’t get any clearer prior to Seahawks game

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/12/2021 - 11:30am
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team who could really benefit from getting some key players back in Week 6.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing to face the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6 on Sunday Night Football, and the team has several injuries to keep an eye on in the practices leading up to the prime time matchup.

The Steelers have an opportunity to right the ship and get back to .500 before their Week 7 bye week, but will they have key players in the lineup to do so? Mike Tomlin met with media Tuesday for his weekly press conference, and he outlined the injury status of several players following the Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos.

For several players, this week of practice will be the factor in whether they can return to play at Heinz Field Sunday night, or if they get two weeks off and don’t return until after the bye week.

Players who could return, depending on how their body responds to practice, would be Devin Bush, who left the game Sunday with a groin injury. As well as Cam Sutton and James Washington, both of whom were held out of the game vs. the Broncos with their own groin injuries. Carlos Davis, who has missed the last four games with a knee injury, is another player who could get back to practice this week.

All of those aforementioned injuries are of significance for the Steelers, especially with Tomlin stating JuJu Smith-Schuster will have shoulder surgery this week and placed on Injured Reserve (IR). Getting Washigton back will lessen the blow to the receiver corps prior to Seattle coming to town.

Other than those injuries, Tomlin said the Steelers continue to monitor both Zach Banner (knee) and Anthony McFarland (unknown) as they work their way back from IR. Banner’s 21-day clock is almost expired, meaning the Steelers will likely promote him to the active roster this week in Smith-Schuster’s place. If they don’t, and the 21 days expire, Banner would be placed on season-ending IR.

The first reported practice day for the Steelers is Wednesday, and the injuries to Bush, Sutton and Washington will be huge for this team as they try to stack wins before heading into their Week 7 bye week. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the team as they prepare for the Seahawks in prime time this Sunday.

For a complete recap of Mike Tomlin’s press conference, check out the BTSC podcast below.

Podcast: Finding good football in all the wrong places

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/12/2021 - 11:00am

Join BTSC’s newest podcast, From the Steelers Cutting Room Floor for weekly study of team and individual play.

The Steelers got a victory on Sunday with contributions from players that fans wouldn’t typically expect to come up big. Who were they and how did they impact the win vs. Denver? Welcome to From the Steelers Cutting Room Floor. Join BTSC’s Geoffrey Benedict for weekly player analysis as it pertains to the Men of Steel.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Finding good football in all the wrong places
  • and MUCH MORE!

Geoffrey walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Chuks Okorafor picked the right time to step up his game

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/12/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Did the Steelers fourth-year tackle see the writing on the wall if his play did not improve?

The Pittsburgh Steelers notched their second win of the 2021 NFL season with a 27–19 victory over the Denver Broncos in Week 5. One large aspect of the game was the improved play of the offensive line. Not only did the Steelers eclipse the 100 yard rushing mark for the first time this season, they also kept quarterback Ben Roethlisberger upright most of the day and gave him time to go through his progressions to find open receivers.

The player who was possibly scrutinized the most on the Steelers offensive line was fourth-year tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. The only starter on the line returning from 2020, Okorafor often appeared to be the weak spot on the Steelers young offensive line. But in Week 5, Okorafor stepped up his game and helped contain one of the NFL‘s best pass rushers in Von Miller.

So what got into Okorafor to have him have such an improved game? Perhaps it was familiarity. In Okorafor’s first and only start at tackle in his rookie season of 2018, he stepped in for an injured Matt Feiler and faced off against Miller and the Broncos in his first start. Technically Okorafor started three games as a rookie, but the other two were at “jumbo tight end” when the Steelers started the game with an extra lineman. But in the only game in 2018 where Okorafor played 100% of the offensive snaps, he went up against Miller.

What might have been even more of a motivation for Okorafor going into Week 5 was the fact he missed the Steelers previous game due to a concussion. In his absence, Joe Haeg filled in and the Steelers offensive line appeared to be moving in the right direction. If Okorafor had struggled on Sunday, perhaps he was on a short leash knowing Haeg was a viable option in case Chuks wasn’t getting the job done.

If having Haeg breathing down his neck wasn’t enough, the Steelers are very close to a return of Zach Banner from the Reserve/Injured List. Beating Okorafor for the right tackle job to begin the 2020 season, Banner has been on IR since Week 2 of last year. With the 21-day window now closing for Banner to join the active roster, perhaps knowing the Steelers have yet another player who could push him for a starting job gave Okorafor a little extra motivation.

It will be interesting to see what the Steelers do at the tackle position moving forward once Zach Banner is back in the mix. With 2021 fourth-round draft pick Dan Moore Jr. having his ups and downs at left tackle, he is also coming off arguably his best game of the 2021 season. With the Steelers unlikely to have four tackles dressed on game day, one of the four players— Banner, Okorafor, Moore, or Haeg— will likely not even get a helmet on game day. Had Chuks put forth another subpar effort in Week 5, he may have very well been the odd man out on game day the next week.

Instead, Chuks Okorafor stepped up and did a nice job handling his blocking assignment against Von Miller on Sunday. Right guard Trai Turner praised Okorafor after the game for his performance according to ESPN’s Brooke Pryor.

Von Miller finished with assists on 2 tackles. That's it.

Trai Turner praised Okorafor for efforts slowing him: "I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Chuks had a phenomenal week of practice. Had a phenomenal game. He came, he strapped up, and he was ready to go the whole game."

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) October 10, 2021

One way in which Okorafor would catch some criticism from Week 5 is from a penalty perspective. While Okorafor did have two false start penalties, they were of the variety of offensive tackles getting an early “kick” against edge rushers. While two of them were called, there were plenty of other times the same penalty was not called in this or other NFL games. As tackles due their best to get an advantage, they push the limit as much as they can. It happens when they take it too far, but getting called a second time in a game is rough. It’s one of the ways Von Miller can affect a game more than just his stat line.

It will be interesting to see moving forward if Okorafor can build on this performance, or if it was merely just a flash in the pan. With the Steelers having other options at the tackle position moving forward, if Okorafor falters and fails to get the job done, he could very well find himself on the sidelines. But until that occurs, the Steelers having several serviceable options at the tackle position is not a bad problem to have until players step up and dominate at the position.

Stock Report: See whose stock is rising or falling after the win over the Broncos

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/12/2021 - 9:00am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Taking a look at what direction Steelers stock is trending after their first home victory of the 2021 season, a huge win over the Denver Broncos.

Nothing worth while ever comes easy, or it sure seems that way when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Being a rabid Steelers fan means there is never to be a dull moment during any game. Whether it be truly exhilarating, or extremely frustrating, every Steelers game is guaranteed to keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat. Keep the blood pressure medication and antacids close at hand.

Sunday afternoon's too close for comfort victory over the Denver Broncos at the friendly confines of Heinz Field meets all the aforementioned qualities of any Steelers game. My lovely wife looked at me immediately at the conclusion of the game and proclaimed, "That sure was a nail biter, wasn't it!" It definitely was.

Keeping true to form for the season thus far, the Steelers struggled with prosperity. Penalties, turnovers, missed assignments, dropped passes, and injuries have all shaped this early portion of the 2021 season for the Steelers. Those struggles were still present against the Broncos, but the Steelers played well enough as a collective group to overcome their still present difficulties.

They are starting to show slow but steady improvement across all three phases of the game. That's to be expected as all the rookies and other newcomers gain invaluable experience functioning together, but even more so considering all the injuries they have been forced to endure.

The Next Man Up mantra is all well and good, but there is a reason the next man up is the next man up and not the first man up. The discrepancy between the starters and their replacements has been staggering at times this season. Injuries shape the NFL landscape every season, and this year will be no exception. Survival of the fittest at it's finest.

Steelers Stock Trending Up: Offensive line

Everyone familiar with my writing knows I am a offensive line aficionado. I have always had the utmost respect for the big guys up front. The steam engine that drives the train. The foundation of any offense. The hopelessly underappreciated and overlooked.

For the novice football fan, the offensive line looks like a quagmire of enormous behemoths lumbering aimlessly in a sea of chaos, but it is poetry in motion to those who truly appreciate the exquisite execution intertwined within the brutality. Five individuals with separate assignments working toward a common objective. The Steelers offensive line performance against the Broncos was all that and then some.

Ben Roethlisberger's efficiency was a direct result of Najee Harris' success rushing the football, and all that success was made possible by the best offensive line performance of the young season for the Steelers. The Steelers new look offensive line took a huge step towards respectability against a strong Broncos defense, especially their imposing pass rush, lead by Von Miller.

The left side tandem of Dan Moore Jr. and Kevin Dotson are starting to develop a real rapport, and it showed on Sunday. Moore's run blocking is superior to what the Steelers have been used to at LT over the past few seasons, and if Dotson was dealing with an injury as had been reported all week leading up to the game, you could never tell. He was his normal powerful self throughout the afternoon.

Kendrick Green has shown drastic improvement over the past two games against powerful adversaries. His anchor was impressive, and his explosive mobility sets him apart from other centers around the league.

Trai Turner is gaining confidence and comfort in the Steelers schemes, and you see the occasional glimpse of the abilities that made him a perennial Pro Bowler in the past. He is providing a veteran presence to an extremely young group of linemen as presently constructed.

That brings me to my biggest surprise of the game, Chukwuma Okorafor. Okorafor played one of the best games of his career, in a must win situation, against one of the best in the business. He showed the elite level athleticism and balance that I have been pointing out for years now.

He was faced with an immense challenge, and he definitely rose to the occasion. It remains to be seen if he can repeated such an effort, but it gives me hope for the future. If his effort could ever mirror his abilities, then he could be a solution to a huge problem for the Steelers.

I preached patience from Steelers Nation for the revamped offensive line since prior to the preseason, which sadly fell on deaf ears for the most part. As predicted, we are starting to see the fruits of their labor.

Steelers Stock Trending Down: Pass Rush

The Broncos pass rush wasn't the only one that failed to meet expectations on Sunday. The Steelers pass rush hasn't lived up to it's billing since T.J. Watt suffered his groin injury. There have been other factors involved, but injuries and schematics have been the biggest factors without a doubt.

The Steelers were able to generate consistent pressure with a four man rush in their surprising opening game victory over the Buffalo Bills. This was a crucial contributing factor in the upset, as it allowed the Steelers to blanket Stefon Diggs without exposing their young newcomers in coverage. That was the high-water mark of the season for the pass rush.

Then T.J. Watt goes down against the Raiders; after a blistering start to the season, and the pass rush starts trending in the same direction. Truthfully, Watt's injury has been far from the only pain in the groin, or other areas actually.

Tyson Alualu was lost for the season in the Raiders game, which impacted the pass rush in two ways. First off, he is no longer present to utilize his brute strength to collapse the pocket. Secondly, his run stopping prowess isn't around to create those third and long situations. He has been sorely missed.

The impact of Stephon Tuitt's absence cannot be overlooked. Two thirds of the best 3-4 defensive line in the NFL from last season have not, and will not, step on the field together this season. That greatly impacts the effectiveness of the front seven, not just the pass rush.

Throw in additional groin and other assorted injuries to Alex Highsmith, Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Carlos Davis, etc., and you have a Steelers defense operating nowhere near full capacity. Not all injuries are season ending, but that doesn't mean they aren't debilitating.

As the Steelers coaches gain more confidence in the new look secondary, I fully expect more exotic pass rush packages to be implemented. That should help alleviate their issues generating consistent pressure, but that is predicated on the good fortune of reasonably good health.

FILM ROOM: Matt Canada and an improving Steelers line are creating hope for the offense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/12/2021 - 8:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line is starting to click, and that creates hope for the entire offense.

“Hope is a good thing.” — Andy Dufresne

The Pittsburgh Steelers broke a three-game losing streak on Sunday with a 27-19 victory over the Denver Broncos. The Steelers had their best game of the season on offense, amassing season-highs in points and total yards. For the first time in 2021, they had more rushing attempts (35) than passing attempts (26) while rookie Najee Harris became the first Steelers’ back to rush for over 100 yards since James Conner did it in Week 5 of last season. It was a complete performance by a unit that has showed signs of improvement the past two weeks after a sluggish start to the season.

The offense made its biggest strides in the run game. Harris, who had been contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage more than any back in the league through the first three weeks, had ample room to run. Left tackle Dan Moore Jr, left guard Kevin Dotson, center Kendrick Green, right guard Trai Turner, right tackle Chuks Okorafor and Pittsburgh’s trio of tight ends, Eric Ebron, Zach Gentry and Pat Freiermuth, did a great job preventing penetration and pushing Denver’s front off of the football. They played with a noticeably lower pad level than in previous weeks and drove their feet better through contact. Better fundamentals often yield better results. Getting called out by Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Canada, both of whom are said to have challenged the line throughout the week at practice, may have helped too.

While the guys up front deserve much of the credit for the success of the rushing attack, other factors contributed as well. One was Denver’s scheme, which features a 3-4 odd front. The Steelers had seen an odd front the previous week in Green Bay and handled it well, so it was not surprising they did so again versus Denver. The odd front, as you can see in the photo below, puts just three down-linemen on the football. This provides the offense an extra “bubble,” or gap, to attack. Denver used a good amount of nickel personnel against the Steelers, swapping out a lineman for a fifth defensive back, which meant they often had just two interior players to handle run duties. This allowed the Steelers to get a better push at the first level than they had against the four-man fronts they saw in previous weeks against Cincinnati and Las Vegas:

This odd look provided bubbles to attack in the B-gap to the right and the A and C-gaps to the left

The run game also benefitted from Canada’s game-plan. Canada did a nice job using multiple tight ends, unbalanced and compressed sets to create advantages at the point of attack and exploit the bubbles in Denver’s front.

Here’s the play Canada ran against the look above. You can see how he compressed the formation to use receivers Ray Ray McCloud (14) and Cody White (15) as extra blockers in the run game. This amounted to an eight-man line for the Steelers, which widened Denver’s front and created natural seams in the box. The Steelers ran a play called “Duo,” which creates a double-team at the point of attack. As you can see from the diagram drawn by the Fox broadcast team during the telecast, White came underneath into the C-gap to block the safety as he filled the hole. Notice the angles this scheme created for Pittsburgh’s blockers against Denver’s defenders and how the Steelers’ linemen used those angles to get movement. The hole they created was so large Harris must have thought he was back at Alabama for one of those September tune-up games against Arkansas State:

In the next clip, we see an unbalanced scheme. Canada started this play by aligning Moore in his traditional spot at left tackle. Once Denver set their front, he flipped Moore to the other side, reducing tight end Zach Gentry on the left and creating a tackles-over look on the right. This allowed the Steelers to cover up edge rusher Von Miller (58) with a lineman instead of a tight end. It also gave them an extra gap on the backside of their inside zone play. Harris found that gap, got a nice block from Juju Smith-Schuster on the alley player and rumbled for a big gain:

The run game also benefitted from Canada’s creative use of RPOs. Unlike traditional RPOs, where the quarterback reads a second-level defender like a linebacker or box-safety as a play is unfolding, Canada’s give Roethlisberger multiple pre-snap options. Roethlisberger, who famously does not like to take his eyes off of coverage during a play (thus his dislike of play-action), studies the defense prior to the snap on these RPOs and pre-determines whether he will throw the ball or hand it off. Against Green Bay, Canada paired run plays with quick-outs to the perimeter. Against Denver, he paired them with a double-slant concept.

Watch here as Roethlisberger chooses between the inside zone run to Harris or the slants to McCloud (14) and Johnson (18) on the right side of the formation. With Denver playing a cover-1 robber look and defenders locked onto both slants, Roethlisberger decides to hand the ball off. It’s a wise choice, as Harris makes a nice cut then finishes the run in typically-physical fashion:

The RPO has an added benefit here. Rather than ask McCloud and Johnson to block their defenders at the snap, which are long blocks and difficult to sustain, their slants pull the defenders inside and put them out of position against the run. Once he sees it’s a run, Johnson merely has to shield the corner to take him out of the play. The alley player, meanwhile, is no longer in position to force Harris inside to his linebacker help. He now has to chase him to the sideline, where Harris first freezes him with a stutter-step then disposes of him with a stiff-arm.

Canada used the same scheme in the previous clip with Smith-Schuster in the slot. In both instances, the Steelers got a favorable run-look and effective downfield blocks from the receivers to gain extra yardage. The displacement of the defensive backs as a result of the RPO put the receivers in better position to make those blocks.

We can’t forget, of course, the signature shifts and motions that have come to define Canada’s offense. Here we see their impact on a simple inside zone run. Canada starts this play in a 12 personnel set with tight ends Zach Gentry (81) and Pat Freiermuth (88) to the left of the formation. Once Denver declares their strength, Gentry and Freiermuth flip sides, creating an unbalanced look to the right:

The Broncos adjust by changing the strength of their defense. They bump their interior players to the shift and their linebackers swap positions. Canada then brings Smith-Schuster in jet motion from right-to-left. While Denver does not adjust their alignment to this, watch the effect it has on the inside linebackers. Both flow aggressively with the motion and the corresponding steps of the offensive linemen. This creates a cutback lane to the right of center for Harris, where the Steelers have their unbalanced look with four blockers. Harris jams the ball inside and gains seven yards:

While this might seem like a lot of work just to run an inside zone play, the stress it puts on a defense cannot be ignored. Look at all of the gesturing by the Denver defenders in these two clips. The time they must spend communicating their adjustments to the shifts and motions is time not spent focusing on their reads or simply getting lined up. The pre-snap movement also gets the defense flowing laterally, which the Steelers front uses to push them out of their gaps and create lanes for Harris.

Canada has now put enough of these motions on film to get a feel for how defenses will react to them. This was true on the goal-line against Denver. Flash back a few weeks to the Las Vegas game. Canada lined up in a compressed set and ran jet sweep to Smith-Schuster for a touchdown:

Against Denver, he used the same set and the same motion, this time with Derek Watt as the jet-man, to create enough movement from the defense to allow Harris to leap into the end zone. Watch how Denver’s safety (#22) flows with Watt just enough to keep him from plugging the gap into which Harris runs. Without the motion, Denver has an extra hat at the point of attack. With it, that advantage is eliminated.

Of course, none of this would matter if the offensive line was still getting stone-walled like it was early in the season. While facing odd-fronts the past two weeks has helped, they are becoming more physical and starting to win their one-on-one blocks. Canada’s motion helps Harris get into the end zone on the play above. But so do the blocks of Moore and Freiermuth, a couple of rookies who, along with Kendrick Green, are starting to acclimate to the speed and physicality of NFL football. Many believed it would take some time for the line to come together given their inexperience and all of the new faces. It’s still premature to say the group has arrived. To say they are improving, however, is accurate.

That improvement has had a trickle-down effect. Harris, who has been the team’s offensive MVP so far, has carried 38 times for 184 yards the past two weeks for an average of 4.8 yards per carry. That’s a huge improvement over his numbers from the first three weeks, when he went a combined 40-123-3.0. And Roethlisberger, whose struggles have been the source of much consternation throughout Steeler Nation, was sharp against Denver. Much of that had to do with the fact he was sacked just once and hit only twice. Often, he had clean pockets from which to throw and could set his feet and drive the football. Those clean pockets gave Roethlisberger the confidence to stand in when there was pressure, like on this 3rd quarter touchdown pass to Chase Claypool. Despite the fact that Turner whiffed on a twist stunt from Von Miller, Roethlisberger hung in, stepped into his throw and delivered a dart. He clearly was not concerned about the rush, something that could not be said in previous weeks.

Therein lies the bottom line for Canada’s unit. While his scheming can create mismatches and opportunities, success relies upon one simple truth: as the line goes, so goes the offense. They are by no means a finished product at this point. But they are improving. For that, Steelers fans should be hopeful.

Unpopular Steelers Opinions: Week 5 vs. the Broncos

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/12/2021 - 7:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Let’s have a couple arguments, Steelers Nation.

I rarely write post-game analyses after Steelers games anymore, but I’ve been getting into arguments in the comments sections lately, and often found myself the only person taking a certain position. So rather than just keep grumbling in my apartment, I thought I’d toss these out to the hyenas and see what sticks. Here are a handful of opinions you all can crucify me for (or maybe even agree with). Have at it:

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images Opinion: Ben Roethlisberger played a great game on Sunday

Lots of people are claiming that Ben played “okay” against the Broncos. I’ve seen many references to a couple near-INTs. The phrase “game manager” has popped up a few times. I feel like I watched a whole different game.

The game I saw featured completions to seven different pass-catchers, with four of over 20 yards. I saw at least one near-INT that was more the fault of the receiver (I think Harris) who fell down on the route. I saw an offense that converted 7-12 on third down, with all 7 of those conversions coming through the air, including two touchdowns. I saw a 50-yard bomb to Diontae Johnson where the ball led Johnson perfectly, and a dart to Chase Claypool (splitting three defenders in the area) that looked like 2014 Ben. None of that is my definition of “game manager.”

Here’s the thing though: he’s not 2014 Ben. So if you’re comparing him to a version that’s seven years younger, I guess he just looked okay. But what I want from a 39 year old—good decisions, ability to read the defense and find the mismatch, the kind of calm that hits the right man (not just the stars), the kind of patience that knows when to go deep and when to hit the tight end for five—looks a lot like what I saw from Ben against Denver.

Speaking of Denver, remember Ben’s hero, John Elway? His last two seasons ended with title wins, but Elway was no longer the engine of the team. He still played well, but it was Terrell Davis’s team. That needs to be the case for Ben too. He can’t be the engine that motors this team anymore, but he can be the guy with his hands on the wheel. And that’s what I saw Sunday.

If I see THIS Ben for the rest of the season, I’ll be pretty happy.

Opinion: Benny Snell should be the Steelers’ closer

For a backup running back who has played a few strong ballgames, Benny Snell has a weirdly passionate anti-fan club. I’ve never really understood it (did Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala have haters like this?) but I’m not among them. In fact, in my opinion Benny Snell is the closer this team really needs.

I’ve been saying this since his rookie season. He’s a mediocre back in the first half of games, but he gets a legit burst the later it goes. In 2019, when I tracked the numbers, he was getting 2.78 yards per carry in the first halves, 4.97ypc in second halves, and then specifically 5.64ypc in the 4th quarters. And that was with Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges scaring no one; the opponents knew a run was coming, but Snell still got better and better. I saw flashes of that against Denver as well.

Heading into the 4th quarter of the Broncos game, Steelers running backs (not named Najee Harris) had rushed for 1 yard this season. That includes Snell (3 carries for 1 yard) and Kalen Ballage (4 carries for 0 yards). Then, suddenly, when the team needed to bleed the clock, and didn’t have Harris available, there was Benny Snell, rushing 5 times for 20 yards. He rolled for 9 yards on his first play, then fought for yardage and fell forward on each carry, nearly manufacturing a 3rd down conversion by himself on his final touch. These aren’t starter numbers, and I wouldn’t want him as my guy in a late comeback (he doesn’t have the hands for a no-huddle offense), but I’m thinking of him as a relief pitcher. And I like it.

He can play special teams through the first three quarters; I don’t care if he logs a single first-half carry. But if the Steelers are in the lead in the 4th, this is a guy who can run out the clock and move the ball. And this team could use that kind of late-game punch.

Opinion: Jaylen Samuels should spell Harris mid-game

Whoo, boy. Lots of you are gonna hate this one.

Here’s my thinking: none of the Steelers backup running backs are getting a push in the early parts of games. Snell and Ballage are both supposed to be power backs, but neither of them can do anything (until Snell gets some 4th quarter carries, apparently). Meanwhile, I have yet to see anything from Anthony McFarland that makes me think he’s anything but a gimmick back (see also: Chris Rainy or Dri Archer). Maybe some of this will change going forward, but at the moment, backup runners aren’t running for squat. And Samuels won’t either.

But then there’s this other element: Ben has thrown to Snell and Ballage three times in their limited offensive snaps. They have yet to make a catch. If a backup running back spells Harris, we all know he’s not going to run for yardage; but he might catch a pass. So why not play with your best pass-catching back?

Important: neither of the last two claims are about who should start if Harris has to miss a game. They’re situational. But they make sense to me. Samuels can catch; if that’s what you need, play the guy who can do it.

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images Opinion: The Steelers offense is going to be good if it goes to the run for at least 50% of its production

I’m not sure this is that controversial, but I’m throwing it out anyway. The O-Line’s run-blocking was impressive against Denver, as was Najee Harris’ decision-making (which has not always been perfect this season). For my money, that two-pronged improvement is the key to everything:

If you run better, the defense can’t just attack the pocket. That will buy Big Ben enough time/space to (a) let the WRs get separation, and (b) step into his throws. The announcers referenced this in the game, and I think they’re right—there’s a lot of velocity and distance that comes from the lower body. If Ben is already dealing with a sore hip (which affects this), then preventing him from stepping into throws is going to make his passes a lot less decisive. Giving Ben enough space to throw deep will open up the underneath and mid-level passing (such as on Chase Claypool’s second half catch and run). Then the better the passing game looks, the more the holes will open up for Najee Harris…

One thing snowballs into another and another. But it has to start somewhere. The rushing offense can be the catalyst for everything. I think that’s the best possible move going forward.

Opinion: Danny Smith is having the best season of the three coordinators

Some of you are swearing at me now. If Benny Snell has an anti-fan club, the Anti-Danny Smith Society is a political party. And yet, the special teams look good this year.

Special teams penalties aren’t gone, but one gets the sense that those are never going to disappear. Otherwise, the day-to-day stuff has been solid—Chris Boswell is excellent as always, Pressley Harvin hasn’t been perfect, but as a rookie he’s looked pretty good, and the coverage teams haven’t allowed any disasters. But more importantly, the Steelers have blocked two punts, and returned them both for touchdowns (even if one was erroneously called back). That block-and-return against Buffalo changed the game in the opener. And the same would have been true against Green Bay if the officials hadn’t stepped in and screwed up.

The offense can play well, but has been spotty and inconsistent; the defense has been excellent for the most part, but prone to breakdowns (and for some reason they can’t get takeaways to save their lives this year). But the special teams have been fairly solid, and nearly won two games for this team. Credit where credit is due.

Opinion: Next-Gen Stat commercials are the worst thing in football this year

This isn’t really about the Steelers, and it might not even be unpopular, but I have to let out the steam somewhere. I detest these stupid ads. The worst ones are the ones that walk through a play to show us, “this had only a 3.1% chance of success, but look—it worked!” So 3.1%? Based on what? Most of these plays are one-of-a-kind plays, and we know that they were successful, so the truth is that they’re 100% likely to succeed (because these particular variables have never been lined up before, and this time it worked).

But that’s just a logic game. The truth is, these are terrible because the message itself is stupid. “Everything we did suggests that this shouldn’t be completed, but then it was!” All that tells me is that you guys must not know what you’re doing. “Look—we crunched a million numbers, and we were still wrong!” So why should I ever listen to you about anything? (Something similar can be said for the ridiculous “odds of winning” numbers they track on websites like ESPN.com, where the odds change slightly on every play. As far as I can tell, this is just a way of trying to quantify momentum. But we don’t need numbers for that—we can see it with our eyes.)

This stuff is meaningless noise, but I feel like the NFL (and its partners) are convinced that it’s brilliant, and we all can’t wait to see more of it. Because as we all know, the best part of football is meaningless algebra, right? Ugh.

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images Opinion: The Steelers will survive JuJu’s injury, even if it lasts a while

The Steelers have three starter-quality wide receivers (Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and James Washington), along with two starter quality receiving tight ends (Pat Freiermuth and Eric Ebron), and a pass-catching running back (Najee Harris). Ben Roethlisberger completed passes to seven different receivers against Denver, and none of them was Juju Smith-Schuster. (Also, James Washington wasn’t available, so those seven receivers only included two starting wideouts.) Manpower won’t be a problem for this team. Especially if the running game is more front-and-center going forward.

Juju’s veteran knowledge is not as easy to replace, but watching Claypool dive to the turf in bounds to keep the clock running on Sunday reminded me that this young receiving corps is not a bunch of rookies anymore.

If Juju is going to be gone next year (and odds favor it), then this should be a dry run for that roster. And I have a strong suspicion this team will be okay.

Go Steelers.

The Steelers 27-19 victory over the Broncos is one they can build on

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/12/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Steelers finally broke their slide with a 27-19 victory over the Broncos at Heinz Field. In doing so, they executed a style that could be quite successful moving forward.

Now, that’s how you win a football game.

OK, maybe the Steelers didn’t want an 18-point lead early in the fourth quarter to ultimately come down to a goal-line stand at the end, which was exactly what happened on Sunday in a more-thrilling-than-expected 27-19 victory over the Broncos at Heinz Field. But I’m sure they’ll be happy if the style, execution and results become more of a habit moving forward.

When you’re talking about an enjoyable style, the first thing that comes to mind is the 10.1 yards quarterback Ben Roethlisberger averaged per passing attempt. The second thing that comes to mind is the 25 passes he threw the entire game.

Roethlisberger completed just 15 of his passes, but he was mostly sharp and on point with just about every single one. Not only that but there were fewer short passes and more long ones—including a 50-yard touchdown to Diontae Johnson to open the game for the second week in a row. Roethlisberger seemed more decisive and confident on Sunday. Maybe that’s because the offensive line continued to improve after what was actually its best performance a week earlier in a 27-17 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field.

I’m not saying the line was perfect. Roethlisberger still had to hurry some of his throws, and he was hit a bit too much for a 39-year old. Also, the one time he was sacked resulted in yet another lost fumble in enemy territory by the veteran quarterback.

But unlike previous weeks, the defense, one that just can’t seem to shake the injury bug and still appears to be missing the nasty bite it had over the first six quarters of the season, held Denver to a field goal.

Obviously, the story of Sunday’s game was rookie running back Najee Harris and the first 100-yard rushing performance of his career (122, to be exact). Harris didn’t just gain tough yards when none were there, which had been his calling card over the first four games. He also gained chunks of yards thanks to the holes his linemen were opening for him all afternoon. The Steelers rushed for 147 yards on 35 carries against Denver. You put those 147 yards on the ground together with Roethlisberger’s 253 through the air and, again, that would be the kind of efficiency and style this offense should be able to win with over the final 12 games.

As for the defense, it was mostly stout if not dominant. True, Denver did rally late to turn a 24-6 laugher into a 27-19 thriller, but that’s going to happen from time to time in the NFL. The defense bent all throughout the fourth quarter and kept on bending until it had about six more feet to defend. That’s when James Pierre stepped up and made what, in my opinion, was the most important defensive play so far in 2021 when he intercepted quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on fourth and goal with mere seconds left.

Speaking of bridges and water, perhaps Sunday’s victory, one that improved the Steelers record to 2-3, can be a bridge that gets the team over what has been some pretty murky water so far in 2021.

At the very least, the win is one the Steelers can hopefully build on.

Podcast: How Najee Harris has transformed the Steelers rushing attack

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/12/2021 - 4:30am

In the latest podcast on the BTSC family of podcasts, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

There was a lot of voices of disapproval when the Steelers selected Najee Harris with their first pick last April. But Harris is starting to transform the running attack for the Men of Steel. Exactly how has the rookie from Alabama turned the tide for the Steelers? Join BTSC Deputy Editor Michael Beck on the latest edition of The Live Mike as he helps Steeler Nation navigate through the 2021 season and beyond.

Check out the rundown of the show:

Michael Beck of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Men of Steel.

Check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Steelers expected to workout former 2nd round WR Anthony Miller

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 6:09pm
Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to work out a former 2nd round draft pick with the news of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s long term injury.

When the news broke Monday of the severity of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s shoulder injury, the logical fan knew a move would be made sooner than later. And no, the move everyone is referencing isn’t the no-brainer of Smith-Schuster to Injured Reserve (IR), but the Steelers adding another receiver to help bolster the position.

Prior to the team’s Week 5 game vs. the Denver Broncos the Steelers signed Cody White to their 53-man roster, leaving a vacancy on their 16-man practice squad. White was activated due to the groin injury to James Washington, but will likely stay on the active roster for the foreseeable future.

But that doesn’t mean the Steelers won’t be adding to their receiver depth chart. In fact, the team is planning on working out former 2nd round draft pick Anthony Miller. This per Aditi Kinkhabwala and Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network:

The plan was to sign with the #Jaguars practice squad… he even tweeted “Duval” over the weekend. But with a spot on the 53-man available… https://t.co/tsFvYMpzLP

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 11, 2021

Miller was traded from the Chicago Bears to the Houston Texans this past offseason and appeared in two games for Houston before being released last week. He had five catches for 23 yards and a touchdown in those appearances.

Miller also had 134 catches for 1,564 yards and 11 touchdowns during his three seasons with the Bears, the team who drafted him in the 2018 NFL Draft. Could the 5’11” receiver find a home with the Steelers? If so, would it be on the active roster, or just to fill the vacancy on the practice squad?

UPDATE: According to Aaron Wilson, Miller would be signing with the Steelers to sign with their practice squad.

Anthony Miller didn't sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars' practice squad after visiting them Monday, according to a league source, and instead he plans to sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers' practice squad @SportsTalk790

— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) October 11, 2021

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6 of the regular season.

The inside linebackers make a big jump in Steelers defensive PFF grades

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 2:17pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In the grades provided by PFF, Devin Bush and Joe Schobert gave the best performance for the position group in 2021.

The Pittsburgh Steelers got back to their winning ways in Week 4 and hope to start a different kind of streak moving forward. The offense put up their most points of the season, and the defense kept their opponent in check through the first three quarters. In all, it was a good team win.

But how did the individual players grade out?

For this exercise, we will be looking at the player grades from Pro Football Focus (PFF) for their Week 5 performance. These score are just from Sunday’s game and not for the entire season. Before going any further, I must give the typical disclaimer that PFF grades are subjective. While some people rely on them heavily, others are quite skeptical of the process in which they are determined. It is completely up to each person as to how much stock they put into PFF’s grades. For me, I often look at the grades to see if my own “eye test” lines up with what others viewed as how a player performed. If nothing more, the grades create a discussion about how accurate, or inaccurate, they are each week.

Instead of looking at the entire team at once, we break up the scores into offense and defense. First up is the defense. Included will be all the players who played at least one snap and the total snap counts for each player will be included. For reference sake, the Steelers played 60 snaps on defense in Week 5.

Overall

Top 5 (regardless of position)

OLB T.J. Watt: 90.1 (50 snaps)
ILB Devin Bush: 80.1 (25 snaps)
DT Cam Heyward: 79.3 (45 snaps)
CB Arthur Maulet: 77.7 (45 snaps)
ILB Joe Schobert: 75.6 (49 snaps)

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

CB Tre Norwood: 59.4 (22 snaps)
ILB Robert Spillane: 56.3 (24 snaps)
OLB Melvin Ingram III: 54.9 (36 snaps)
CB Joe Haden: 54.0 (60 snaps)
OLB Alex Highsmith: 34.5 (40 snaps)

Defensive Front Seven

OLB T.J. Watt: 90.1 (50 snaps)
DT Cam Heyward: 79.3 (45 snaps)
DT Isaiah Buggs: 75.2 (13 snaps)
DT Isaiahh Loudermilk: 68.4 (9 snaps)
DT Henry Mondeaux: 67.4 (17 snaps)
DT Chris Wormley: 62.9 (41 snaps)
OLB Derrek Tuszka: 59.5 (2 snaps)
OLB Melvin Ingram III: 54.9 (36 snaps)
OLB Alex Highsmith: 34.5 (40 snaps)

All is right in the world once again as T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward are back to the top two spots of this position group. Heyward still holds the top overall defensive grade in the NFL at 91.9 with Monday’s game still to be played. Henry Mondeaux had the Steelers highest pass rushing grade in Week 5 with a 77.3 as he recorded his first career sack. It is troubling to see the other outside linebackers other than Watt all at the bottom of the list, even if the defensive grades are overall higher than they have been over the last several weeks.

Inside Linebackers

ILB Devin Bush: 80.1 (25 snaps)
ILB Joe Schobert: 75.6 (49 snaps)
ILB Robert Spillane: 56.3 (24 snaps)

After seeing what type of game Devin Bush was having, him exiting due to a groin injury (which I assume is a real aggravation of his previous injury) is quite discouraging. The tandem of Bush and Schobert were starting to come into their own against the run-heavy Broncos. Spillane filled in admirably, but his PFF score indicates it was not at the level of the Steelers former first-round pick.

Defensive Backs

CB Arthur Maulet: 77.7 (45 snaps)
CB James Pierre: 72.3 (59 snaps)
S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 63.9 (60 snaps)
S Terrell Edmunds: 62.0 (60 snaps)
S Miles Killebrew: 60.6 (1 snap)
S Karl Joseph: 59.7 (2 snaps)
CB Tre Norwood: 59.4 (22 snaps)
CB Joe Haden: 54.0 (60 snaps)

Seeing cornerback Arthur Maulet on top of this list is a positive thing, but seeing him do it playing his most snaps of the season is even more encouraging. Maulet is currently tied with the fifth-best score of any qualifying corner in the NFL, and he has the second highest run defense score of any corner in the NFL with an 88.1 through five games. James Pierre scored well overall despite giving up a long touchdown. Minkah Fitzpatrick saw another week of an improved score thanks to his high grade of 71.4 in run defense which was third on the team behind Watt and Schobert. Since receiving an outstanding score in Week 1, Joe Haden has not been on the good side of PFF over his last three games.

So, what do you think of the above grades? Do they pass the eye test? Let us know your thoughts on the Steelers’ defensive grades in the comments below.

Steelers Week 5 snap counts show they are finding quality play from the depth chart

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 1:01pm
Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With a lot of snaps coming from depth players, the Steelers still pull out a much needed win.

The injury situation for the Pittsburgh Steelers hasn’t been good, and it didn’t get any better in Week 5. But what did improve was the result, as the Steelers picked up their second win of the season with some key contributions from depth players.

Offense

Two key positions played 100% of snaps, the quarterback and offensive line. Those are generally the most important positions to have continuity, and it worked well for the Steelers in this game. Chukwuma Okorafor returned and continued his streak of playing his best against top pass rushers, as he and the rest of the offense were the first team to hold Von Miller to 0 sacks and 0 QB hits.

The line continued to look better in the run game as well, with Najee Harris picking up his first 100 yard rushing game and the Steelers first 100 yard rusher since October 18th of last year. The Broncos last allowed a 100 yard rusher in Week 12 of 2020. The Broncos allowed 102 rushing yards to the Ravens in Week 4, the Steelers topped that by 45 yards.

In the receiving room, the Steelers lost JuJu Smith-Schuster, and with James Washington out, Ray-Ray McCloud stepped in as the No. 3 receiver. Chase Claypool led the team with 6 targets and 130 yards, as it looked like the run game is opening up the passing game. Ben Roethlisberger’s 10.12 yards per attempt is his highest since his 5 TD game against Carolina in 2018, and a big boost to his 6.08 yards per attempt from the first 4 games.

The depth at running back showed up more this game, with both Benny Snell and Kalen Ballage getting 10+ snaps, giving Najee Harris 23 snaps off, by far the highest of his young career. Benny Snell was able to take advantage of the run blocking for 20 yards on 5 carries, He had 3 runs for 1 yard before this game. Kalen Ballage gained 5 yards on two of his carries, only to lose those 5 yards on two others for a balance of 0 yards on 4 carries.

Zach Gentry and Derek Watt played their most snaps of the season as well. Zach Gentry has been a dynamic run blocker and added another reception for 13 yards. He leads Steeler tight ends in receiving the last two weeks. While that is a sad reminder of how under-targeted the Steelers top two tight ends are, it also shows Zach Gentry is a valuable No. 3 tight end.

I would be remiss if I were to leave out Minkah Fitzpatrick playing a single snap on offense. The Steelers remain undefeated when he plays on offense, in my favorite role in the sport, the deep safety job in victory formation.

Defense

On defense the first thing that stands out is James Pierre playing all but one snap in this game. While he struggled at times in the expanded role, he came through in the clutch with a fantastic interception to seal the game. He joins Terrell Edmunds, who is having a really good season so far, as the only Steelers to intercept a pass this season.

When Devin Bush was hurt Robert Spillane stepped in and was solid, and Henry Mondeaux showed up big coming in and recording a sack while playing the third most snaps on the defensive line.

As the Steelers dig deep into their depth chart, they are finding some good football from players you probably weren’t expecting much from. As long as the next men up keep playing solid football, the Steelers will have a chance to win and buy themselves time to get some more impact players healthy.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6.

Smith-Schuster shoulder surgery being disputed, 2021 season still in jeopardy

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 1:01pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers wide receiver’s season is over after just five weeks.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team who has been battling injuries since the start of the regular season. Despite having a healthy four-game preseason, the Steelers have been bit by the injury bug since the games started to count.

Numerous soft tissue injuries, mainly groin injuries, have dominated the injury reports, but the shoulder injury to JuJu Smith-Schuster in Week 5 have been the most severe. In the win over the Denver Broncos Smith-Schuster was hit in the shoulder and immediately began to show signs of pain.

As medial personnel tended to Smith-Schuster, it became apparent this wasn’t just another shoulder injury. After the game Mike Tomlin said Smith-Schuster was being evaluated at a local hospital, pointing directly to the severity of the injury. After reports Monday of the team planning on putting Smith-Schuster on Injured Reserve (IR), it is now being reported Smith-Schuster underwent surgery on the shoulder, and will miss the rest of the season.

This per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network:

Sources: #Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster had surgery last night on his injured shoulder and is out for the season. The procedure was successful. A tough loss for a Pittsburgh offense that is showing signs of hitting its stride.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 11, 2021

This news means Smith-Schuster will indeed be placed on IR, but without any expectation of his return. The Steelers will likely fill his roster spot with either Zach Banner (knee) or Anthony McFarland (unknown), both who are eligible to come off IR at any time.

As for the wide receiver depth, the Steelers are fortunate this is one of their deepest position groups on the team. If the team can get James Washington, who missed Week 5 with a groin injury, back on the field, they likely will be just fine moving forward. However, it puts an extra onus on the health of the group moving forward.

Smith-Schuster hadn’t had a great season prior to being injured Sunday. In fact, he was only able to muster the following stats throughout the regular season:

Games: 5
Yards: 129
Receptions: 15
TD: 0

With Smith-Schuster set to be a free agent after this season, you have to wonder if he has worn a black and gold jersey for the last time.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes on the Steelers as they make Smith-Schuster’s move to IR official, and prepare for the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6.

UPDATE:

It is now being reported by Brooke Pryor of ESPN Smith-Schuster did NOT undergo surgery, but could still be out for the season.

JuJu Smith-Schuster did not have shoulder surgery last night, per source. Injury still appears severe and could very well be season-ending, but the Steelers wide receiver did not undergo surgery Sunday night.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) October 11, 2021 UPDATE:

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports Smith-Schuster suffered a separated shoulder, and could miss up to four months. The injury will require surgery this week. This would likely end his season.

Steelers’ WR JuJu Smith-Schuster dislocated his shoulder, is undergoing surgery later this week and is expected to be sidelined about four months, which likely would end his season, per source.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 11, 2021

For more on on the Smith-Schuster situation and the Steelers options moving forward, check out the BTSC Breaking News podcast below.

Colts vs. Ravens, Week 5: NFL Monday Night Football Open Thread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 11:39am
BILL INGRAM /THE PALM BEACH POST / USA TODAY NETWORK

The old Baltimore vs the current Baltimore.

Really wish I had something else to do tonight. Actually I do, I’m missing this one. But for those Pittsburgh Steelers fans who want to sit back and watch some AFC football to round out Week 5, join us!

Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens

Not much to say about this one, but on paper it doesn’t seem like the 1-3 Colts stand much of a chance at the 3-1 Ravens. But anything can happen, and I guess that’s why they play the games.

Could the Steelers be the only AFC North team to win in Week 5? The only way for that to happen would be if the Colts pull off the upset at M&T Bank Stadium on Monday Night Football.

Last chance to hang out with in a fellow Steelers fans open comment section of this NFL week. So head down to the comment section and let’s have some fun! HERE WE GO STEELERS!

Podcast: Winners and Losers from Steelers vs. Browns in Week 17

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 11:00am

Jeff Hartman leads the way with his AM studio show on the BTSC family of podcasts with the latest episode of “Let’s Ride“.

Over the past couple of weeks and the three game losing streak, there have been way more losers as opposed to winners for the black and gold. But after a nice day at the office, the Steelers have way more men on the nice list as opposed to that of the naughty list following the 27-19 win over the Denver Broncos. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC senior editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Note
  • Winners and Losers
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Be sure to check out this and all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Analyzing the Steelers Week 5 win over the Broncos, by the numbers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Steelers put together a well-balanced performance as they got back into the win column.

The 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers but an end to their three-game skid as they got back to their winning ways with a 27-19 victory over the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field on Sunday. The Steelers jumped out to an early lead and held it the entire game, despite things getting much closer at the end. Regardless of how it all played out, the Steelers now have their second win of the season as they only have one game left before their bye week.

So without further ado, here are some of the numbers involved in the Steelers win over the Broncos in Pittsburgh.

50

For the second-straight week, the Steelers not only scored a touchdown in the first quarter, they did so on the opening drive of the game. The Steelers got started on the right track, this time with a 50-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Diontae Johnson.

11

The Steelers ended the first 30 minutes of the game with the score 17-6. Having an 11-point lead at halftime, it was the first time the Steelers had a lead going into the locker room at the midpoint of a game since Week 13 of last season. It ended a nine-game streak of the Steelers trailing at halftime.

147

The Steelers offense had a much different look on Sunday, largely in part due to their ability to run the football effectively. The Steelers had 147 rushing yards on 35 carries for a 4.2-yard average, which included one run Ben Roethlisberger kneel down. On the day, Najee Harris ended with 122 rushing yards on 23 carries for a 5.3-yard average. With 35 rushes to 25 passes, the Steelers stuck with the ground game and had their most rushing attempts since their 38-7 win over the Browns in Week 6 of 2020.

18

The Pittsburgh Steelers won their 18th consecutive game on Sunday in which they rushed for 100 yards or more. The last time the Steelers cracked the century mark in rushing and did not win the game was in Week 1 of the 2018 season where the game ended in a tie against the Browns. Therefore, the Steelers have gone 21-straight games in which they have not lost when rushing for 100 yards or more. Add in the fact the Steelers last game in which this occurred was Week 15 of the 2017 season against the New England Patriots, we all know Jesse James caught that ball and the Steeler should have been victorious. Prior to that loss, the Steelers had gone 12-straight games in which they were victorious when rushing for 100 yards or more dating all the way back to Week 6 of 2016.

120.9

Ben Roethlisberger had a nice bounce-back performance in Week 5. Although not perfect and still having a couple balls which could have been intercepted, Roethlisberger only had to throw 25 passes on the day. With 15 completions for 253 yards and two touchdowns, Roethlisberger ended the day with a 120.9 quarterback rating.

2

Part of the reason the Steelers had such success in Week 5 was the improved play of the offensive line as a collective unit. On the day, Ben Roethlisberger was only hit twice and gave up one sack. Additionally, Roethlisberger had time to look through his progression in the pocket. The Steelers kept All-Pro edge rusher Von Miller in check with only two tackles and no quarterback hits.

27

The Steelers went over the 20-point threshold for only the second time in 2021, both of which have been victories. When it comes to offensive points scored, putting up 27 points on Sunday is 10 points higher than the offense has managed in any game this season.

0

In what has become a very telling stat for the Pittsburgh Steelers, they managed to keep an even turnover margin in the game. Although they gave up a fumble in the first quarter which led to a Broncos field-goal, the Steelers were able to get back to even on the next to last play the game when James Pierre intercepted a pass on fourth down to end the Broncos scoring threat.

59.5

Another player who stepped up in his limited role on Sunday was rookie punter Pressley Harvin III who had a 59.5 yard punting average. Having only 2 punts on the day, Harvin’s punts had a distance of 63 yards and 56 yards.

2

The most important number of them all, the Pittsburgh Steelers got their second win of the 2021 NFL season. Rather than focusing on how many wins they will end the season with, the Pittsburgh Steelers need to simply focus on getting their next win each week.

So there are some numbers to help put the Steelers Week 5 win in perspective. While their performance was encouraging, it is more important for the Steelers to build on their win against the Broncos and keep things going in the right direction.

So what numbers from Sunday’s game stand out to you? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

9 Winners and 2 Losers after the Steelers win over the Broncos

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 9:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Time to take a look at who would be considered a ‘Winner’ and a ‘Loser’ after the Steelers latest action on the gridiron.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they played the Denver Broncos in Week 5 of regular season action. The Steelers were winners in the contest, but that doesn’t mean every player had a bad performance.

Players who play well can be considered ‘Winners’, while those who left a lot to be desired can be called ‘Losers’. It may sound harsh, but it is the crux of this exercise.

Let’s check in to see who fell on which side of the ledger after the first game of the preseason...

Winners

Najee Harris
Stat Line: 23 carries, 122 yards, 5.3 average, 1 TD, 20 long / 2 receptions, 20 yards, 5 targets

Najee Harris was due for this game. You can just tell every time he touches the ball, he is a threat for a big play. It only took the offensive line coming together to give him some space to operate. More on the offensive line in a bit, but Harris was the most dominant runner the Steelers have seen since Le’Veon Bell was with the Steelers. He was also the last 100 yard rusher for Pittsburgh since James Conner did in last October vs. the Cleveland Browns. It was also nice to see the Steelers get Harris involved in the passing game in a way that wasn’t a check down pass.

Ben Roethlisberger
Stat Line: 15/25, 253 yards, 10.1 average, 2 TD, 0 INT, 120.9 Rating

This stat line is something I can get behind. Roethlisberger throwing the ball less than 30 times, and playing a clean brand of football. If the Steelers can duplicate this type of balance on offense, and have success, they will be a tough team to beat with their defense. With the Steelers not turning the ball over, and having those time-consuming drives, can pay huge dividends for this team moving forward.

Chase Claypool
Stat Line: 5 receptions, 130 yards, 1 TD, 59 yard long, 6 targets

Can Chase Claypool just play the Broncos every week? If so, he would put up some huge numbers. After torching Denver as a rookie in 2020, he duplicated that with his Week 5 performance. Claypool stepped up without JuJu Smith-Schuster available, and torched the Broncos’ defense. 5 catches on 6 targets is impressive, throw in 130 yards and a touchdown and you have yourself a winning performance.

Offensive Line
Stat Line: 147 yards on 35 carries, 4.2 average / 253 yards passing, 1 sack surrendered and 2 QB Hits

Players always say they don’t listen to the television, radio or read articles, but when in post-game interviews all they talk about is proving the “doubters” and “haters” wrong, you see the first claim is a bold-faced lie. Regardless, the Steelers’ offensive line showed out on Sunday, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. They are trending in the right direction, but now comes the time when they have to consider how they will inject Zach Banner into the lineup when he is healthy enough to return.

James Pierre
Stat Line: 6 total tackles, 6 solo, 2 Pass Defenses, 1 INT

Yes, Pierre was burned by Courtland Sutton for a touchdown, but he also made some huge plays too. His tackle on Javonte Williams saved a touchdown, and his game-clinching interception sealed the win for the Steelers. I think sometimes fans should remember Pierre was an undrafted player in 2020, and still extremely young. It takes a lot for a player like Pierre to put that touchdown behind him and keep playing at a high level. Next time the hope is Pierre doesn’t have to give up a big play...

Diontae Johnson
Stat Line: 2 receptions, 72 yards, 1 TD, 50 yard long, 2 targets

For the second straight game, the Steelers started with an opening drive touchdown. For the second straight game, that pass was to Diontae Johnson for the score. When looking at Johnson’s stat line, what was even more shocking than the 50 yard long reception, was the two targets. Johnson is usually Ben Roethlisberger’s primary target, but not Sunday. Still, Johnson made the most of his time with the ball in his hands.

Minkah Fitzpatrick
Stat Line: 10 total tackles, 5 solo, 1 TFL

Some fans are suggesting Minkah Fitzpatrick isn’t making the splash plays he was earlier in his Steelers tenure. But I think he is making plays, they just aren’t in the shape of turnovers. Fitzpatrick is taking more chances in the secondary, and also covering for other players has had him out of position on more than one occasion. However, Fitzpatrick has also shown a tremendous ability to come down to the line of scrimmage and make plays as a tackler. The game-changing plays will come, but let’s not pretend he is just another safety. Far from it.

3rd Down Offense
Stat Line: 7-for-12

Anything over .500 in this category is good, in my opinion, and this is the first game of 2021 the Steelers’ have been above that water mark. The Steelers’ running game put the offense in manageable down and distances, and it paid off for the Steelers’ third down offense.

Special Teams Battery
Stat Line: Boswell - 2/2 FGs and 3/3 XPs / Harvin - 62 yard long and 59.5 average on 2 punts

Sometimes special teams can be lost in a win, but not in Week 5. Chris Boswell nailed a 51-yard kick with room to spare, although it was negated by a penalty, and Pressley Harvin was booming both punts. Yes, he only punted twice, but the 62 yard kick was needed in a big way. A great day for both specialists.

Losers

4th Down Defense
Stat Line: 3-for-4

On the same drive the Steelers defense surrendered three straight fourth down conversions. I understand they are in the prevent defense, but getting off the field on any of those would have ended the game. Granted, they made a stand when it mattered most, but this is an area you had to see a team fail.

Big Play Defense
Stat Line: Another game giving up the big play

Another week, another game with big plays surrendered on defense. First it was Henry Ruggs and the Raiders, then it was JaMarr Chase and the Bengals, then Randall Cobb and the Packers. This week it was both Javonte Williams, 49-yard run, and Courtland Sutton. The Steelers’ defense is great, but it does have a need to limit the big plays. With the Steelers’ offense struggling, the big play is the one thing the defense can’t surrender.

If you want a more detailed look at the above list, check out my “Let’s Ride” podcast where I outline each Winner and Loser, and MORE!

Report Card: Grading the Steelers Week 5 victory over the Broncos

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 8:00am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Steelers snapped the losing streak but how did the team grade out?

The Pittsburgh Steelers finally snapped their three game losing streak and won their first game of the season at Heinz Field. And the Steelers did it in all three phases of the game against the Denver Broncos. This was an all-around team effort that got the job done. Despite the late game come back, the Steelers played a very solid game almost every second of the way. These grades will be among the best this team have received all year, and something they will need to continue to do if they want to become champions.

Offense

The Steelers offense did it in the air and on the ground. Najee Harris had his best game as a pro rushing for over 120 yards, picking up another 20 through the air and scored a touchdown. The more Harris can do what he did on Sunday the more likely the Steelers will be able to win football games on his back. You can tell he’s a special player, and a guy that has performed all year long.

Ben Roethlisberger also had a bit of a comeback game. He was throwing the ball all over the field accurately, and with plenty of zip. If Roethlisberger can stack games like this he will not be any danger of getting benched and will continue to be this team’s quarterback as long as he’s capable of doing so.

The offensive line had perhaps their best day of the season opening holes for Najee Harris as well as protecting Roethlisberger for most of the afternoon. They definitely weren’t perfect, but a performance like they had Sunday is serviceable and one you are happy to take each and every week the rest of the way.

The receivers and tight ends were fine, highlighted by Chase Claypool‘s big day, on Canadian Thanksgiving. The receiver tallied over 100 yards with a touchdown, and was the most noticeable receiver on the field.

Final Grade: B+ Defense

The defense played nearly a perfect first half of football forcing multiple three and outs to start the game. The group flew around to the football and punished anyone who had it in their hands. It was obvious the Broncos game plan was to protect Teddy Bridgewater at all costs, but in doing so limited the amount of options he had at his disposal. The Broncos were successful at throwing the ball late in the game, but thankfully the Steelers were able to hold on and the game was clinched on a James Pierre interception.

If the Steelers were able to hold on and not let the Broncos come back into the game this might have been a perfect A+ score, however letting them back in the game will see this grade suffer a bit. Nonetheless, this was an impressive performance by the defense and one this team can build on.

Final Grade: B+ Special Teams

The Steelers didn’t need their special-teams units a lot on this day. But when they were called upon they delivered. Chris Boswell was perfect on a day where most NFL kickers struggle mightily. Rookie punter Pressley Harvin III had two amazing pants which showed exactly why the Steelers drafted him. Steelers didn’t need much out of their kick return game, but what that group did was definitely good enough. And once again Derek Watt was a heat seeking missile as a special teams Ace. Solid game from this group.

Final Grade: A Overall

The Pittsburgh Steelers impressed me on this day. Not only was the offense able to figure things out, but they did it against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t look like an old man on the field and played like a top NFL quarterback would. Najee Harris broke out and the offensive line definitely silence some critics. The defense played perfectly up until the end, but did enough for victory and the special teams were impressive as a whole. This recipe is one that will see the Steelers win a lot of games if they are able to replicate it against future opponents. Great team win and one the Steelers can build off of.

Final Grade: A-

What do you think? Do you agree with these grades? Will the Steelers be able to build off this game for Sunday night football against the Seattle Seahawks next week? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Steelers expected to put JuJu Smith-Schuster on Injured Reserve

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 7:58am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers could be without JuJu Smith-Schuster for the long term due to a shoulder injury suffered in Week 5.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a banged up team, and it the hits just keep coming. Already without James Washington (groin), they lost JuJu Smith-Schuster to a gruesome shoulder injury vs. the Denver Broncos Sunday at Heinz Field.

After the game Mike Tomlin told of Smith-Schuster being evaluated not in-house, but at a local hospital. As one can imagine, this means the shoulder injury was certainly on the severe end.

Monday morning, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the Steelers are preparing to put Smith-Schuster on Injured Reserve (IR) and fear the team could be without him for a lengthy period of time, maybe even the rest of the season.

Steelers expected to put JuJu Smith-Schuster on injured reserve and are fearful he will miss rest of the season after injuring his shoulder vs Broncos, per sources.

— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) October 11, 2021

When it comes to the team’s 53-man roster, putting Smith-Schuster on IR could be paired with the return of Zach Banner (knee) or Anthony McFarland (unknown) off of IR to the active roster.

The injury to Smith-Schuster, and being placed on IR, means he could be available to return in as soon as three weeks, but if the injury is as severe as it appears at this time, that might seem extremely generous.

If there is a position the Steelers can withstand an injury like this, it would be at wide receiver, and the hope is Washington will return and the offense won’t miss a beat.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6.

Steelers players take to social media to talk about their win over the Broncos in Week 5

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 7:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers take to social media after their win over the Broncos in Week 5.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won their second game of the regular season! After their win moves their record to 2-3 for the 2021 regular season after beating the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field in Week 5.

Following the Steelers’ win, players took to social media to celebrate the big win over the AFC opponent.

Take a look at what was said on different platforms following the game! I also added some interesting video which I felt fans might enjoy.

(Editor’s Note: This article may be updated as more players take to social media to talk about the team’s victory.)

Move with Passion#HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/hgkjamzqjA

— Minkah Fitzpatrick (@minkfitz_21) October 10, 2021

We all we got , we all we need . Great TEAM win . pic.twitter.com/2tuLRCtXQX

— Chukwuma Okorafor (@Chuks__76) October 10, 2021

Steelers Nation Thanks For The Energy Today Much Needed

— Arthur Maulet (@ArthurMaulet2) October 10, 2021

Lots to be thankful for #kobeyear @ Heinz Field https://t.co/h4o4uR9qx7

— isaiahh loudermilk (@iloudermilk111) October 11, 2021

Thank you everyone in Steelers Nation for the support today as I stepped in the booth for Wolf today! Hopefully, we’ll have him back next week! But as we all know,” The Standard is the Standard!” #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/6fIcagD8bI

— Max Starks IV (@maxstarks78) October 10, 2021

Great @steelers team win!! We back!! #HereWeGo

— Jerome Bettis (@JeromeBettis36) October 10, 2021

W https://t.co/WfpARSYH5s

— Willie Parker (@3williethadude9) October 10, 2021

Najee press gatherings are good: pic.twitter.com/kBVtvuyfUZ

— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) October 10, 2021

Post-Game Sound: Hear from Steelers coaches and players after the win over the Broncos

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 10/11/2021 - 6:37am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field in Week 5 of the regular season. Take a look and listen to what was said after the game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were winners for the second time this regular season with their win over the Denver Broncos Sunday.

After the game, there was plenty of video/audio to take in from the locker room and down at field level. Here at BTSC we try to gather as much information as possible for those fans who might not be on social media and see this on a weekly basis.

Therefore, in the post-game sound article you will hear from head coach Mike Tomlin, and a myriad of other players as the Steelers official Twitter account goes around the room to hear from all who participated on Sunday.

Enjoy the content and be sure to stay with BTSC for all things black-and-gold as they prepare for the next game of the regular season. The next game on the docket is the Week 6 game at home vs. the Seattle Seahawks...but first, the post-game sound:

Mike Tomlin Post-Game Press Conference

Coach Tomlin on the win over the Broncos ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/W1ADOTYslQ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 10, 2021

Ben Roethlisberger Post-Game Press Conference

.@_BigBen7 on the win over the Broncos ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/teid9h3gCD

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 10, 2021

Around the Locker Room

Hear from Chris Boswell, @The_fridge53, @trai_turner, and @TuneLight1 after our win over the Broncos. @HeinzTweets pic.twitter.com/YIpryWSSzy

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 11, 2021

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