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Mike Tomlin admits the Steelers’ concern with the health of Ben Roethlisberger

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/14/2021 - 9:46am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

In his end of season press conference Mike Tomlin talks about the concern they had for Ben Roethlisberger’s health entering the 2020 season.

2020 was a challenging year for everyone in one way or another. Whether it be the loss of a job, a loved one or even just the acceptance of things being different from what we are accustomed. While not as important as some of the aforementioned incidents which can happen during these tough times, sports were severely impacted by the pandemic.

Youth and High School sports were shut down, and even the professional sports leagues put their games on pause as they deciphered the best way to move forward. The National Football League was the first league to start their games on time, and to to complete the regular season without having to cancel any games.

Not that there weren’t hiccups along the way, but many players had their own specific struggles both in the offseason, and the regular season. Teams weren’t able to see the players as much as they usually do during minicamps, Organized Team Activities and training camp.

Things were different, and with that came a level of uncertainty surrounding specific players. For the Pittsburgh Steelers no player loomed larger than Ben Roethlisberger. Coming off a season-ending elbow injury which required surgery, no one knew what to expect from the team’s franchise quarterback.

Sure, there was video of him throwing, but that certainly can’t be compared to actually playing the game at the highest level. When the 2020 preseason was canceled, the Steelers knew they were going to miss out on an opportunity to see what Roethlisberger can, or cannot, do with his brand-new throwing elbow.

Were the Steelers concerned? Both Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert put on a happy face whenever they were asked about Roethlisberger’s health. They talked about how he could be a better player than he was before the injury, how his rehabilitation had been nothing but positive and especially how they fully expected Roethlisberger to be the starter and be able to make all the throws an NFL quarterback needs to make.

However, following the 2020 season, where Roethlisberger played in 15 out of 16 regular season games, getting the Week 17 game vs. the Cleveland Browns off to rest, Mike Tomlin spoke about how the Steelers organization was concerned about Roethlisberger’s health throughout the season.

“In regards to Ben [Roethlisberger], I can’t say enough about his performance this year. With the uncertainly coming off of injury, and particularly not having an opportunity to perform in preseason games and so forth, there really was a high level of concern about his health and his ability to perform.” Tomlin said. “I can’t say enough about his efforts. I can’t say enough about the efforts of our medical staff and our rehabilitation staff that worked hand in hand with him to get him to that process and get him to stadiums this year.

“I was more than pleased with the performance of his health and his ability to stay up. In terms of the quality of his play and our play, we’ll begin to assess that in the upcoming days, but in terms of him responding to the challenges that he specifically came into the season ready to face, spectacular.”

The fact the Steelers were concerned with Roethlisberger’s health shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. When the franchise quarterback has season-ending elbow surgery at age 37, there should be concern. Were all the questions surrounding Roethlisberger’s ability answered in 2020? Are the Steelers convinced Roethlisberger can return and play well in 2021 in the final year of his current contract?

Tomlin isn’t about to say any of that just yet.

“We haven’t made any decisions about any of our personnel along those lines.” Tomlin stated. “As I mentioned, all of those discussions are interrelated, and we are just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of what 2021 looks like in terms of the make up of our team and the issues relative to it.”

The Steelers have a huge decision to make with Roethlisberger this offseason. Have him play out the final year of his contract to the tune of $41 million dollars, or release him and only owe him roughly $21 million dollars. Never an easy decision when it comes to a franchise player, but as Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu found out, no one is immune to the Steelers essentially telling them their time is up.

With that said, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for a very tumultuous offseason.

The Steelers commitment to loyalty could jeopardize their winning culture

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/14/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers franchise has often been found guilty of choosing loyalty over rationality through the years.

The Pittsburgh Steelers franchise is nothing if not consistent. They are beyond predictable because you always know what they are going to do in every situation. To the best of their ability, they are going to try to do the right thing in every opportunity. They base these decisions around a very specific set of values and ethics, with stability and loyalty nearing the top of the list.

The heart of their extraordinary and admirable business model and behavior comes from the Rooney family. It's the ‘Steelers Way’ and has created the most consistently successful franchise in the NFL over the past fifty years. They are old school in every way, and any fundamental change in procedure has been hard pressed and slow coming, but changes have been required and have come to fruition eventually.

The results are truly impressive and beyond compare. Three head coaches during the past half century, the most overall wins and best winning percentage over the same time frame, and six Super Bowl championships during the time when multiple franchises have none. Some franchises, like the Cleveland Browns, have never even been to the dance. Some fans need a little reality check the next time they want to whine “oh, woe is me.” Being a part of Steelers Nation requires a lifelong commitment. Wimps need not apply.

The Steelers are famous for allowing their legends to play past their expiration dates. The Steel Curtain defense was retained until they decided they no longer could take the field. Although I hated watching them go, coupled with the lack of success during the 80's, I had to admire the Steelers loyalty to the legends that had turned around a franchise previously more downtrodden than even the Cleveland Browns.

Will the Steelers do the same thing with current legend Ben Roethlisberger? I believe his arm is still capable of leading the Steelers to another title, but I am not as certain about the rest of his body, particularly his knees. That is a question only Ben and the Steelers executives can answer, and they must make that decision prudently. His cap hit is troubling as is, especially if he isn't certain of his desire to return and ability to play up to his own standards. I have faith the Steelers will handle the situation properly. It's the ‘Steelers Way.’

The problem with the Steelers old fashioned way of handling their business extends to the current coaching staff. Most of the Steelers positional coaches have been with Mike Tomlin for years, some date back prior to his Steelers tenure. Some have failed to cut the mustard on multiple occasions, but have retained their jobs because the Steelers value stability and abhor change. Many of the current coaches would have been long gone on other franchises. The Steelers don't make knee-jerk reactions.

That's why one decision still troubles me greatly from Sunday's playoff loss to the Browns. The Steelers started left guard Matt Feiler, fresh off an extended stint on the IR, over rookie standout Kevin Dotson. That decision was mind-boggling for yours truly. Feiler often struggled during the regular season after being moved from right tackle to start the season, and that was prior to his injury layoff.

Dotson on the other hand was the best Steelers rookie offensive lineman in recent memory. He brought a desperately needed power element to the Steelers aging line, and gave the Steelers at least some semblance of a running game that was nonexistent without him in the lineup. He made the PFF All-Rookie team and is the present and future of the Steelers offensive line.

I understand the old adage that you don't lose your starting position due to an injury, but players lose their positions everyday due to a lack of production or performance. This situation qualifies any which way you choose to look at it. The decision to start Feiler over Dotson definitely wasn't the main reason for the Steelers disappointing performance, but it did provide a glimpse at a chink in the Steelers armor, procedurally speaking.

That old-school way of thinking, such as not playing rookies until they have had ample time to observe, resistant to trading up in the draft to obtain a coveted target, or refusing to utilize modern contract negotiation standards; these beliefs are no longer practical in today's NFL and the Steelers have slowly started to adjust, rather begrudgingly I might add.

I love the fact the Steelers value loyalty as a foundational part of the legacy of the franchise, but decisions like the one they made prior to Sunday's game could cost them dearly down the line.

The Steelers didn't win a single Super Bowl championship during the past decade, underachieving throughout based solely on the talent at hand. More necessary adjustments and honest evaluation is required this off season. The fate of the Steelers legendary winning culture is at stake, and very much in danger.

Chasing championships, not clicks: The Steelers need to gain humility

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/14/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

After a stellar season that fizzled out, the Steelers must look inward to avoid inexcusable distractions and mend league-wide relationships.

It’s hard to elucidate how painful the Steelers’ playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns truly was.

A season that emerged as one of the franchise’s best since 1933 came to a crashing halt, one half of title-winning football played in the team’s last 6 games. Seeing Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and JuJu Smith-Schuster morose as they embraced on the Steelers’ lonesome bench after the fourth quarter was a profoundly upsetting moment.

Even as Pittsburgh seemed on the precipice of greatness—and maybe even history—the Steelers never seemed to play like an undefeated, unblemished team. As many have expounded, starting 11-0 is a feat that cannot be due to sheer luck. But between almost wilting to Denver backup Jeff Driskel in Week 2 to a near unmitigated disaster in Dallas, the Steelers’ record was simply a façade.

At least, to most to who followed the team.

While navigating the eruptive ebbs and ferocious flows of their idyllic start, Steelers players had every reason to feel confident. Newcomers Chase Claypool and Eric Ebron had rarely even trailed in black in gold for the vast majority of the season, prompting tweets, daring dances and interactions that bordered on arrogance.

Losing? Never heard of her.

— Chase Claypool (@ChaseClaypool) November 1, 2020

However, as the Steelers ultimately fell to the Washington Football Team—the eventual catalyst of their demise—their roster never lost hubris.

Smith-Schuster began his infamous pre-game logo dancing Week 9 in Dallas, a contest the Steelers hardly won. In spite of losing to the aforementioned Football Team 4 weeks later, the fourth-year wide receiver continued his haughty moves at Buffalo and at Cincinnati, creating looming headlines and controversy that generated vitriol in his opponents. I'm all for JuJu's youthful zeal, but these moves simply went too far by creating outside noise and anger.

No, the Steelers didn’t lose just due to Smith-Schuster's penchant for TikTok or by breaking an NFL cardinal sin of respecting other teams’ midfield emblems. Yet the overall conceitedness issue is much more widespread than just Smith-Schuster.

One of the main issues I have with the 2020 Steelers is their unrivaled ability to create unnecessary negative attention due to foolishly phrased comments.

After Pittsburgh emerged victorious against the COVID-19-ravaged Baltimore Ravens in Week 12, Ebron posted a segment of his 17 Weeks podcast with the NFL Network’s Nate Burleson, Seattle Seahawks safety Jamal Adams and New Orleans Saints wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. In the clip, Ebron wished for a luxurious Super Bowl reception for the Steelers “when” they would make it.


Listen to my pod @17WeeksPod if you want to know how I really feel about our crazy schedule #SteelerNation@SIRIUSXM: @ApplePodcasts:

— Eric Ebron (@Ebron85) December 4, 2020

Ebron later clarified that he was responding to a question about his desires if he and the Steelers were to make it to Tampa.

the question was “if u make it to the super bowl then how can the NFL repay u” so I answered as if we were at the super bowl. ONE game at a time has always been my Mentality.

— Eric Ebron (@Ebron85) December 4, 2020

Regardless of the circumstance, using a word such as “when” implies that Ebron believed it was only a matter of time before the Steelers would trot into Raymond James Stadium on February 7th. In today’s day and age, a comment of that nature has the propensity to be easily blown out of proportion and taken out of context; language that presumptive automatically spells trouble.

The theme of poorly conceived quotes continued throughout the year, reaching its culminating moment when Smith-Schuster’s assertion about how the “Browns” were “still the Browns” created motivation for Cleveland in the Wild Card Round.

The video evidence. “They’re a good team, but…" #Browns

— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) January 8, 2021

JuJu’s answer seemed superficially condescending, alluding to the fellow AFC North’s franchise’s long history of futility. However, the entire response reflected a far more deferential tone, and the soon-to-be free agent even winked as if to indicate insincerity and lightheartedness.

Again, the question begs itself: Why even make a claim that could, in any instance, irritate your fans, organization and opposition? Even if it was meant in jest, it’s simply imprudent to say, and was also certainly proven wrong.

And after the Steelers were quintessentially embarrassed in their lone playoff game, players still couldn’t resist the temptation of using their platforms to generate notoriety.

While going live on TikTok, Chase Claypool made an eyebrow-raising remark about the Browns’ chances against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional Round.

Chase Claypool: "Bad loss, but the Browns are gonna get clapped next week. So all good." ‍♂️

( @BrownsByBrad)

— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) January 11, 2021

Choosing a word like “clapped” when talking about another team is not particularly appropriate for an NFL player in any setting; saying something this perverse after such a gut-wrenching performance demonstrates fundamental immaturity and a lack of awareness. In fact, the Browns may very well even beat Kansas City (don’t rule anything out in the playoffs), in which case Claypool would be further lambasted.

Around the league, teams regularly flourish without making boastful claims or publicly prognosticating wins well in advance. There is simply no reason for the Steelers to act so presumptuously, no matter their record. In fact, players including T.J. Watt have been paragons for maintaining professionalism while also terrorizing competition.

As Pittsburgh looks onward as its offseason begins, there are deep-seated questions related to Roethlisberger, Pouncey, Randy Fichtner and even Mike Tomlin. The Steelers’ preposterous collapse is in and of itself enough reason for introspection and interrogation. In other words, the organization does not need any more unwarranted headlines or scrutiny.

By consistently and unabashedly disrespecting their competition, the Steelers have transformed from a glimmering, prosperous iPhone 12 to a dysfunctional and despised Blackberry, mocked by their NFL peers and the regular punchline of witty meme pages.

To be clear, Pittsburgh’s ostentatiousness is not the fundamental reason why it lost games and floundered so horribly in the postseason; I have no issue with players using social media, creating their own brand and simply having fun.

But if the Steelers want to return to their robust history of success, the first change that must be made before September isn’t firing a long-tenured assistant or cutting a player: it’s becoming humble.

6 players mentioned by Mike Tomlin in his end of season press conference

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/14/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

In his final press conference of the 2020 season, Coach Tomlin answered a few questions about some of the Steelers’ players.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 season has come to close. While the conclusion was much sooner than many anticipated, the Steelers are faced with an offseason with a lot more questions than answers. Postponed one day, Mike Tomlin held his final session with the media on Wednesday. With many questions about the team in general, there were a few questions about specific players. So here is the final article of the 2020 season in regards to players mentioned by Coach Tomlin in his press conference.

Ben Roethlisberger

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed his 7th NFL season. At 38 years old, the ability for Roethlisberger to continue his NFL career at a high level will be a larger discussion point this offseason. Coach Tomlin was asked if the organization has made a decision if they want to have Roethlisberger retrun next season and what his impression was of Roethlisberger’s play in 2020.

“We haven’t made any decisions about any of our personnel along those lines. As I mentioned, all of those discussions are interrelated, and we are just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of what 2021 looks like in terms of the make up of our team and the issues relative to it. In regards to Ben [Roethlisberger], I can’t say enough about his performance this year. With the uncertainly coming off of injury, and particularly not having an opportunity to perform in preseason games and so forth, there really was a high level of concern about his health and his ability to perform. I can’t say enough about his efforts. I can’t say enough about the efforts of our medical staff and our rehabilitation stay that worked hand in hand with him to get him to that process and get him to stadiums this year. I was more than pleased with the performance of his health and his ability to stay up. In terms of the quality of his play and our play, we’ll begin to assess that in the upcoming days, but in terms of him responding to the challenges that he specifically came into the season ready to face, spectacular.”

Coach Tomlin was asked a follow up question about if he thinks it is realistic that Ben Roethlisberger will be back given the cap implications.

“I don’t have a clear assessment of the overall impact of the cap ramifications, so I might not have a direct answer to your question, but I think it is reasonable to assume that there is a chance that he will be back, certainly. The depths of the ramifications of the cap discussions, I am not privy to as I sit here right now.

Cam Heyward & T.J. Watt

Defensive captiaons T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward both said the playoff loss was due to a lack of execution. Coach Tomlin was asked if he agreed with their assessment.

“It was a lot of things. We didn’t perform well. When I say we, I mean us, players and coaches. I think specifically when a game started in the manner that it did and we spotted them the type of points that we spotted them, I think it was going to make splash plays and types of things that we like to do with our defensive unit more difficult. I think that the trajectory of our game changes when you are down the way that you are down. That probably had a lot to do with some of the challenges. More than anything, we didn’t perform well enough, and that is just the truth of it.”

Mason Rudolph

After starting 8 games in 2019, quarterback Mason Rudolph was used in a limited fashion in 2020 with only one start in 2020. Coach Tomlin was asked his confidence in Rudolph moving forward.

“I thought he displayed that he took a step in growth and development in his performance, even though it was a small sample size. I would imagine that he is going to continue with that growth and development. We will see where that leads us in terms of what he is able to provide us. I’m excited that he was able to display that and I think it is reasonable for me to expect or him to expect that general trajectory to continue.”

Chase Claypool & Kevin Dotson

The Steelers had more contributions from their 2020 rookie class than they anticipated coming into the season. Coach Tomlin was asked the positive contributions of players still under contract beyond 2020 and he brought up rookies Chase Claypool and Kevin Dotson specifically.

“I will say this, I was really pleased with the contributions and the level of maturity displayed by the draft class given the circumstances of how they came into the season. To get the type of contributions that we got from a Chase Claypool or a Kevin Dotson and the growth and development of some of the others over the course of the season, it is a tip of the cap to them and the people that worked alongside them, coaches—and not only the coaches, the other players and older players that mentored them. I was generally pleased with that and I’m excited about getting them in an offseason mentoring program that may be more normal and is reasonable to expect those types of contributions to continue to solidify and get better.”

For a full recap of Mike Tomlin’s press conference, check out our podcast recap below:

Mike Tomlin’s interview can be seen here:

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 13, 2021

Podcast: How regular season success didn’t translate to the playoffs

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/14/2021 - 5:00am

The Oracle Dave Schofield shares his thoughts in the AM platform with the classic stats show with the Co-Editor of BTSC.

The Steelers had an amazing run to start the 2020 regular season, They did the same back in 2017 as well. But when the postseason came around, that success subsided in their first playoff game at home. This is just one of the topics that will be discussed on the Thursday episode of the AM slate of the BTSC family of podcasts. Join Co-Editor Dave Schofield as he breaks out the Steelers slide rule and geeks out only like he can.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • How regular season success didn’t translate to the playoffs
  • and MUCH MORE!

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE


Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is the heart and soul of the Steelers receiving corps

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/13/2021 - 3:00pm
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Despite some of the unlikeable antics recently, Smith-Schuster brings value to the position.

We’ve seen this movie before. The Steelers exit the playoffs earlier than we expected them to, which in reality is any year that they don’t win the Super Bowl. Steelers fans are spoiled rotten! The first stage of our grieving process is usually finger-pointing. However I want to celebrate a Steeler who has repeatedly proved his worth and this year unequivocally established himself as the heart and soul of the Steelers receiving corps, one JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Now this is well out of the realm of the finger pointing he has received for his TiK-Tok midfield logo dances (in other teams’ stadiums), and his misconstrued pre-Browns playoff game comment. Many “Yinzers” have been pointing their fingers at JuJu and blaming him for all Steelers’ losses since the Buffalo Bills game. This is ridiculous on many fronts.

Seriously, if the Browns need a so called “bulletin board” comment from JuJu to get fired up for their first playoff game in 18 years, God bless them. Maybe, just maybe, 18 years of futility and frustration combined with the repeated bullying over most of that span by AFC North division big-brother in the form of the Pittsburgh Steelers, built to a crescendo of Browns emotion and splash plays and Steelers’ offensive turnovers and defensive miscues.

Truth be told, JuJu backed up his talk with a monster playoff game against the Browns with 13 receptions for 157 yards and one touchdown. In fact Ben Roethlisberger targeted Smith-Schuster 19 times in the game. Why? Because JuJu is the money man of the Steelers receiving corps. In that, I mean when the chips are on the table, Roethlisberger looks for JuJu. It’s a fact that Smith-Schuster delivers in the clutch! This has been the case since midway through JuJu’s rookie season when he was just 20 years old. Ben Roethlisberger trusts JuJu like no other receiver on the Steelers’ roster.

Please let’s cut the talk of JuJu Smith-Schuster being soft because he likes to do Tik-Tok dances. Do you remember how he knocked Vontez Burfict of the Cincinnati Bengals into the middle of next week, avenging Burfict’s dirty hit, a year earlier, that concussed teammate Antonio Brown? Did you see that 10 yard stiff arm and plant of Ravens defensive back Tramon Williams? If not Google it, pronto. Did you see him step up repeatedly last Sunday night against the Browns and make plays for his team when they needed him most? He took a monster hit against the Bengals earlier this season and shook it off. No, he didn’t take that vicious hit because of his dancing, it was because of an extremely predictable short passing game that the Bengals and every other defense the Steelers faced, knew was coming. It’s hard to question JuJu’s toughness or his consistency. We haven’t seen the likes of his all around skill-set, toughness and passion since Hines Ward. Quote me on that.

JuJu Smith-Schuster cemented his lead wide receiver status with a whopping 110 receptions for 988 yards over 16 regular season games and one playoff game this year. He accomplished this while being double-teamed and being targeted, as the focal point of most opposing defensive schemes.

There’s an understanding in the NFL that players have to elevate their games in the playoffs. Check. Juju Smith-Schuster elevated his catches per game from 8.6 catches during the regular season to 13 in the playoff game vs. Cleveland. In addition, he raised his regular-season average of 52 receiving yards of per game to 157 in the playoff game against the Browns. This is what happens when Ben Roethlisberger throws deeper downfield. Lastly, one of Smith-Schuster’s best abilities during this season was availability as he played in all 16 games.

So forgive me if I’m not living in my fears. I’ve got better things to do like be appreciative of the Steelers’ future with guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster leading the team. There is no doubt the Steelers must resign him. It’s a no brainer. Smith-Schuster is the most senior Steelers’ receiver at just 24 years old. He has so much more to give to this organization. What would the Steelers do without the heart and soul of its receiving corps?

Why Larry Fitzgerald should be the Steelers top free agent target

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/13/2021 - 1:30pm
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Fitzgerald would offer so much more to the Steelers receivers than just his sure hands

The Pittsburgh Steelers are about to venture into an offseason that will be unlike anything this current regime has experienced in the past. Now, instead of retooling the roster and taking a crack at a Super Bowl run, Steelers general Manager Kevin Colbert will oversee the start of a new era. A lot of aging and declining veterans will be replaced by many new faces.

However, there is one position where the Steelers should turn to a more mature face. That position being wide receiver, and that player being long time Arizona Cardinals superstar Larry Fitzgerald.

.@LarryFitzgerald. Always a class act.

His Walter Payton Man of the Year speech was no different. #WPMOY (by @Nationwide)

: #NFLHonors Saturday 9pm ET on CBS

— NFL (@NFL) February 1, 2019

Now, you may be thinking to yourself why should the Steelers be spending money on a 37 (going on 38) year old Larry Fitzgerald. But the answer is really quite simple. This wide receiver group has never really had a mature, veteran leader teaching the young guys how to be men in the NFL. The perfect man for that job is Larry Fitzgerald. In fact, I would go as far to say no player in this league could challenge Fitzgerald as being a better man.

Just look at the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers. Their oldest receiver was 24 year old Diontae Johnson. The biggest influencing voice in the locker room was JuJu Smith-Schuster, who, in all honesty, focuses on his video game and TikTok career more than he does his NFL career. That influence is already seeping into the mind of Chase Claypool. The former Notre Dame stud receiver used to rarely post anything on social media, perhaps a highlight of him blocking someone every now and then, but since Steelers training camp, Claypool has posted more TikTok’s than he made receptions, and began documenting his life for his YouTube channel.

Sure, it’s great for his brand, and expanding his net income, but if you want to be a player in this league like Julio Jones or A.J. Brown, you better spend less time figuring out the next dance and more time prepping film or stretching.

Chase Claypool says the Browns won't last long in the playoffs.

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 11, 2021

Going back to Smith-Schuster, I want you to ask yourself who were his leaders in Pittsburgh when he got to town? The psychotic Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, who didn't want JuJu on the team from the moment he was drafted. How can you blame the guy for not having any discipline? He honestly doesn't know any better.

Enter Larry Fitzgerald.

If you search Fitzgerald on any social media you’ll notice one thing. He posts with some frequency, but it’s almost always about some cause he is fighting for, or appreciation posts about his teammates. Just go to his Instagram page and you’ll see that a good majority of his photos highlight someone other than himself.

Fitzgerald is a selfless leader, that won't spend all week coming up with touchdown celebrations. His touchdown celebration is handing the ball to the ref and running back to the bench...

It will not be easy to coax Fitzgerald away from the Cardinals, for whom he’s played with for 17 seasons, but I think the Steelers might have a tiny sliver of hope. The biggest factor is Fitzgerald played his college football within Heinz Field as a member of the Pittsburgh Panthers. He could end his career right where it started, and with the possibility of Smith-Schuster leaving town, Fitzgerald might actually receive more playing time than he would if he was playing in Arizona.

Our favorite wide receiver who was a Heisman Trophy finalist...

Larry Fitzgerald in 2003.

• 92 catches, 1672 yards, 22 TDs
• TD in EVERY regular season game#H2P@LarryFitzgerald

— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) January 6, 2021

As for a contract. His 2020 stats line up pretty closely with 2019 free agent Breshad Perriman. Who signed a deal worth 6.5 million dollars per year. Now, you have to factor in how contracts will drop because of the flat (at best) salary cap and Fitzgerald’s age. Then you would be looking somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.5 million dollars.

Long story short, you can make it fit.

This unit is in desperate need of some leadership, and there is no better leader, or locker room voice, than Larry Fitzgerald.

But what do you think? Do the Steelers need a veteran voice within its receiving unit? Is Larry Fitzgerald that guy? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.

218 sacks don’t mean much when the Steelers fail to get to the quarterback in the postseason

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/13/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

During the Steelers four straight seasons of leading the NFL in sacks, they have not registered any in a postseason game.

For the fourth straight season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have led the NFL in sacks, either outright or by virtue of a tie. The last time a team has recorded at least four straight seasons of 50 or more sacks, the final year of their streak was 1988. The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is doing something that hasn’t been seen in over 30 years. The only problem is, all their success in sacking the quarterback during the regular season has not extended into the playoffs.

If the Steelers can get 50 or more sacks next season, they will enter into a four-way tie for the most consecutive seasons since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. There are currently three teams who have had five consecutive seasons of 50 or more sacks, and they all three did it in the same time frame. The Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, and Washington Redskins all put up 50 or more sacks from 1983 to 1987. What sets the Steelers apart from these teams is they led the league in sacks all four years in which they went over 50 where the three previously mention teams, along with the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Raiders, and San Francisco 49ers who had four consecutive seasons of 50 or more sacks in the same time period, is they were teams flipping back-and-forth between which team had the lead for the league during those years.

From 1983 to 1988, sacking the quarterback was going wild in the NFL. Over the six seasons, they were 45 times in which an NFL team reached the 50 sack threshold including the Steelers in 1983. To put the amount of teams reaching 50 sacks in a six-year period into perspective, it would take going back to the 1999 season through the current 2020 season (22 years) in order to reach 45 teams that have reached 50 sacks (46 to be exact).

So in looking at how sacks in the NFL have changed in recent times, the Pittsburgh Steelers leading the league for four straight seasons, all of which were reaching 50 or more sacks, is quite the accomplishment. In fact, their lowest total over the last four years was 52 sacks in 2018.

The Steelers are also in the midst of a 73 consecutive regular-season game streak of recording at least one sack. The only mark which is better than this comes well before sacks were an official statistic, and even the NFL merger, as the Detroit Lions went 76 consecutive regular-season games with a sack from 1960 to 1965.

All these numbers and statistics sounds great as the Steelers defense has been stellar in this category for the last four years. But in the same time period, the Steelers have not registered a sack in the postseason in their two appearances. Granted it was only two games over this time, but had the Steelers been able to get to the quarterback in either of these two games it could have changed the outcome. Falling by three points to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 217, a sack at the right time could have made a very large difference. When it comes to the 2020 postseason, the Cleveland Browns did not convert a single third down longer than 6 yards. Had the Steelers put the Browns behind the chains by sacking Baker Mayfield even just one time in the first quarter, a scoring drive could have turned into a punt or a field goal.

When it comes to the Steelers setting records in the number of sacks they registered yet coming up empty in the postseason, it equates to so many other things. Ultimately it’s postseason success which means so much more than the regular season. The regular season is merely a means to get to the playoffs. If a team has 12 or 16 wins (or an 11 -game winning streak) and gets bounced out of the playoffs, did the regular-season success really matter?

Postseason football is an entirely different monster than the regular season. Every postseason game is a bigger stage than anything the regular season has to offer. Over the last four seasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has done a great job of getting to the quarterback. But on the biggest stage, the Steelers came up empty.

Conflicting reports, and failed interviews, have the Steelers front office in flux

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/13/2021 - 11:05am

Rumors are swirling of the Detroit Lions trying to lure Kevin Colbert away from the Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season was a giant disappointment. From an 11-0 start to a 12-4 finish, and one-and-done in the postseason, could have some players/personnel looking for a fresh start in 2021.

Of the people many wouldn’t expect would be looking to go elsewhere would be General Manager Kevin Colbert. Colbert, who admitted to taking his future with the Steelers organization year-to-year, has long been thought to retire before looking for employment elsewhere.

However, reports have been swirling of the Detroit Lions trying to lure Colbert away from the Steelers with lucrative offers.

This news came from multiple sites/sources on Wednesday:

REPORT: Detroit Lions are "close" to hiring Steelers GM Kevin Colbert away from Pittsburgh.

— 93.7 The Fan (@937theFan) January 13, 2021

#Lions GM search: Rumors heating up surrounding Steelers GM Kevin Colbert

— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) January 13, 2021

The news came as a shock to many of the Steelers’ global fan base, especially considering how successful Colbert has been in recent years via the NFL Draft. However, money talks and would the Lions be throwing enough money at Colbert to essentially give him a offer he can’t refuse?

According to sources close to the Steelers, the Lions have not received a formal request to negotiate with Colbert, something which has to take place before any type of negotiations begin.

This per Gerry Dulac, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Source: The Steelers have not received a request for permission from the Detroit Lions to speak to GM Kevin Colbert. They cannot talk to Colbert without the Steelers' consent.

— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) January 13, 2021

This story will definitely be one to keep an eye on in the coming days/weeks, but there was also other news within the Steelers’ front office. Omar Khan, the team’s salary cap guru, has now been on two separate interviews for General Manager positions, but hasn’t been able to get the job.

His first interview was with the Houston Texans, and reports were he was a finalist for the job before ownership decided to go in a different direction. The latest team to interview Khan was the Carolina Panthers, but he did not make the second round of interviews.

This per Brooke Pryor of ESPN:

Steelers exec Omar Khan not among those in the second round of GM interviews in Carolina

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) January 13, 2021

The Steelers front office could be in flux if Colbert and/or Khan are lost in one offseason. Needless to say, this story will be one to keep an eye on, so be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the offseason.

Podcast: Despite the disappointment, we still love our Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/13/2021 - 11:00am

In the spirit of brotherly love, siblings Dave and Rich Schofield break down all things surrounding the black-and-gold.

The Steelers’ season went down in flames in the last month and now that the 2020 season is officially over, there is so much uncertainty and disappointment surrounding the black-and-gold. But despite the disappointment, we will always love our Steelers. This will be just one of the subjects that will be discussed in the latest installment on the BTSC family of podcasts, The Scho Bro Show.

As always, it sure is a good time to get on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-Gold. On this show, Dave and Big Bro Scho break down all things Steelers, still talk stats, and also answer questions from fans!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Despite the disappointment, we still love our Steelers
  • Steelers Q&A

Dave and Rich walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

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

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE


Google Play: CLICK HERE

If you’re old-school and just want the audio, you can listen to it in the player below.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Maybe Ben Roethlisberger can’t do it alone anymore

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/13/2021 - 9:30am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

There comes a time in every NFL player’s life when he realizes he’s human, that he needs some help. Maybe Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has finally realized that at this stage of his career.

Imagine going into the playoffs on the cusp of your 39th birthday. You’re feeling pretty darn optimistic about your team’s chances as you prepare for your 11th postseason tournament.

It’s been a long time since you’ve gotten close to the Super Bowl, and even in that most-recent opportunity—a matchup against the juggernaut New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game four Januarys ago—your team felt like it was still miles away from getting back to the Promised Land.

But this year was going to be different. The time was ripe to capture that third ring, but more importantly, the seventh Lombardi trophy for your legendary organization.

This described the situation for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and what was at stake for him and his team this past Sunday evening against the Browns in a wildcard matchup at Heinz Field.

Things obviously didn’t go as planned for Roethlisberger and the Steelers. In fact, they went very wrong and very quickly in a 48-37 loss. You only get so many chances in the NFL, and the older a player gets, the less likely it will be for him to reach back up and grab that brass ring.

Some players spend years in the NFL and never come close to reaching the championship heights Roethlisberger experienced over his first seven seasons with the Steelers—four AFC Championship Game appearances, three trips to the Super Bowl and two parades.

When it comes that quickly and that many times, a player probably begins to take it for granted a little bit. He might not say it. He might not even think it, but it’s almost impossible not to.

Roethlisberger came into the league an excitable pup and was the missing ingredient for a veteran team that painfully came up short often when it was within arm’s reach of that championship ring.

By the time Pittsburgh reached its third Super Bowl following the 2010 season, most of the players that made up those glory years were old, slow and it was over. It was time for transition, an era of rebuilding. However, it’s hard to rebuild when you have a quarterback the caliber of a Roethlisberger. Those guys are usually too good to let their teams fall off a cliff totally. What happened for the Steelers in the decade of the 2010s was they rebuilt their team on the fly, knowing they had the most important piece already under their roof. But the team was never quite complete. Sure, there were All-Pros on offense—Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro. But not really any on the defensive side of the football.

The Steelers did finally rebuild their defense in 2019, but Roethlisberger missed most of that season with an elbow injury.

As for those offensive All-Pros, they’re mostly gone—some physically; some in terms of their current level of play—and there is now a transition taking place on that side of the ball. The offensive line is old and no longer an asset. The receivers are young and promising, but none of them have reached a level of consistent dominance even approaching what Brown did in his heyday. As for the ground game...that’s going to need some work.

People have been talking about the window for another championship with the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback closing for about a decade or so.

The fact that the Steelers have kept that window from totally closing post-2010 is rather remarkable, and it’s a testament to the talents of Mike Tomlin, the front office and Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger is now a veteran and the only player left from those Super Bowl years. You can say what you want about that guy, but you can’t say he’s not all about winning. It would have been easy for him to walk away after having major elbow surgery, but he came back to fight for another title.

It’s hard to win another title. It’s hard to repeat history. Just ask Tom Brady. It took his Patriots an entire decade to climb back up the Super Bowl mountain. Peyton Manning needed neck surgery, a new team and a dominant defense. Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees may never do it again.

Roethlisberger may finally be at the point of his career where he figures that maybe it’s just too hard to keep fighting the fight. His time may have already passed a long, long time ago. The NFL is a young man’s game. This is why Patrick Mahomes appears to be head and shoulders above every other quarterback in the NFL, right now, while the likes of Roethlisberger, Brady and Brees seem to be holding on to past glory.

Those tears Roethlisberger shed at the end of Sunday’s game were real. You could empathize with his plight. He’s no dummy. He knows his time is quickly running out.

In many ways, Roethlisberger seems to be following the same career path as the legendary John Elway. Ever see Elway’s reaction of disbelief on the sidelines when he knew his Broncos were about to get bounced from the divisional round of the playoffs by the upstart Jaguars following the 1996 season? That was a darn good Broncos team, and many wondered if that was the last hurrah for the veteran Elway, who, unlike Roethlisberger, had yet to get over the championship hump despite a few trips to the Super Bowl earlier in his career.

Fortunately for Elway, it was just the start for his revamped Broncos, and they helped to carry him to a couple of titles to close out his career.

Maybe that’s what Roethlisberger needs at this stage. If he’s going to keep playing, maybe he can’t be the man, the straw, the guy who carries the load.

Will that image of Roethlisberger crying at the end of the Browns’ game be the last we see of him in black and gold, or is there another parade or two?

Slow starts and the league’s worst run game doomed a once-promising Steelers season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/13/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

There were a lot of reasons for the Steelers’ demise, and it is time to boil down just what went wrong.

The dust has barely settled on Pittsburgh’s embarrassing 48-37 home playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday night. The Steelers have a host of big decisions to make in the coming months involving their slew of free agents and, likely, some members of their coaching staff. There is time to deliberate those on the pages of BTSC, in our podcasts and elsewhere. For now, though, we should take a minute to mourn the passing of a once-promising season that began with an historic 11-0 start only to see it wiped out like a sand castle in a tsunami.

How did it deteriorate like this?

The season-ending injuries on defense to Devin Bush and Bud Dupree certainly factored in. So too did the disruption of Pittsburgh’s schedule by the Covid issues in Tennessee and Baltimore. The real culprits, however, existed on offense, where a slew of glaring deficiencies caught up with the Steelers and were exposed, sensationally, for the world to see on Sunday night. Here are the most impactful ones, with some thoughts on how they may be remedied moving forward.

Slow starts on offense

The Steelers averaged just 3.6 points per first quarter this season, which ranked 28th in the NFL. That figure was buoyed a bit by the fact they scored two first-quarter defensive touchdowns. If you take those away, they ranked 31st. Beginning with game seven at Baltimore through Sunday’s playoff loss, they were outscored 58-18 in first quarters. Their opening drives over the final eleven games went like this: fumble, punt, punt, missed FG, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, fumble. They turned the ball over or went three-and-out on eight of those eleven opening possessions. They scored no points.

Their inability to start games quickly didn’t always doom them — they came back from big early deficits against Dallas, Baltimore and Indianapolis to win — but it certainly made things a lot harder. Sunday night’s game against Cleveland exposed their tight-wire act for what it was. When you fail to play a full sixty minutes of football against good opponents when the stakes are high, you leave yourself no margin for error. The Steelers dug themselves an unfathomable 28-0 hole by the end of the first quarter by playing about as poorly as could be imagined and committing the cardinal sins of playoff football: turning the ball over, being less physical than the opposition and failing to execute properly. They could not recover.

Unfortunately, this is not new for them in recent playoff games. In 2017, their last appearance, they fell behind 21-0 in the first twenty minutes to Jacksonville before losing 45-42. In 2016, they were down 10-0 after one quarter to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. They lost that game 36-17. With the debacle against Cleveland, the Steelers have been outscored 52-0 in the first quarter of their last three playoff games.

While the defense shares some of the blame for that abysmal statistic, especially the 2016-2017 units, the offense has been worse. They have turned the ball over four times in those three quarters, leading to 28 points by the opposition, while managing no points of their own. You can’t concede a quarter to your opponent in the playoffs and expect to win.

A big reason the Steelers have been unproductive on offense early in games is the fact they are so pass-heavy and so reliant on Ben Roethlisberger to carry them. If Roethlisberger falters, so does the offense.

Roethlisberger had one impressive first quarter this season, going 12-14 for 110 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee. The rest of the way, he was a cumulative 64-117 (54.7%) for 544 yards with two touchdowns, three interceptions and two fumbles. That includes going 3-6 for 20 yards and two interceptions on the Steelers first four possessions Sunday night.

Often, the Steelers opened games this season with a predictable menu of short, quick passes mixed with the occasional inside zone run. Defenses adjusted by crowding the box, pressing their receivers and daring them to throw deep. When they could not, the offense often flailed around ineffectively, wasting valuable possessions, before discovering an alternative.

Roethlisberger has demonstrated time and again that he improves as a game progresses. The more he sees from a defense, the better he gets. He’s old for a pro quarterback, too, and seems to take a while to get loosened up. Knowing this, it would make sense for the Steelers to try to run the ball better early in games to let Roethlisberger get acclimated and to open up passing lanes down the field. Unfortunately, this was much easier said than done.

You Can’t Win in January With the League’s Worst Rushing Attack

The run game, as the heading indicates, was awful. The Steelers averaged just 84.4 yards per game for the season, which was last in the league and the lowest in team history. It was effective early on, as the Steelers averaged a respectable 130 yards per game in their first six contests. It fell off a cliff thereafter. Pittsburgh closed the season averaging just over 50 rushing yards in their final eleven games.

The culprits for its demise are many. The inability to push the football down the field in the passing game, as mentioned above, was a huge factor. Pittsburgh finished 25th in the league at 6.1 yards per pass attempt, which meant they saw a lot of “quarters” and man-coverage with safeties cheating down into the box.

Also, between injuries and Covid issues, the line got banged up. The Steelers had to shuffle pieces, moving tackle Matt Feiler to guard, shuttling rookie Kevin Dotson in and out of the lineup and playing reserves J.C. Hassenhauer, Derwin Gray and Jerald Hawkins. The play of veterans David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva and Maurkice Pouncey fell off, too. While all three remained solid pass protectors and could still move in space, none could get a push at the line of scrimmage, virtually nullifying the interior run game. The Steelers’ lacked a true speed back to turn the corner on sweep and outside zone plays as well. So, without the power to run inside or the speed to capture the edge, their options were slim.

This play from the first quarter Sunday night typified their struggles. On a 3rd and 1 from their own 35 yard line trailing 14-0, they ran fullback Derek Watt on a dive play straight up the gut. Pouncey, who has been so good for so long but now, ten years into his career, with a playing weight probably closer to 280 pounds than the 305 at which the Steelers list him, got blown up by defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. Ogunjobi won vertical leverage, got his hands inside on Pouncey and drove him back into Watt. It certainly did not help that offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner called this exact same play, out of the exact same formation, on a 3rd and 1 on Pittsburgh’s previous drive. Cleveland was not surprised at all to see Watt get the ball again. Still, had Pouncey not been manhandled, the play had a chance to succeed.

There is no question the Steelers need to address the offensive line in this year’s draft. They have drafted just one lineman, Chuks Okorafor, in the first three rounds since 2012. They have been relying on undrafted free agents (Villanueva, Feiler) and mid-to-late round picks (Dotson, Gray, Hawkins, Wesley Johnson) ever since. Some of those they’ve hit on, some they’ve missed. But to truly upgrade the line, they will have to spend a high draft pick there like they did when they took Pouncey (2010) and DeCastro (2012) in the first round.

As for the backfield, James Conner is a free agent and may not be re-signed. While Conner is an effective receiver, he has not shown he can stay healthy or carry the load in a way the Steelers prefer at the running back position. They may let him walk, elevate Benny Snell Jr. in the running back rotation and look to fill Conner’s role with another high draft pick.

Then there’s the play-calling to consider. It seems unlikely Randy Fichtner will survive the meltdown of the past two months. As much as the Steelers stress stability in their organization, a league-worst run game and an offense that regressed terribly throughout the season seems damning to Fichtner’s case.

Heading into the season, it seemed the best recipe for success for the offense was to surround the aging Roethlisberger with a great defense and an effective run game, ala Peyton Manning in his Denver days. The Steelers did attempt to introduce a few wrinkles early on by implementing some of the motions and formations quarterbacks coach Matt Canada brought with him from the college ranks. Roethlisberger did not seem particularly fond of them, however, and by mid-season the Steelers were back to lining up in static 11 personnel sets and having him sling the rock forty-some times a game. Fichtner did not seem capable of devising an alternative.

There is no guarantee Roethlisberger will be back in 2021. If he is, he will be 39 years old. Pouncey and DeCastro will be a year older, too. Juju Smith-Schuster, Conner and Villanueva are all likely to be gone in free agency and the Steelers will be so capped-out they will be hard-pressed to replace them with quality players. Running the same offense next season, with the same coordinator, seems untenable. The Steelers must make changes to their personnel, philosophy and scheme in order to be successful.

What will those changes look like? It’s too early to say. Whatever they do, the Steelers must invest in their run game and must find a way to play sixty minutes of football consistently rather than falling behind early and scrambling to catch up. That’s a difficult recipe for success, especially come playoff time. The Steelers learned that the hard way, again, on Sunday night.

Steelers Vertex: Third down defense changes script vs. the Browns

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/13/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Steelers getting off the field on third down in their Wild Card Game had more to do with the previous two plays.

The Steelers 2020 postseason came to a conclusion almost as soon as it started. While it was a game most Steelers fans would like to forget, there are still some things which can be learned from the experience. With that said, it’s vertex time.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

The topic at hand this week is looking at the Steelers success, or lack thereof, in defending third down plays against the Browns Sunday night. There was good, there was bad, and there was definitely a pattern.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

The stats this week are going to be pretty precise and to the point. The Browns were officially 6 of 14 when it came to third down conversion against the Steelers on Sunday night. In looking at practical terms, I will use the numbers 6 of 13 because one of the third-down plays was a kneel down to end the game. So the Steelers gave up 6 third-down conversions while stopping the Browns on 7 occasions. When it comes to these plays, there was a obvious number with stuck out above anything else.

When looking at the distance the Browns were faced with when it came to third down, it was completely dependent on their success. With the Steelers sometimes known for giving up long third-down conversions, this was not the case Sunday night. Every time the Browns were faced with a third down and 8 yards or more, they were unsuccessful in converting the play. In fact, there was only one of the 5 third-down plays of 8 yards or more in which the Browns even gained any yards. Baker Mayfield was 0/4 on pass attempts on 3rd & 8 or above. The only positive yardage play the Browns had was a 13 yard run on a 3rd & 21 in the second quarter.

Where the Browns began to have success was when fewer yards were needed for the conversion. The Browns faced 3rd and 6 three times on the night and converted one of the three. Their only conversion was a 6-yard run by Baker Mayfield in the second quarter. The other two plays on 3rd & 6 were an incomplete pass and a 2-yard run by Nick Chubb with three minutes remaining in the game when the Browns were more worried about running clock than achieving the first down.

When the Browns were faced with 3rd & 5 or less, they converted all five of their attempts and scored two touchdowns. The Browns ran on 3rd & 3 in the first quarter where Kareem Hunt went 8 yards for a touchdown. Baker Mayfield was 4/4 for 77 yards on 3rd & 5 or less, which also included a 40-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry.

In essence, when the Browns were 3rd & 5 or less they converted and continued their drive or, even worse, scored a touchdown. When the Browns had 6 yards to go they were 1 of 3 with the only conversion being a quarterback run. When the Steelers were able to keep the Browns in 3rd & 8 or more, they stopped them on all 5 attempts.

So what does this mean? That’s up to Geoffrey to answer by breaking down the film.

The Film Line:

The gap in success for the Browns on third down isn’t hard to explain, it all starts with the run game.

1st quarter, 2:01, 3rd and 3. Kareem Hunt is the running back.

The Browns are first, and foremost, a running team. They do a great job running the ball, and they have two Pro Bowl backs to spread the carries between. The run threat for the Browns is key to their offense, and their incredible success on 3rd & 5 or less against the Steelers.

The problem with 3rd & 5 or less is the Browns willingness to go for it on 4th and 2. With 2 yards or less to go on 4th down, the Browns went for it 14 out of 21 times this season. The conversion rate wasn’t spectacular, but their willingness to try boosts the run threat on third down substantially.

1st quarter, 9:55, 3rd and 4. Jarvis Landry is in motion to start the play.

The key to this play is Minkah Fitzpatrick and Mike HIlton. Hilton is in man, and follows Landry’s motion. Hilton hurries to get outside leverage on Landry, and gets beat inside. There’s a reason he was going for outside leverage, and that is Minkah Fitzpatrick is playing the hook/slant zone. The problem is, Minkah Fitzpatrick is up on the line of scrimmage because of the threat of a run, and has to drop to that zone from right at the line of scrimmage. That lets Baker Mayfield throw the ball right over his head to Landry, who shakes both Edmunds and Hilton to score.

Baker Mayfield is really good on play action passes and on short yardage downs. When the run game is setting him up for success, he does a great job of taking advantage.

2nd quarter, 1:28, 3rd and 6.

At 3rd & 6, the Steelers aren’t as worried about the run, they cover and rush. On this play Mayfield is able to scramble and takes a hit to get the first down, but that was the only first down the Browns would convert of 6 yard or longer.

4th quarter, 14:24, 3rd and 2. Jarvis Landry is the second receiver from the top, Robert Spillane is lined up across from him.

This play has gotten a lot of attention because of the linebacker on a receiver, but look at Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Steelers are essentially doubling Jarvis Landry on this play, relying on Minkah Fitzpatrick to help Spillane shut down the Browns #1 receiver. Teams did this to Antonio Brown when the Steelers moved him inside, they would put a bigger player on him, with help to either side from defensive backs. This isn’t Spillane vs Landry straight up.

The problem is Fitzpatrick is also worried about T.J. Watt if his route goes inside, and he bites on that route with a nice shoulder and head fake, Landry lands his patented push off on Spillane and he’s open.

The reason the Steelers are in trouble here is the Browns are in a heavy set with one wide receiver in the game. If they bring Sutton inside to cover Landry and have both Spillane and Watt way outside the box, you are begging for a quick rub route or a quarterback keeper for the first down. They only need 2 yards. The Steelers answer is to leverage Minkah Fitzpatrick, and this time it didn’t work.

The Point:

In order for the Steelers to have success against the Cleveland Browns on third down in their playoff matchup, it was winning early on first and second down to set up a longer chance which made the difference each time. With the Browns failing to convert anything longer than 6 yards, it was the threat of the running game which opened up their short passing attack and allowed for conversions. Had the Steelers kept the Browns behind the chains on early downs, whether by stops or even the rare playoff sack, they might have been able to hold them off enough late in the game to complete to come back.

Vegas lays down odds on Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, and more

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/13/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, and you can let the speculation begin. And, of course, Vegas has odds on that speculation.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were considered Super Bowl favorites at one time, but now their season has unceremoniously ended. After another one-and-done postseason, this time losing to the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card round of the AFC Playoffs, the Steelers enter an extremely uncertain offseason.

There are questions about coaching changes, mainly for offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, questions surrounding free agents like JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner and Mike Hilton, and also the potential retirements of people like Maurkice Pouncey, Alejandro Villanueva or Ben Roethlisberger.

Of course, those who pay attention to gambling odds know Vegas never misses an opportunity to create some odds. They’ve done that with the Steelers, now that their season is over, mainly with the potential retirement of Roethlisberger.

But there’s more...

There are also odds on if the Steelers will take a quarterback in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and even odds on them landing Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson if he does indeed want out of his current situation.

Check out the latest odds on all that, and more, below: (All of the below odds are courtesy of BetOnline):

Will Ben Roethlisberger retire?

Yes +300 (3/1)

No -500 (1/5)

Will the Pittsburgh Steelers draft a QB in round 1 in 2021 NFL Draft?

Yes +250 (5/2)

No -400 (1/4)

Deshaun Watson Next Team IF Traded

Dolphins 2/1

Patriots 7/2

Jets 4/1

Bears 11/2

Colts 6/1

49ers 10/1

Washington 10/1

Eagles 12/1

Lions 18/1

Saints 20/1

Steelers 20/1

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for a turbulent offseason.

Podcast: Steelers plunge into an offseason filled with uncertainty

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/13/2021 - 4:30am

Jeff Hartman brings an AM studio show to the BTSC family of podcasts with the latest episode of “Let’s Ride“.

With the 2020 season over and the Pittsburgh Steelers failing to add a seventh Lombardi trophy to their collection, all eyes turn to 2021. But with the Steelers going all-in last season, this team will not look the same and many changes will be on the horizon. 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 co-editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • 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


Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Eric Ebron tests positive for COVID-19, was the player who caused the facility to shut down

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/12/2021 - 8:55pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers had to close down their facility due to a player testing positive for COVID-19. That player was Eric Ebron.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, this after the embarrassing loss in the Wild Card round of the AFC Playoffs to the Cleveland Browns, but the drama surrounding the team, and the 2020 season, is far from over.

Just a few hours after the loss to the Browns, it was reported the Steelers would have to close their facility due to a player testing positive for COVID-19. As the league conducted their typical contact tracing efforts, the Steelers have had to be away from the facility.

This meant a delay on players cleaning out their lockers, a delay on the exit interviews and many other facets which come along with the end of the year procedures.

According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the player who tested positive was none other than tight end Eric Ebron.

TE Eric Ebron played in Sunday's playoff loss after missing the regular-season finale in Cleveland because he was on the Reserve/Covid-19 list as a close contact. He tested positive on Monday, forcing the Steelers to close their South Side facility to players and coaches.

— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) January 13, 2021

Ebron missed the Steelers’ Week 17 game vs. the Browns after being a high risk contact with Joe Haden, who had tested positive for COVID-19. After that initial news, it shouldn’t come as a shock Ebron tested positive.

With the season over, Ebron’s positive test result means very little for the organization. Withe players being permitted to go about their lives as normal, not having to worry about a positive test impact an upcoming game, once the facility opens up the players will be going through those aforementioned procedures as usual.

The hope is Ebron doesn’t have a severe case of COVID-19, and there hasn’t been any other spread throughout the rest of the players, coaches and staff of the organization. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the rest of what could be a turbulent offseason.

Steelers start their roster moves by releasing Trey Edmunds

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/12/2021 - 4:03pm
Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made one of what will be many offseason moves.

With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ season officially over, you can expect them to start the process of rebuilding, and deconstructing, their offseason roster. Many will be signed, and many will be released.

For most players the team knows they are going to part ways with, they let them go as soon as possible. Why? To give them a head start on finding a new job elsewhere. Even though the Steelers’ season ended just 48 hours ago, the process has already begun.

The first player to be released? None other than running back Trey Edmunds.

We have waived RB Trey Edmunds.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 12, 2021

Edmunds, the brother of Terrell Edmunds, has bounced on and off the roster for the past two seasons. This year Edmunds did not register a carry as a running back, but did get a helmet on game day five separate occasions. In those five games, playing primarily special teams, Edmunds failed to register a tackle in any game.

With that said, Edmunds does have experience in an NFL offense. In 2019, with the Steelers, he had 22 carries for 92 yards, with 45 of those yards coming on one run.

Edmunds is the type of player who the Steelers will keep an eye on if he doesn’t land anywhere. They are giving him a chance to find a place with more playing time, but if he doesn’t find a home, and the Steelers have a need, they could bring him back closer to the start of the 2021 season.

Again, this move will be one of many in the coming months, so be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.

Steelers Burning Questions: Hall of Fame Quarterback Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/12/2021 - 3:00pm
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Like it or not, the next season hinges on this topic .

It is something we knew would come, but we also hoped it would be accompanied by another Lombardi trophy. But as I have mentioned in a rant, or three, the Pittsburgh Steelers are at a crossroads in terms of the future of this franchise. At stake is the possibility of keeping more of the nucleus of the team together by cutting the Hall of Fame quarterback.

Ben Roethlisberger is set to make $40 plus million in 2021, and if Ben is cut $19 plus million in cap space is gained. I’m not saying it is an easy decision, because Ben has meant plenty to this organization and to the fan base, but the question needs to be asked. Let’s not forget how Troy Polamalu was once pushed into retirement?

Time to get to some burning questions...

Would Art Rooney ll and co. do the unthinkable and nudge Ben Roethlisberger into retirement?

There is also the possibility that Ben Roethlisberger decides he has played his last game for the Black and Gold and hangs up his cleats and helmet.

Do you believe Ben walks away on his own and at this point and time what percentage would you give this scenario?

Then there is scenario number three where Ben decides to come back and play out the remainder of his contract.

Would you be on board if Ben wanted to finish out the remainder of his contract for one more run? Is one more run even a legit possibility?

Behind The Steel Curtain, let us know what you think in the comment section

Go Steelers!

As the Steelers venture toward an uncertain offseason, plenty of questions arise

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/12/2021 - 1:30pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

BTSC’s deputy editor shares his thoughts as the Steelers begin there path toward uncertainty.

The 2020 season is over, and in the coming days you're going to see a ton of content about what went wrong during this past year, but I wanted to look ahead at the offseason to come and how I anticipate the Pittsburgh Steelers will wade through murky water. To be blunt, the next couple months are probably going to suck. For the first time in a long time, you're going to see the Steelers roster regress. But, if the Steelers stay the course and not bow to public pressure, they can bring themselves back to prominence faster than you may anticipate.

The biggest factor of the offseason hinges on whether Ben Roethlisberger decides to come back in 2021 or not. The 38 year old gunslinger has 41 million reasons to come back next year, and I would anticipate that makes his decision a lot easier. The Steelers also aren't going to draft a quarterback with the 24th selection of the draft either. Why you ask? Drafting a quarterback with any pick, for the purposes of starting, after the 15th selection of the draft, reeks of desperation and places teams in a cycle of mediocrity.

Look no further than the Cleveland Browns for the prime example. Before the Browns drafted Baker Mayfield first overall, they traded back into the first round on a number of occasions to draft the likes of Deshone Kiser, Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weldon, and Brady Quinn to guide their struggling franchise. All they found were sub-par quarterbacks and no playoff appearances.

First/second round QBs taken after the 13th pick since 2013
Jordan Love
Jalen Hurts
Dwayne Haskins
Drew Lock
Lamar Jackson
DeShone Kiser
Paxton Lynch
Christian Hackenberg
Johnny Manziel
Teddy Bridgewater
Derek Carr
Jimmy Garoppolo
EJ Manuel
Geno Smith

— Michael Beck (@MichaelBeck56) January 11, 2021

When you look at the 2021 NFL Draft their are some sure fire names that will go within the Top-12 picks of the draft: Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance. Then New England at 16 could reach for someone like Mac Jones, leaving Kyle Trask as the next highest rated quarterback on most experts’ boards. Now, do you really want the Steelers to draft the guy no one else wanted? Is that really the guy you think will bring the Steelers back into Super Bowl games? I think you already know the answer to that, and with so many other positions needing to be addressed through the draft you should practically be begging for Ben Roethlisberger to return for one more season.

Don't waste your time looking at free agents/trade targets either, as the Steelers just don't have any more available money to invest in their quarterback position.

Looking at the rest of the offensive ‘skill players’ the most prominent free agents, Juju Smith-Schuster and James Conner, are virtual locks to walk in free agency. Sure, the Steelers might be able to swindle Conner for a cheap deal, but the guy just can't stay healthy. For the receivers, the Steelers would be wise to bring in an older receiver just to teach the rest of the youngsters how to be men in the NFL. On top of that, I predict the Steelers will once again draft a running back for a fifth consecutive year. You can't have the lowest total yards and the lowest yards per carry in the league and not address the position. Alabama running back Najee Harris’ name has been tied to the Steelers for months now, and might just end up being the player the Steelers go with.

28. #Steelers - RB Najee Harris, Alabama

The most no-brainer pick after No. 1 overall. Harris immediately gives Pittsburgh a run game and helps in the passing game with his excellent football IQ and receiving ability.

— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 7, 2021

As for tight ends Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald I would anticipate both players getting released as the Steelers can save a ton of money, for a relatively small impact. Much like how I begged the Steelers to make a deal for Avery Williamson, I will again beg for them to trade for Zach Ertz as a very cheap one year option who could have one good year left in him. At the very least, he catches the ball. Tight End is a position the Steelers will need to consider drafting further down the line, but having an experienced like like Ertz for a low cost of $4 million should pay dividends.

The offensive line is the last individual position group I will spend some time on. The state of the line is in a very rough place. Maurkice Pouncey snaps have become inconsistent, and was consistently manhandled at the point of attack. Alejandro Villanueva was a straight up liability at times this year. While rumors spread of either players potential retirement, the organization might be forced to push them out the door. David DeCastro was clearly playing injured all season, he must patch himself back up and return to his All-Pro level form. As for Matt Feiler, Zach Banner, and Chukwuma Okorafor, they're welcome back, but it's going to have to be on cheap deals. The offensive line needs an overhaul and if the Steelers don't invest substantial draft capital into the spot they're making a massive mistake.

Defensive free agents Bud Dupree, and Mike Hilton will likely be offered way more money to play elsewhere. Losing these players will sting, but the Steelers are on the door step of a complete rebuild. Adding two third-round compensatory picks (Dupree and Smith-Schuster) and potentially a fourth from Hilton would rapidly speed up this process.

Vince Williams and Joe Haden are potential cap casualties unless they're willing to take pay cuts. Either man is a heart and soul type guy for their position group, and the Steelers need to try to find ways to keep them in black and gold. The Steelers need to try to keep this defense together the best they can as the core of T.J. Watt, Devin Bush, and Minkah Fitzpatrick will spearhead the group for at least the next ten years.

If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s that the Steelers currently have over $171 million in 2022 salary cap, and with two years of good drafting could once again be hunting Lombardi trophies as soon as that year. But to get to that point the Steelers can't rock the ship chasing a Super Bowl that seems out of hand in 2021, or desperately chasing quarterback replacements this offseason.

As for the coaching staff, there is no feasible way the Steelers return offensive coordinator, Randy Fitchner. His time is Pittsburgh has come to an end and the search for the next OC might just begin in-house, but I would imagine the Steelers would bring someone in externally. As for a new head coach the Steelers would be so far behind the eight ball that canning Mike Tomlin would be a monumental mistake. Much like the quarterback class of 2021, the best coaches have already been interviewed and deals for those candidates are being drafted as you read this. The bottom line is the Steelers won't be making any earth shattering decisions this year.

The night is darkest before the dawn. Unfortunately, the Steelers have yet to reach its darkest moment. But turning on a flash light won't won't light up the night sky, in fact it tends to draw in mosquitoes and predators. We must all stay the course, and together we will emerge on the other side.

Steelers rookies leave their mark in a strange first season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/12/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

With the most non-traditional offseason imaginable, several of the Steelers rookies still managed to stand out in their first season.

In what has been an extremely strange year for a majority of the world, 2020 made for an unusual NFL season. Starting with hardly any pro days leading into the virtual NFL draft, offseason workouts and team activities simply did not happen until players arrived for a very unusual training camp. Affected most among these players were those new to the NFL, both drafted and undrafted. With limited opportunities to earn playing time, rookies found themselves up against the wall in many cases.

When it came specifically to the Pittsburgh Steelers, they entered the season with the expectation of not relying on their rookie class for their 2020 success. With no first-round pick due to the trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Steelers appeared to be in a place where any contribution from rookies would just be icing on the cake for the season.

So was it vanilla or chocolate icing? Or something fancy like cream cheese? Because the Steelers ended up with solid production from their 2020 rookie class despite the challenges they faced this past offseason.

Two players from the Steelers 2020 draft class landed on Pro Football Focus’ All Rookie Team. Third-round draft pick Alex Highmith was one of two edge rushers while fourth-round selection Kevin Dotson made the team at guard.

PFF's All-Rookie DL

— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 4, 2021

PFF's All-Rookie OL

— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 4, 2021

Highsmith played in all 16 games for the Steelers in 2020 and started the final five regular-season contests as well as the Steelers playoff game before leaving with an ankle injury. Taking over for the injured Bud Dupree, Highsmith finished the regular season with an interception, 2.0 sacks, 6 quarterback hits, 5 tackles for loss, and 48 total tackles.

Fourth-round draft pick Kevin Dotson appeared in 13 regular season games in his rookie year and started four throughout the season. PFF‘s top rated guard when it comes to pass protection in 2020, it was highly controversial when the Steelers chose to start and play Matt Feiler at left guard after returning from injury when Dotson had started the final two games of the season and played very well. Regardless of his usage in 2020, Dotson looks to be the anchor of the Steelers offensive line for years to come.

Missing from PFFs All Rookie Team is the Steelers top draft choice from 2020 in second-round pick Chase Claypool. Although leading all rookies in receiving touchdowns (9), Claypool was edged out by the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson, the 49ers’ Brandon Aiyuk, and the Bengals’ Tee Higgins. Regardless of where he fell on the PFF team, Chase Claypool tied the Steelers rookie record in receiving touchdowns (9) and total touchdowns (11). Both marks were tied with Louis Lipps in 1984 and the total touchdowns also is tied with Franco Harris in 1972.

Claypool finished the regular season appearing in all 16 games where he had 873 receiving yards along with his nine receiving touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. In the Steelers Wild Card Game, Claypool added another five receptions for 59 yards and two more touchdowns.

Another rookie many may have overlooked for the Steelers is undrafted rookie free agent James Pierre out of Florida Atlantic. Not only did Pierre make the team in a limited training camp setting, he was active for every game in 2020. Playing primarily on special teams, Pierre logged 18 defensive snaps at cornerback in the Steelers Week 17 game which was twice as many as he had over the entire course of the 2020 season. In the Steelers postseason game, Pierre was used in dime packages over cornerback Justin Layne and appears to be a player the Steelers will continue to develop in years to come.

When looking solely at draft picks, the Steelers had every player from the 2020 NFL draft log snaps in their rookie season. Although some would look at the rookie season of fourth-round running back Anthony McFarland Jr. as a disappointment, whether it be production or usage, he did appear in 11 games and rushed for 113 yards on 33 carries. McFarland was a healthy scratch for the Steelers playoff loss.

Antoine Brooks Jr., the sixth-round safety out of Maryland, started the season on the practice squad but ended up on the active roster after being elevated twice earlier this season. Although inactive in many cases in 2020, Brooks appeared in four games and played almost half the defensive snaps in the Steelers Week 10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Steelers’ seventh-round draft pick Carlos Davis was seen as a project pick by many when he was selected in the 2020 draft. Making the Steelers 53-man roster to start the season, Davis was inactive the majority of his rookie year but was used in seven games over the last half of the season as well as being active for the Steelers playoff game. Davis played a total of 54 defensive snaps in 2020 where he logged one tackle for loss on six total tackles.

As the Steelers move into the 2021 offseason, there will be many tough personnel decisions which will have to be made before the NFL‘s new league year in March. Whether or not the Steelers are going to fight to retain most of their 2020 team or shift into a bit of rebuild mode, the Steelers are able to move forward with the knowledge that several of the 2020 rookie class have shown they will be key contributors to this team in years to come.


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