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Austin Ekeler is not Melvin Gordon, but do not dismiss his talent

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 12/02/2018 - 11:18am

Even without Melvin Gordon, the Steelers could have their hands full with Austin Ekeler.

Pittsburgh Steelers fans breathed a sigh of relief earlier this week when Melvin Gordon, the star running back for the Los Angeles Chargers, was ruled out. Gordon, the fourth year back out of Wisconsin will miss the Steelers game tonight due to a sprained MCL he suffered in last Sunday’s 45-10 win against the Arizona Cardinals. Gordon is sixth in the NFL in rushing yards with 802 and fourth in the league with nine rushing touchdowns to go along with 453 yards receiving and four more touchdowns. Pittsburgh fans should not jump the gun too fast and dismiss the next man up for the Bolts, Austin Ekeler.

In 2017, the former Western State Mountaineer went undrafted even though he had over 7,000 yards rushing and receiving combined and 63 touchdowns in his four-year career at the small Division II school. The 23-year-old will look to punish another team for dismissing his ability due to his 5-10 200 size or the level of competition he faced while in college.

Once a player leaves college, the stats there are meaningless and now what counts is what a player has done in the pros. That is where Steelers fans should be uneasy.

Ekeler has a career 5.7 yards per carry average which is buoyed by his 5.8 yards per carry average on 117 carries in 2018. His value does not end there. Ekeler also has 32 reception on 39 targets so far in 2018 to go along with his four total touchdowns.

Ekeler is coming off a career-best in Week 12 with 10 receptions for 68 yards on 11 targets to go along with five rushes for 35 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals. Justin Jackson did split carries with Ekeler and was also effective with seven carries for 57 yards. Those are hefty averages when looking at a Cardinals defense that has yielded 3.5 yards per carry with their sixth-best run defense unit in the NFL.

It would thrill steelers fans for Ekeler to have a similar mediocre game like the one he had in Week 7 when he started for an injured Gordon. Against the leagues fourth-best defense against the run, the Tennessee Titans, Ekeler rushed 12 times for 42 yards and caught five passes for 26 yards while snaring five of seven passes for 26 yards. Ekeler had an 11-yard rush and completion as he was bottled up for most of the day as he was kept out of the endzone.

There has only been speculation on how Ekeler will be used by the Chargers tonight or how effective his presence will be. How ready will the Steelers and their fifth-ranked defense in yards allowed be against the 8-3 Chargers? Will the Steelers be fired up or hung over from their Mile High loss last week to the Denver Broncos? Can the Steelers do a better job at containing Ekeler then the 110 yards given up to Philip Lindsay last week? Both teams are in the playoff hunt and look to solidify their position within the playoff scenarios.

Will Ekeler rub the Steelers’ noses in the fact that they bypassed him in the draft? Or will he reassure Pittsburgh fans that GM Kevin Colbert was right to seek talent elsewhere?

Report: Steelers ILB Ryan Shazier jogged on Friday for the first time

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 12/02/2018 - 10:00am

A must-read for all fans everywhere as the Holiday season begins

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Ryan Shazier have been an inspirational story from the moment Shazier laid flat on the Paul Brown Stadium turf in December 2017. Shazier, who suffered a severe spinal chord injury on the Monday night game vs. the Cincinnati Bengals, football fans everywhere have been mesmerized with Shazier’s astounding progress.

Whether it was his social media post standing next to Ben Roethlisberger, or him delivering the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first round draft pick selection of Terrell Edmunds at the 2018 NFL Draft.

Every step of the way, literally, has been inspirational, and as of December 1st there is news on Shazier’s continued progress. All football fans everywhere received what may be the best gift of all - hope - as the Holiday season kicks off with Hanukkah this evening. From this morning’s Post-Gazette:

In the year since [Ryan] Shazier was strapped to a backboard and carted to an ambulance at Paul Brown Stadium, he went from a hospital bed to a wheelchair, then a walker, then two canes, and then one. Now he wears a bracelet that reads “Walking Miracle.” Shazier moves along the Steelers sideline during practices and games, walking with only a slightly halting gait.

Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter said Shazier jogged on Friday for the first time since the injury.

The rest is a wonderful article about all the things you want to know: the young man, the injury, the team, the linebacker room, etc. But that’s the magical, wonderful, make-your-Holiday gist.

We hope fans of the black-and-gold can refrain from the debate of whether Shazier should, or shouldn’t, ever return to football if his health allows him, but instead focus on one very importance of the fact Shazier is approaching one year from his partial paralysis, and is now starting to job.

Always SHALIEVE!

Bold and bizarre predictions for Steelers vs. Chargers, Week 13

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 12/02/2018 - 9:47am

BTSC’s Nostradumbass predicts the Steelers’ upcoming game vs. the Chargers.

The 7-3-1 Steelers had a six-game streak snapped last week at Broncos’ Field at Mile High. This week they return home to take on another dangerous team from the AFC West. Will James Conner have sandwich grabbers of glue? Will Melvin Gordon’s absence even matter with Austin Ekeler spelling him? Will Ben Roethlisberger throw a pick inside the five again? Unlike Jim Nantz, will Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth take the time to learn the correct pronunciation of the name Fichtner?

With these questions, storylines, and more, I’ve compiled a list of predictions (some basic, and some utterly idiotic) to look for in this Week 13 contest:

  • Ben Roethlisberger does not go sack or interception-free, as rookie-sensation Derwin James grabs one. However, he puts up three scores and 350 yards in a mostly-dominant fashion.
  • James Conner controls the game by accumulating over 150 total yards, scoring a TD and successfully going fumbleless. Conner reveals that Mike Tomlin made him carry a football around a la Darnell Jefferson in the 1993 football flick, The Program. This revelation proves ironic due to Tomlin’s alleged resemblance to the man that portrayed Jefferson’s coach...James Caan,

*Note: I know Omar Epps played Jefferson and Tomlin has been said to be a doppelgänger of the actor. I just wanted for the odd twist at the end.

  • Antonio Brown joins JuJu in the 1K club for the 2018 season. After his first of two scores, he screams out, “Still not the captain”.
  • At halftime at a local Steak and Shake, “He Who Shall Not Be Named” performs his latest rap single, “My Hands Are Glue” to confused employees and patrons that just want to enjoy a nice Wisconsin Butter Burger.
  • Because commemorating the 37th birthday of Britney Spears would require a difficult costume change into a catholic school uniform, JuJu Smith-Schuster instead rejoices a touchdown by pouring a bucket of slime over the head of Ramon Foster in tribute to the 41st anniversary of the launching of a television network called Pinwheel. Pinwheel later became known as Nickelodeon.
  • Sean Davis = Pick Six
  • Ola Adenyi gets his first sack of the season. Or does he? James Harrison is seen stalking the young linebacker and No. 92’s moves look eerily similar.
  • Melvin Gordon’s absence proves to be of little advantage as Austin Ekeler proves shifty and difficult to tackle. Ekeler gets over 100.
  • Despite another stellar passer rating, The defense gets to immobile “Old Man” Rivers five times.
  • Joe Haden feels at home, chopping down another tree of an opponent in Keenan Allen. This performance costs No. 23 the role of parade marshall for the Three Rivers Arbor Day Parade.
  • In the end, the Steelers win 42-38 in Prime Time to clinch another winning season for Coach Tomlin.

...................

Will any of this actually happen? I’ll bet at least one or two. Heck, maybe every one of them. Be sure to post your predictions — basic or bizarre — below.

Crunching the Numbers: The Pittsburgh Steelers’ first-quarter woes

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 12/02/2018 - 8:38am

The Steelers’ offense has been feast or famine during the first 15 minutes of each game.

To say the 2018 Steelers have struggled in the first quarter of each game holds a good amount truth. But according to the numbers, the more offensive production from the Steelers to start the game, the better the final outcome. Coupled with the Steelers’ success at home in December, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

4

The Steelers have only scored points in the first quarter in four their 11 games in 2018. In those four games, they are 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 16.25 points. In games the Steelers fail to score in the opening period, they are 3-3-1.

7

The Steelers have scored a total of seven touchdowns in the first quarter on the season. Of those seven touchdowns, four of them came on Ben Roethlisberger passes, two were James Conner rushes, and one was a Vince Williams pick six.

0/2 and 5/7

The opening period has not been kind to Chris Boswell in 2018. He has yet to make a first-quarter field goal with misses of 49 yards against Kansas City, and a block from 48 yards last week in Denver. In Boswell’s defense, any time a field goal is pushing the 50-yard mark it is not completely unusual when unsuccessful. But adding the fact Boswell has missed two PAT‘s, Steeler fans have been collectively holding their breath every time the field goal unit is on the field in the first 15 minutes.

2

In only two games in 2018 have the Steelers scored points on multiple possessions in the first quarter. In both games, the Steelers actually scored touchdowns in every position of the opening period. In those games, both at home against NFC South opponents, the Steelers margin of victory was 24 and 31 points.

3/3

So far on the season, the Steelers have scored points in the first quarter against every NFC opponent they have faced. The only AFC opponent in which the Steelers put up points in the first period was the Ravens in Baltimore. Ironically, it was the first time since 2002 the Steelers scored a touchdown in Baltimore in the first quarter. The James Conner touchdown reception from Ben Roethlisberger against the Ravens was the longest first-quarter scoring drive for the Steelers in 2018, consisting of 9 offensive plays.

88

Antonio Brown has started slow in almost every game this season. In the first quarter, Brown only has 88 yards receiving with zero touchdowns. Only 10.1% of AB’s total yards receiving for 2018 have come in the first period.

13

Of the 26 drives the Steelers offense has completed in the first quarter, half of them ended in a punt. Of those 13 punts, eight came in a 3 & out situation. The other 13 first-quarter drives in 2018 concluded with two missed field goals, three interceptions, two lost fumbles, and six offensive touchdowns.

5/5

When the Steelers had possession of the ball at the end of the first quarter in 2018, they have been very successful as those drives progressed into quarter #2. The Steelers are five out of five when it comes to producing points on these drives, scoring three touchdowns and two field goals. Unfortunately, the last time the Steelers had the ball to begin the second quarter was at Cincinnati in Week 6.

12

If scoring points in the first quarter is an indication of victory for Sunday night’s game, Pittsburgh could be in very good shape. The Steelers have scored in the opening period of 12 consecutive home games in the month of December. During the current streak dating back through 2013, the Steelers have scored 11 touchdowns, four field goals, and a safety in the first quarter.

If the No. 1 goal is to stop Antonio Brown, the Steelers’ opponents are doing it wrong

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 12/02/2018 - 7:35am

Good job stopping Antonio Brown this year, Steelers opponents. The rest of the offense says “thank you.”

I am actually writing this article from a location other than my home location. Why? Because I found a wasp in my place the other day—that is my number one phobia. Naturally, I was determined to kill the wasp, so I went after it with a sledgehammer countless times until I finally got the little sucker. Now I’ve been evicted from my apartment—something about vandalism or whatever—and I need a new place to stay.

But, hey, at least I didn’t let that wasp sting me.

Actually, none of that is true...yet. But you can rest assured if I ever do find a wasp in my apartment, the above mentioned scenario (or something involving a blowtorch) will likely take place.

Anyway, that brings me to the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers, and the season-long determination of their opponents to take away—or, at least lessen the effectiveness of—receiver Antonio Brown.

That was apparently the number one goal of Broncos head coach Vance Joseph last week as his team prepared to take on Pittsburgh at Mile High Stadium.

In fact, below is a post-game quote from Joseph, courtesy of Steelers beat reporter Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com:

“That was huge. Our gameplan was to not let Antonio Brown (beat us). We knew ‘19,’ Schuster, was going to make some plays obviously, but the plan was not to let ‘84 beat us. I’ve been in games where he’s beaten me single-handedly. The plan was to take him away, stop the run game as best we could with a seven-man box and just deal with ‘19’ the best we could. It worked, except for a 97-yard play we gave up to ‘19.’ I think Antonio, the longest catch he had was 14 yards. It worked, and we came away with a victory.”

Yeah, Coach, you did come away with a victory, but to say your game-plan “worked” is like saying my hypothetical way of dealing with the wasp in my apartment worked.

Second-year receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (you know, ‘19? Schuster?) basically had his way with Denver’s defense to the tune of 13 receptions for 189 yards and that already alluded to 97-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Yes, the Broncos won, but it had more to do with self-inflicted gaffes by Pittsburgh and less to do with the “No, no, Antonio!” game-plan devised by Vance Joseph and his staff.

Smith-Schuster’s big day against the Broncos marked the sixth time he’s eclipsed 100 receiving yards in 2018; and the 189 he tallied officially put him over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career (1,055), and he’s now on pace for 1,534 receiving yards on the season. And with 77 receptions through 11 games, Smith-Schuster is on pace for 112.

So let me get this straight: the best way to stop Antonio Brown is to allow another Steeler receiver to have an Antonio Brown-like season?

But at least Pittsburgh’s opponents have totally eliminated Brown as a threat, right? Oh wait, with 71 receptions for 874 yards, Brown is still on pace for 103 and 1,271, respectively.

But at least the opposition has limited Brown as a touchdown threat, right?

If by “right,” you mean “wrong,” you’d be correct.

With 11 touchdowns through 11 weeks, Brown is on pace for 16 on the season (obviously), a number that would smash his single-season career-high of 13, set back in 2014.

Admittedly, Brown has had chemistry issues with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who seems to have adopted the shotgun method of trying to get his all-world receiver the football in 2018. Brown does have 71 catches on the year, but he hasn’t come by them in a very efficient manner, considering he’s been targeted a whopping 122 times thus far. Also, there’s the matter of nine of Roethlisberger’s 12 interceptions coming while trying to force the football to the usually double or triple-teamed No. 84.

Other than that little problem, it’s hard to say opposing coaches have devised an effective game-plan for Brown, not when you consider the Steelers 7-3-1 record.

And, to reiterate, the offense is on pace to have two 1,000-yard receivers for the first time in ages. Then there’s the career year (already) for tight end Vance McDonald, who has collected 36 receptions for 444 yards and three touchdowns.

Speaking of career years, fellow tight end Jesse James is also having one of those, at least in receiving yards with 379 with still five games to go.

Finally, let’s not forget running back James Conner, who, with 453 receiving yards out of the backfield, is on pace for 658, a respectable number considering he’s not you know who.

But wait, there’s more. What about the career year Roethlisberger is having (Brown-forced interceptions, aside)? With 3,664 passing yards and 24 touchdowns through 11 games, No. 7 is on pace for 5,329 and 35, respectively.

Not bad, considering Roethlisberger’s opponents have taken his number one target away.

So, good job, Steeler opponents. You’ve taken Antonio Brown away as an MVP-threat in 2018. I just hope you get your security deposit back after taking a sledgehammer to the rest of your pass defense.

The Steelers celebrated both Super Bowl 13 and 43, and the images were a collector’s dream

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 12/02/2018 - 6:31am

There was a lot of greatness in Pittsburgh as the team celebrated the Super Bowl 13 and 43 champions.

The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t just hosting the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday Night Football in Week 13, the organization is celebrating anniversaries for the Super Bowl 13 team, as well as the Super Bowl 43 squad.

On Saturday night, the team hosted players from both teams, and to say there was a lot of greatness in one room would be a gigantic understatement.

For the latest team to bring a Lombardi trophy back to Pittsburgh, it was notable how James Harrison didn’t allow his departure from the team in 2017 to deter him from coming back and celebrating with his old teammates. However, from the looks of images on social media, it would seem Troy Polamalu did not return for this event.

Ben Roethlisberger is the only player on the current team who was a part of the Super Bowl 43 team, and he had said earlier in the week he planned on attending the events, but did say how it was strange considering he is still preparing for games while the rest of the guys are no longer playing.

Check out some of the awesome images from Saturday night:

This group is something special. pic.twitter.com/E8iGDDroyS

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) December 2, 2018

'When a team wins a championship there is a special bond that gets formed. Whenever they get back together, it’s like they never left each other.' - Steelers President Art Rooney II on alumni weekend honoring the Super Bowl XIII and XLIII teams

More: https://t.co/ceOyU0vnJm pic.twitter.com/F0a5kjDUFQ

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) December 2, 2018

That’s a lot of greatness in one room. #AlumniWeekend #SBXIII #SBXLIII pic.twitter.com/xv3QHVvJNY

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 1, 2018

These two. #AlumniWeekend #SBXIII #SBXLIII pic.twitter.com/yndO4rvH3Y

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 1, 2018

Big Snack. Big Hug. #AlumniWeekend #SBXIII #SBXLIII pic.twitter.com/PEMkpsZhAb

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 2, 2018

#AlumniWeekend #SBXIII #SBXLIII pic.twitter.com/5hbZjCVEBX

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 2, 2018

NFL Odds and Predictions: Picking the full Week 13 slate of games against the spread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 12/02/2018 - 5:37am

We make our picks against the spread and versus the totals for every game on the NFL schedule in Week 13.

The Pittsburgh Steelers disappointed in Week 12 and so did our staff picks after Jeff Hartman went 6-6 against the spread and 4-8 versus the totals, while I was little better at 7-5 ATS and 6-6 versus the totals. Somehow, we both remain over .500 on the season and hope to still be that way after Week 13 with a full slate of games to pick now the last of the bye-weeks are over for the year.

Much like last Sunday, there are a number of large spreads available this weekend, with five games seperated by more than a touchdown. It is also a big week for road favorites as six home teams find themselves listed as undergods in front of their own fans, two by double digits.

December is the month the real contenders emerge from rest of the pretenders and teams like the Indianapolis Colts (-4) and Denver Broncos (-5) are among the teams who face must win encounters with beatable teams on Sunday. If they have genuine playoff ambitions in 2018, these are games they will need to win if they are to have a shot of making the postseason this year.

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

Black and Gold Links: Antonio Brown takes the high road when asked about Ben Roethlisberger’s criticism

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 12/02/2018 - 4:55am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers had their nifty winning streak snapped at the hands of the Denver Broncos in week 12, and after their 24-17 loss the team now has to turn the page quickly before they host the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field in Week 13.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at how Antonio Brown, you know the man media call a wide receiver diva, took the high road when he was asked about Ben Roethlisberger’s critical comments made on his weekly radio show.

Let’s get to the news:

No drama here: Steelers’ Brown calls Roethlisberger ‘my guy’ and Smith-Schuster a ‘stud’

By: Chris Admaski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

In the 72 hours or so after their first loss since September, it appeared as if Team Turmoil might be creeping its way back as the unofficial identity of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Instead of luring it back in, though, Antonio Brown on Friday went the over-the-top philosophical route to stomp out any lingering narratives of a rift developing between either his quarterback or his understudy running mate at receiver.

“In the world we live in today, I think controversy is celebrated a lot,” Brown said when questioned about Ben Roethlisberger’s criticisms of him and JuJu Smith-Schuster’s better production than him. “People try to put people against each other, bring people down. But we all need each other. There’s power in unity and people coming together, and not in people fighting and bringing each other down.”

But, Antonio, your quarterback publicly criticized your route-running on the deciding play of last Sunday’s loss at Denver, openly expressed he wanted to throw to Smith-Schuster on every play and refused to anoint you the Steelers’ No. 1 receiver – a title you’ve held for a half a decade. In your first public comments since Roethlisberger said all that, how do you respond?

“It’s not personal the way you guys (in the media) make it,” Brown said. “You guys make big stories. That’s my guy. I love him. I got his back no matter what’s said. Everything he said is gonna encourage us to get better.”

Moments later, Brown referred to Roethlisberger as “My guy,” and insisted that any negative words the veteran quarterback might have about his teammates are done to “inspire” and “encourage” the rest of the team

After all, Brown points out, Roethlisberger is the only player in the Steelers’ locker room who’s won a Super Bowl ring with the organization.

“We have a lot of good history together – and we will continue to make history,” said Brown, who has set records for catches and receiving yards while compiling the vast majority of his production off passes from Roethlisberger. “We have that relationship where we challenge each other, we encourage each other. That’s the situation you wanna have with your quarterback.”

But don’t the personal criticisms hurt?

“I got big shoulders. I can take it,” Brown said. “Constructive criticism (is) only for you to get better. It’s only made to challenge, only made to make you better. And that’s my guy.”

Another one of Brown’s “guys” is Smith-Schuster, the second-year phenom who has more receptions (77-71) and receiving yards (1,055-874) than Brown this season despite having just turned 22 last week.

Whereas in the past Brown, at times, has seemed reluctant to praise a talented receiver teammate, there appears to be a genuine mutual respect between he and Smith-Schuster.

A day after Smith-Schuster attributed his success to the double-teams Brown draws, Brown tacitly agreed, saying: “When (Smith-Schuster) doesn’t get the second DB and is getting one-on-one coverage, he takes it personal. He’s going to win. And he’s going to make the defense pay. If you want to take away AB, then JuJu gonna make a play.”

But Brown also returned some love, calling Smith-Schuster “a stud.”

“He wants to be great; he’s just inspired by the game, and he wants to be the best – and that’s what makes him so special,” Brown said. “It means something to him; you can tell by the way he works and the way he goes about his business. He loves the game.”

Mark Madden: Leadership is overrated, and maybe Steelers are, too

By: Mark Madden, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Ben Roethlisberger said James Washington should have caught the ball he dropped, and Antonio Brown should have “come flat” running his route on the Steelers’ last offensive play in the loss at Denver. thus denying Broncos cornerback Chris Harris a chance to cut in front of him.

Roethlisberger didn’t personally insult Washington or Brown. He didn’t say their mothers wear army boots.

Roethlisberger’s analysis was also absolutely correct, though it doesn’t take into account throwing an interception to a defensive lineman, something Brown’s incorrect route-running had zero to do with. Roethlisberger should have put heat on himself for that.

So, what’s the big deal?

Roethlisberger has been vilified near and far (mostly far) for throwing teammates under the bus. His leadership has been questioned.

But the Steelers have prospered through a plethora of chaos for the best part of this decade. Much of that arrived with the aforementioned Mr. Brown and with Le’Veon Bell, the now-absent half of the Toxic Twins partnership.

Consider last year: Ryan Shazier got paralyzed. James Harrison turned traitor and went to New England. Alejandro Villanueva made his teammates go heel by putting his hand over his heart (on camera, of course) while they stood in the tunnel like dopes before the game at Chicago. Brown was a constant barrage of noise. Bell skipped training camp (although he does that all the time).

Some of those problems were organic, most not. But the Steelers still went 13-3. True, they lost their first playoff game. (They do that all the time.)

Perhaps the Steelers are immune to distraction. They certainly get enough practice dealing with it.

As for Roethlisberger’s leadership, he’s right: He has been a Steeler 15 years, and that allows to him to choose his bedside manner.

Perhaps Roethlisberger has tried leading privately, and it hasn’t worked with certain individuals. That wouldn’t be hard to believe. The Steelers locker room doesn’t lack leaders. It lacks followers. So Roethlisberger went public.

Who cares what Washington thinks? He’s only a rookie, has been a disappointment to date and can’t do much worse.

As for Brown, does anybody really believe he will do or think anything different because of anything anybody says, good or bad? That includes Roethlisberger, other teammates, the coaches, everybody. (Except Pepsi and Pizza Hut.) Brown has a self-taught degree in narcissism. At any rate, Brown spoke Friday and wasn’t upset. In fact, he spoke glowingly of Roethlisberger. (Good babyface move.)

So, what’s the big deal?

Leadership, like team chemistry, is mostly a myth. Those qualities are assigned after the fact when teams succeed by way of romanticizing the situation.

A good team is never said to succeed despite no leadership and poor team chemistry. Vice-versa for bad teams. Winning and losing determine.

Indulge, please, my oft-cited example: The NHL’s leadership award is named after Mark Messier. Hockey’s greatest captain ever, it’s perceived. Messier led Edmonton to a Stanley Cup in 1990 after Wayne Gretzky had left and, in ‘94, the New York Rangers to their first Cup in 54 years.

But Messier’s teams didn’t make the playoffs in any of his last seven seasons.

Did Messier forget how to lead? Or did his teams merely win when they were good, and lose when they were bad? (Yes.)

Talent and execution determine more than anything.

Kevin Gorman: Steelers-Chargers game of brotherly love for Pounceys and Watts

By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Maurkice and Mike Pouncey are indistinguishable to strangers, so the identical twin NFL centers like to have fun with football fans who mistake one brother for the other.

“Every single time,” Maurkice said, reminiscing about how Dolphins fans used to mistake him for Mike when visiting his brother in Miami. “Every store I’m in a store or at the gas station, they’d ask, ‘How’s (Ryan) Tannehill doing?’ I lie to them. I’m like, ‘He’s doing great. He’ll come back stronger than ever.’ Then I’d go sit in the car and laugh. He does the same thing when he’s here: ‘Ben is a great guy.’ ”

The Pouncey brothers will be easily identifiable Sunday night at Heinz Field, even though both will be wearing No. 53. Maurkice will be playing for the Steelers (7-2-1) and Mike for the Los Angeles Chargers (8-3).

The Watt brothers also will be on opposite sides, as T.J. wears No. 90 and plays outside linebacker for the Steelers while Derek wears No. 34 and plays fullback for the Chargers. They played against each other occasionally in practice as teammates at Wisconsin but never before in a game.

Texans star J.J. Watt set some ground rules for his younger brothers: No cut blocks.

“Just don’t go at his knees. Otherwise, everything’s fair,” J.J. Watt told reporters in Houston. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. I hope there’s at least one play where they have to — Derek has to block T.J. straight up, and we can settle it once and for all.”

The idea of tackling Derek brought a smile to T.J.’s face.

“It would be awesome,” T.J. Watt said. “I feel like I can get him down relatively easy. I’ve done it many times in the backyard, so it would be a familiar feeling for him.”

The sibling rivalry was a source of laughter inside the Steelers locker room this week, but the brothers count the blessings playing in the NFL provides their families. You need only to look around the room to understand it, especially after the Steelers drafted safety Terrell Edmunds and signed his brother, running back Trey Edmunds.

Watt and Pouncey talk with their brothers on a daily basis, whether it’s through text message or on FaceTime, then end up talking to each other about what they heard. Sometimes, that serves as a source of envy.

“They’re on the same team so I’ll be like, ‘Did you hear they’re not practicing? What the heck. Why are we practicing?’ ” T.J. Watt said. “Just little stuff. I think it’s cool that Derek and Mike have a relationship and me and Maurkice have a relationship, too.”

But brothers are still brothers, meaning they take advantage of every opportunity to have fun at each other’s expense. For example, here is an exchange this week between Maurkice Pouncey and the media:

Q: So, Maurkice isn’t the outspoken one and Mike the quiet one?

A: “I just look better, honestly.”

Q: Do you play alike?

A: “I play better.”

Q: If you snuck into their locker room at halftime would anyone notice?

A: “I’d take that team to the next level, baby. They would definitely notice.”

The first thing you notice about the Pouncey brothers, aside from their ever-present smiles, is their tattoos. They got their first one together, at age 14: Mind on a Million. Their mother told them not to get any below the forearms, but they didn’t heed her warning. Both are covered, although Mike has more.

“We came home in our sophomore year of college and both of us had tattoos down our forearm,” Maurkice said. “She looked at us and starts crying and was like, ‘This better work out.’ ”

It has worked out wonderfully for the Pouncey brothers. Both starred at Florida, where Mike moved from defensive tackle to guard and played alongside Maurkice. When Maurkice left early and was drafted No. 18 overall by the Steelers in 2010, Mike moved to center. He was drafted No. 15 overall the next year by the Dolphins.

Both became Pro Bowl centers. Where Maurkice endured ankle and knee injuries early in his career, Mike overcame a career-threatening hip injury. He was released by the Dolphins last March and signed with the Chargers. Now, both snap the ball to gold-jacket guys in Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers.

“He’s doing really well. I’m really happy for him,” Maurkice said of Mike. “He’s having an opportunity to have a really great team offensively and defensively. He talks a little more trash now.”

Steelers make surprising roster move by releasing Matthew Thomas to make room for Ola Adeniyi

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 3:19pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers have promoted Ola Adeniyi to the active roster, and in the process released Matthew Thomas.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made a roster move to be able to promote rookie outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi, but the move they made might have some scratching their heads.

The organization has released undrafted rookie Matthew Thomas to make room for Adeniyi prior to the team’s Week 13 game on Sunday Night Football vs. the Los Angeles Chargers.

We have activated LB Ola Adeniyi to our 53-man roster.

To make room on the 53-man roster, we released LB Matthew Thomas.

MORE: https://t.co/yXEPMiV89w pic.twitter.com/Wtw3OhQhAh

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 1, 2018

Adeniyi was likely promoted due to the questionable health of outside linebacker Bud Dupree. Dupree suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle vs. the Broncos in Week 12, and is officially listed as questionable on the team’s injury report.

If Dupree can’t play this Sunday at Heinz Field, Adeniyi will be the player coming off the bench to fill in for Anthony Chickillo or T.J. Watt when necessary. Adeniyi had a promising preseason, but a hamstring injury in Week 4 of the exhibition games saw him land on Injured Reserve.

The Adeniyi promotion isn’t the biggest story hear, but the release of Matthew Thomas is certainly head scratching. Thomas might not have panned out as the team had hoped as an inside linebacker, but it was thought his special teams play would do enough to keep him on the roster.

That clearly wasn’t the case.

The Steelers will likely hope to re-sign Thomas on the team’s practice squad, but only if he clears waivers. Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they head into Week 13.

Breaking down some 2019 NFL Draft prospects the Steelers could be targeting

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 1:49pm

Kevin Colbert and Antonio Brown were in attendance for the Oklahoma-West Virginia game, and there are some other prospects the team may be targeting.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have seemingly begun their serious draft prep. Kevin Colbert and director of scouting Phil Kreidler were at the West Virginia-Oklahoma football game last Friday, and with them was star WR Antonio Brown. Usually, I would say that it is fine, this would be an interesting thing to look at, but here is the weird thing about this game — it had exclusively offensive talent.

Maybe you would think that because, after all, it is a Big 12 game, but seriously, this game was just full of big name offensive prospects. Specifically, it had very good WRs and OL, so that could signal that an early focus for the Steelers is, get this.....more receivers.

With JuJu Smith-Schuster coming into his own as he has, and with Antonio Brown not slowing down, it would seem there is no need. Heck, if Ryan Switzer keeps this up, he will find his way into the long-term plans easily. But, maybe, just maybe, they are planning ahead.

They could be planning ahead for the eventual decline of the man known as AB. But the big factor here is the disappointment that has been James Washington. I don’t think they’d move on so quickly, but they do need a deep threat. And, well, this game was full of those. Here are four prospects I think the Steelers had their eye on, although they could have had their eyes on a few other players, those are Day 3 prospects.

WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown

Yes, you ever thought, maybe, just maybe, they could have been watching Antonio Brown’s cousin? Yea, it would be kinda crazy if we had two Browns on the team, but with how talented Hollywood is, heck I’d be all for it.

This dude has some real speed. I mean, near Tyreek Hill speed. It wouldn’t shock me if he runs that fast, and honestly, that is kinda what the Steelers need right now on offense. Washington ain’t cutting it, and Brown is a certified deep threat. He just burns guys all day and turns space into huge gains.

He isn’t just a deep threat, though. He plays very much like AB does. He is quick and precise with his routes and makes some real contested catches you wouldn’t expect him to make. Dude has a really thin frame and has the occasional suspect drop (like JuJu), but he is a top 50 pick. Dude is legit. Just watch this:

Hollywood Brown is a guaranteed top 50 pick, and he's a top 50 player, too. This guy is a big play threat all day with that speed. Just a lethal player who will create mismatches at the next level, love this guy. #DraftTwitter pic.twitter.com/YIgI2uqz9C

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) November 27, 2018

This is a precise, delayed slant route, and Brown just turns this into a huge gain with his pure speed. He is a playmaker and man, I am sure Kevin Colbert is going to have him rated high on his board.

OT Yodny Cajuste

I don’t know if Cajuste will even fall to where the Steelers will be drafting in the first round, but OL is one of those sneaky positions you could see the Steelers going out and getting. I don’t know if Tackle is the play they would make, but this would mean Marcus Gilbert would be as good as gone. Chuks and Cajuste would be a deadly combination.

Essentially, Cajuste would be the LT and Chuks the RT in the future, but we do not have to say goodbye to Alejandro Villanueva right now. Regardless, Cajuste can play inside as well, as he does have experience, so if need be, maybe even a Foster replacement.

Cajuste is a straight bull. This guy plays as aggressively as any OL I have seen. He has that Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, and David DeCastro mentality to him and would certainly fit right in here with an absolutely cerebral unit. He isn’t that fluid in his hips, but his footwork is so quick and fluid.

This guy has some of the best hands I have seen too. His length is fantastic and those punches he shows are just amazing. If the Steelers drafted him and added him to their OL, watch out. He might become an All-Pro.

Yodny Cajuste is a legitimate beast. He is my OT3 behind only Dalton Risner and Jonah Williams. This dude is like a bull coming off the line. He is never passive in pass pro, and this dude has some strong hands. Look at him (LT #55) lock up this guy here. Beautiful. #DraftTwitter pic.twitter.com/rr5TGoMl1d

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) November 27, 2018

Look at this technique. Perfect timing, great technique, and hands are inside. This dude has fleet footwork, and this is a vertical set, and look at how quickly he gets right up on him. Absolutely beautiful rep here.

WR David Sills

Well, Sills is essentially Kelvin Benjamin with a work ethic. He is extremely athletically limited and might be a good big slot or red zone guy, but he just doesn’t hit me as a great WR. He is essentially a tight end, honestly.

Here is my gripe with Sills — he just doesn’t really have a route tree. Not only does he have that limited route tree, but his limited athleticism really drives me off. I don’t think Sills is the type of receiver the Steelers need right now, I think a speed guy.

He is deceptive and honestly wins deep a good bit. He is aggressive at the catch point, but those limitations just turn me off heavily from him. I want the guy to be better, but he just isn’t it right now.

David Sills V is an intriguing prospect. I currently have a 4th round grade on him, but he does have potential. He is good deep threat with good lateral agility and an underrated ability of route deception. However, this dude has a super limited route tree. #DraftTwitter pic.twitter.com/6caJ3MGVlH

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) November 27, 2018

Solid route and size allow Sills to win this easily, and he does this a ton, but I don’t know how much he will be able to do it at the next level.

WR Gary Jennings

This is the WR I hope these guys were watching, if it wasn’t Hollywood Brown. Jennings is a fluid and precise wide out who would fit into any offense as a perfect WR3 to WR2. His route tree is far more expansive than most Big 12 WRs, and has a real knack for getting in and out of breaks.

He won’t blow the combine up with great numbers, but he sure will show you how fluid he is. This guy is just a classic possession receiver with more speed than they give him credit for. He is tough and loves to block too.

I have seen him sky up and get these jump balls as well. He is such an underrated receiver. He is nothing flashy, but he has Day 2 value and probably could be had at Day 3. Hopefully the Steelers consider him.

Is Davis Sills even the best WR on WVU? Gary Jennings has come on lately and is more precise and fluid than Sills to me. Dude can go up and win those jump balls, too. He is a receiver to watch going forward. #DraftTwitter pic.twitter.com/mgwXeCsEuv

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) November 27, 2018

I think this speaks for itself. Fantastic play, although he usually doesn’t have this fantastic ability after the catch.

As the franchise QB, maybe Ben Roethlisberger was right to call out his Steelers teammates

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 12:05pm

Why shouldn’t Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the straw that stirs the drink, be able to give his honest opinion about his teammates’ performances?

I listened to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s weekly radio show (or, maybe it’s a prolonged segment?) this past Tuesday on 93.7 The Fan, and I must say, I didn’t think his remarks about some of his teammates’ performances in the 24-17 loss to the Broncos were a big deal.

Even as Roethlisberger publicly stated that rookie receiver James Washington should have had more trust in his hands instead of doing his best Superman impression while trying to dive for a pass that likely would have gone for a touchdown had he simply stayed on his feet, I didn’t take umbrage.

When Roethlisberger talked about the shotgun snap from six-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey on the play in-which Roethlisberger threw the game-sealing interception, I wasn’t really all that surprised. After all, six Pro Bowls are a lot, and Pouncey was more than capable of tossing Broncos defensive end Shelby Harris far into the end zone (far enough for Harris to have the depth to intercept the pass) just seconds after snapping the football. Therefore, an accurate snap wasn’t too much to ask for.

An accurate snap may have actually led to a running play by James Conner instead of the slapstick comedy he and Roethlisberger engaged in before the latter decided on the pass part of the run/pass option. Therefore, when Roethlisberger mentioned he didn’t trust handing the football off to Conner at that point, it made sense. It also made sense when he stated he never quite had a good grip on the football.

Bringing it all the way back to Pouncey’s shotgun snap, it just made sense that Roethlisberger would cite that as one of the reasons for the play breaking down so terribly.

Speaking of reasons, when Roethlisberger talked about All Pro receiver Antonio Brown needing to run a flatter route on that ill-fated, game-sealing play, I must admit, given the history between the two, my ears did perk up a little.

But certainly not enough for what Roethlisberger said to not resonate with me.

Would a better and flatter route from Brown have prevented a Roethlisberger interception? We’ll never know, but when you’re supposed to run a flatter route, darn it, you’re a Pro Bowl receiver...you should run a flatter route.

When Roethlisberger mentioned—almost as a throwaway comment, mind you—that he wished he could have thrown the football to second-year receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster four-straight times during the crucial goal to go situation in the game's final moments, again, it just made sense to me.

Smith-Schuster did have 189 receiving yards on the day, and in case you didn’t notice, he’s kind of turning into a beast. Why not go to the physically-dominant receiver at least another time or two?

Anyway, in-case you haven’t grasped what I’m saying by now, I didn’t feel any part of Roethlisberger’s remarks on Tuesday were really out of line.

Roethlisberger is the straw that stirs the drink for the Steelers. He’s also a captain on the team. He’s also a 15-year veteran. One more thing, he’s a franchise quarterback with the same kind of cachet as a Tom Brady or an Aaron Rodgers. You want to know why Roethlisberger is often put in a tier below those guys? Maybe it’s because of people feeling he isn’t allowed to chastise his teammates (or have a close relationship with his offensive coordinator).

He should be able to say just about anything he wants to or about a youngster like Washington, for example. Roethlisberger was the straw that stirred the drink on third and 28 in Super Bowl XL when he found a way to convert by locating the legendary Hines Ward downfield. He was the Ben portion of Ben to Ten in Super Bowl XLIII when he connected with Santonio Holmes, the game's MVP, for the winning touchdown. He was the guy who unleashed the pass on what would become Brown’s first signature moment—the helmet catch—on third and 19 in a divisional round playoff win over the Ravens the last time Pittsburgh made it to a Super Bowl.

Who is James Washington right now? He's a rookie receiver who has a lot to learn. You think he won't take Roethlisberger's words to heart?

We criticize athletes for giving robotic answers to the media. We’ve criticized Roethlisberger on many occasions for taking the blame for things he clearly had no business trying to own up to. Yet, the second he gives his honest opinion about stuff that was quite obvious to anyone who watched what went down in Denver last week, we criticize Roethlisberger for calling out his teammates.

If you don’t want a man of Roethlisberger’s status to give honest answers to your questions, don’t give him a platform each and every week.

Speaking of platforms, if Roethlisberger decides to give canned answers the next time he appears on 93.7 The Fan, who could really blame him?

Steelers 2019 NFL Draft Prospects: College Game Day and Open Thread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 10:49am

It’s time to check in on some prospects for the black-and-gold.

It is finally among us, conference championship week! We will find out who truly is made out to be who they are and many teams will lose their playoff positioning this week.

With so many top teams playing, there is a ton of NFL talent on display for us to watch today. They come in droves on every team, and I certainly am here for it.

With that in mind, and the season winding down to its climax, lets see some of the games on the platter for this star-studded Saturday.

Big 12 Championship: No. 14 Texas at No. 5 Oklahoma (-7.5) 12.00 ABC

SEC Championship: No. 1 Alabama (-13.5) at No. 4 Georgia 4:00 CBS

AAC Championship: Memphis at No. 8 UCF (-3) 3:30 ABC

Big 10 Championship: No. 21 Northwestern at No. 6 Ohio State (-13.5) 7:45 FOX

ACC Championship: Pittsburgh at No. 2 Clemson (-27.5) 8:00 ABC

And this week’s highlight game:

Mountain West Championship: No. 25 Fresno State at No. 22 Boise State (-2.5) 7:45 ESPN Fresno State Bulldogs

Keeshawn Johnson #3 WR 6’2” 199 lbs

Marcus McMaryion #6 QB 6’2” 203 lbs

Mike Bell #4 SAF 6’3” 203 lbs

Emeka Ndoh #5 EDGE 6’0” 250 lbs

Boise State Broncos

Brett Rypien #4 QB 6’2” 202 lbs

David Moa #55 IDL 6’3” 275 lbs

Alexander Mattison #22 RB 5’11 211 lbs

Bulldogs Breakdown

QB Marcus McMariyon

McMaryion is the definition of a mixed bag. I mean that wholeheartedly, that he has some fantastic traits, but man some of super ugly. This guy has the ability to extend plays like no other guy in this class. He can just fly up and down the field and make throws on the run easily. I love what I see there, as the mobility isn’t an issue. McMaryion also feels pressure easily. He stands in there and steps up often. It is one of his best traits.

He can hit guys accurately in the intermediate and short game, but with limited arm strength and deep accuracy, there sure is some concern to go around there. Something I don’t see enough from him is pre-snap processing, as he just can’t read keys as well as he should. However, he shows little-to-no anticipation, which really sinks him down my board.

Round Grade: Early 5th

NFL Comparison: Cody Kessler

SAF Mike Bell

Bell has arms for days. I mean this guy is super long. Good for him, he certainly is not stiff, he is smooth. He changes direction rather easily and it really helps him in man coverage and to become a single-high guy. He plays timidly and all, but he is just a solid player. I don’t see him playing as much down in the box, although he can be a very good run defender, but I do see him moving around as a hybrid.

Bell has always been a solid tackler, but he has some rough processing and can be a step late in coverage. In addition to that, his angles leave a lot to be desired. And with that lack of aggressiveness, he hasn’t showed all that much of any ball skills, which I would love to see from him.

Round Grade: Mid 4th

NFL Comparison: Ron Parker

Broncos Breakdown

QB Brett Rypien

Brett Rypien has really caught me by surprise recently. I see a ton of Alex Smith in Rypien. He is never overly aggressive, but he sure is smart and accurate. He can throw the ball deep, but only does it when he has to do it. His anticipation is fantastic and he can run the quick game if need be. I love his ball placement, as he loves to throw back shoulder and be precise with it. He can fit balls into tight windows that he simply shouldn’t be able to due to solid arm strength that allows him to change up velocity with ease. He also is super mobile and can extend plays.

He can get jittery at times in pocket and is too prone to fumbles. His pre-snap reads need to progress further, as he sometimes locks onto one target and fails to go through his reads, thus leading to unnecessary hard throws. While he does have solid arm strength, it is not fantastic, and he is prone to underthrowing the ball. He can be too dangerous at times, and takes too many risks.

Round Grade: Late 2nd

NFL Comparison: Alex Smith

RB Alexander Mattison

Mattison is a complete back, but he is pretty raw in a lot of ways. For one, he is an excellent receiver who can be used out of all looks. He is faster than his size would let on and can get to the boundary fast. His contact balance is extremely good and he just grinds out yards consistently every play.

He does have some lapses in his vision, however, especially on zone runs. Combined with an overall lack of agility, and there is definitely some cause for concern here. His pass blocking is extremely raw as well, thus it possible he can be limited as a 3-down back.

Round Grade: Mid 4th

NFL Comparison: Royce Freeman

Sleeper

QB Taryn Christion #3 South Dakota State

Hello FCS Lamar Jackson. Christion really does resemble Jackson, from the insane mobile and running ability, to the ridiculous arm strength and accuracy inconsistencies. He is slept on in this class and won’t go nearly as high as Jackson went, but Christion has those same characteristics. This guy can throw with amazing anticipation off of any quick concept. He feels pressure extremely well and steps up out of the pressure often. He can extend the play with his legs and throw well on the run. He manipulates safeties well and creates openings for his receivers.

He does have some issues with accuracy inconsistencies. Specifically when he is going deep, he can throw some real lame ducks due to his narrow base. He can recognize and read defenses well, but needs to go through his reads better. He needs to get off-script and instead create his own reads. He telegraphs passes like that too often.

Round Grade: Early 3rd

NFL Comparison: Lamar Jackson

.............

That’s all for here, and if you have any prospects you want to bring up, discuss them below, I’ll be here on this thread all day!

Random Thoughts from a Black-and-Gold Mind: “A Christmas Story” edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 9:53am

BTSC’s resident madman waxes poetically over the Steelers and a holiday classic and takes you along for the glorious ride.

With the Pittsburgh Steelers suffering a Mile High low last week and television and radio outlets diving headfirst into holiday-themed programming, my black-and-gold tinted tongue seems stuck-on-the-frozen-flagpole-of-life. As always, I feel compelled to pass the ravings on to you. But first, I must offer up apologies for any offense that was taken after my last submission. So, a Red Ryder of remorse goes out to and for the following...

  • The Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • George and Harry Bailey
  • Tyrone Carter
  • Yinzers with undeniable pronunciation maladies
  • Judd Nelson’s John Bender and the cast and characters of 1985’s The Breakfast Club
  • Coining the term “pierogie-ocity”
  • Hermione Granger and Muggles everywhere
  • The Go-Go’s

And now for the latest edition of Random Thoughts from a Black-and-Gold Mind.

  • The undercarriage of the bus (and I’m not talking Jerome Bettis-that’s just disturbing) needs looked at for possible repairs after a Ben Roethlisberger throw-under of epic proportions, much like when Ralphie blamed his buddy, Schwartz, for teaching him “the queen mother of dirty words”. The only difference is that the Steelers can possibly use this experience as motivation, while poor Schwartz was beaten within inch of his young life.
  • Ben feels he’s earned the right to call out his teammates. He has a point. He’s the captain and a 15-year vet. His targets are grown men. This can possibly be the last loss of the season and these words can be a rallying point or a triple-dog-dare to his teammates. Or it can shatter the season into tiny pieces much like a leg lamp hitting the floor.
  • If you are Ryan Switzer, is being labeled a “tough, little booger” by your quarterback flattery or just plain insulting? Switzer is a class act and I’m sure the description is a feather in his cap, but it’s nothing you want to hashtag. It’s a good thing No. 10 is married, because “I’m a tough, little booger” isn’t exactly the best pickup line in a bar on the strip.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster proclaimed this week that he wants to retire a Steeler. Unlike another player that had recently spouted that same phrase, No. 19 seems very genuine.
  • JJSS is the only player in NFL history to have two TDs of at least 97 yards. That could one day result in ‘‘a major award”.
  • Chuks Okorafor should be commended for protecting his signal-caller from a Scut Farkus/Grover Dill-type bullying by keeping Von Miller and Bradley Chubb (mostly) at bay last week. If No. 76 was available to guard the door of the Parker house in “A Christmas Story”, the Bumpus hounds would have never destroyed their neighbors’ Christmas feast that ultimately chased them to Chinese cuisine.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
  • The Steelers need to generate more turnovers desperately. This stat needs an upgrade in order for this team to go far in the playoffs. If not, it could be a letdown of “don’t forget to drink your Ovaltine” proportions.
  • The Steelers pass rush has a great opportunity to get to Phillip Rivers on Sunday Night Football. Rivers is as mobile as Ralphie’s brother Randy in a snowsuit. T.J. Watt, Javon Hargrave, Vince Williams and company can do some damage if they get penetration.
  • Melvin Gordon’s injury doesn’t reduce the threat of the Chargers run game. Austin Ekeler, the 5’10” scatback, averages 5.8 ypc and has 32 receptions on the 2018 campaign. If the Steelers handle him carelessly, another No. 30 from the state of Colorado could “shoot the Steelers’ eyes out”.
  • James Harrison will be taking part in the 10th anniversary celebration of the Super Bowl XLIII team Sunday night at Heinz Field. You may be disappointed with his exit much in the way you were chagrined when you learned that the actor that played Flick (Scott Schwartz) appeared in pornos. But regardless of the circumstances regarding his departure from the team a year ago, I hope that he’s shown the respect that he deserves for his contributions to that championship.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

and finally....

  • I wonder what Greg Garrity is doing these days.

Untill next time, I urge Steeler Nation to ponder the significance of this quote from the 1983 Christmas classic that was referenced ad nauseum in this very column and how it pertains to staying up late to watch the Steelers in prime time.

“Only one thing in the world could’ve dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.”

Take that for what it’s worth, Don’t Stop Shalievin’ and Go Steelers.

Don’t worry Steelers fans, James Washington will come around

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 8:30am

The rookie will be fine, he just has a very steep learning curve.

James Washington did indeed dolphin dive this past Sunday. He has a miraculous 32% catch rate on the year and a mere 8 receptions on the season. Yes, he should have had a big TD on Sunday, and potentially squandered what could have been a defining moment of his rookie year. He was also then called out by his QB Ben Roethlisberger after that catch.

Maybe all that is true, but Washington is going to be more than fine.

This kid may never be a top receiver like Antonio Brown or JuJu Smith-Schuster, but he will turn out to be a solid receiver. The talent is, and was, there on not just his college tape, but his preseason tape, too. However, when it comes to Washington, it is a very unique situation.

Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State offense asked Washington to run three basic routes — a simple streak, a post, and occasionally, a slant. Washington is immediately at a disadvantage due to an inexplicably bare route tree. You think Dez Bryant was polished coming out? He certainly was not, and he had to learn all the NFL routes, and it was no wonder he never came on until late 2010.

Washington is the same way. He has had to learn routes like an in, the NFL out, a chair route, a simple fade, wheels, anything you can think of, Washington has had to learn. The guy wasn’t even asked to run a curl route in college. Over the past few weeks, the Steelers are starting to expand his route tree, which is why you saw him run a reverse sluggo on Sunday.

Washington cooked Yiadom on that double move, but I don't know why he dives. That should've been a TD all day. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/qWejld4BCr

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) November 26, 2018

This could not have been a better run route. Honestly, this was better than when JuJu ran his sluggo earlier. That break is so smooth and easily cooks the defensive back. Not all WRs can run a break that smoothly, or even sell it. The separation alone is a huge feat, and he usually would run through this. He did it many times in college, and don’t judge his hands by this either. This guy has incredibly strong hands.

When you have such a limited route tree, the learning is going to be huge and it will take a long time to get acclimated. Washington is not necessarily a poor route runner more than he is just a raw one.

That Oklahoma State offense never asked for timing based routes, which is key to note for the Steelers to take into consideration. A simple out route for Washington not only has to be fluid, but he also has to understand the timing-based mechanisms within it. Washington now has to be in sync with Ben Roethlisberger, choose where he has to go, and read the corner’s coverage.

That is not a concept in the Oklahoma State offense, and that is why this learning curve is steep. All Washington knew how to be was a deep threat, and he is being asked to do much more here in the NFL. Tomlin and Fichtner must have enough confidence in him to be letting him run sluggos, outs, slants, and wheels like he does. Otherwise, he just wouldn’t play at all.

Washington also clearly has very little chemistry with Big Ben right now. Chemistry is huge for a WR and QB, and when you factor in that Washington didn’t run with 1s into nearly Week 1, and that Ben sits out a day a week, it is tough to get these things fixed.

What is Washington’s issue? It is that learning curve that he has to get used to. This is not a spread offense that he ran in college. Washington, with all the new routes he has had to learn, certainly has caused him to play more timidly than he would.

Washington is simply thinking too much right now. He is not reading the field or using his instincts right now because that learning curve is huge. You can already see him starting to come around. The separation he got there is a plus, and I have noticed he has been getting more and more open as the season has gone on. The All-22 shows Washington just isn’t getting targeted, and maybe not to his benefit.

His instincts and natural feel will come with more and more repetition. I think the kid is a better route runner than many give him credit for. His breaks have gotten better and I can see he is learning. Once he feels comfortable, those contested catches are gonna come back, too.

Don’t worry about James Washington, this kid has tons of talent and will be just fine.

No one wins more than the Steelers in the month of December

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 7:15am

Pittsburgh may face a number of tough opponents over the final five weeks of the season, but recent history suggests they will win most of them.

As the calendar turns to December and the final month of the NFL regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers face one of the toughest stretches of their 2018 schedule. However, while games against the 8-3 Los Angeles Chargers, 8-3 New England Patriots and 10-2 New Orleans Saints look to be a daunting for a team hoping to earn a bye in the playoffs, history suggests the Steelers will breeze through their final opponents.

Dating back to the 2013 season, Pittsburgh has only lost 3 of the 23 games they have played in the month of December, more than any other team in the league.

Over the past 5 seasons, the @steelers own the @NFL's best record in the final month (including Jan. regular-season games):

1. Steelers – 20-3
2. @Patriots – 18-6
3. (tied) @Panthers – 17-7
3. (tied) @Chiefs – 17-7
4. @packers – 16-7

Week 13 preview: https://t.co/gB3KLx7C3s pic.twitter.com/4K8i9sLQ6d

— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) November 30, 2018

Their 20-3 record towers above the Patriots in second place at 18-6, with the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs tied in third place at 17-7. That being said, while Pittsburgh has only lost three times in the last five seasons in December, it is perhaps worth noting that their last loss at this time of the year came against New England in Week 15 of the 2017 season. An outcome that might have been rather different if a certain touchdown reception had stood.

The Steelers went undefeated in 2016 and 2014, but it was the Baltimore Ravens who put a blemish on their December record in 2015 and the Miami Dolphins who ruined it in 2013. Never has Pittsburgh lost more than once in the last month of the season over the past five years.

With a handful of exceptions, December has always been a good month for Mike Tomlin since taking control of the Steelers in 2007, even if his debut season was not one of them. He would lose three games in the final month of that year, a feat he has matched only once since in 2012. Apart from 2009 when they lost twice, Pittsburgh only dropped one game in December each year from 2008-2011.

Should the Steelers manage to win all but one of their remaining five games this season as per their average, they could yet be watching the Wildcard Round at home ahead of a game at Heinz Field in January.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are dominating the Pro Bowl voting — again

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 5:52am

For the second straight year, the black-and-gold are dominating the Pro Bowl voting.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a very popular NFL franchise, and with this popularity comes a very unique power when it comes to Pro Bowl voting.

Since the NFL went to fan voting as the prime source of voting for the annual NFL All-Star game, the Steelers have always been well represented. In 2017, no team had more players voted into the game than Pittsburgh.

While voting hasn’t ended, the Steelers are again dominating the Pro Bowl voting for the 2018 game.

#Steelers

RB James Conner

WR Antonio Brown

T Alejandro Villanueva

G David DeCastro

C Maurkice Pouncey

OLB T.J. Watt

ILB Jon Bostic

K Chris Boswell

Special Teams Roosevelt Nix

lead their position in 2019 AFC Pro Bowl fan voting through Nov. 27

Voting goes until Dec. 13

— Dom Rinelli (@drinelli) November 28, 2018

Not only are the above players leading in their specific positions, but two players, James Conner and Antonio Brown, are among the top in the NFL in terms of overall votes received.

Steelers' James Conner remains No. 4 overall in Pro Bowl fan voting. Antonio Brown is sixth overall.

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) November 28, 2018

The biggest factor for Steelers fans is the hope their favorite players from their favorite team win the vote for their respective position, but the overall hope is no members of the team will be able to play in the joke of a football game due to preparations for the Super Bowl.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for their Week 13 game vs. the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday Night Football.

Black and Gold Links: Is JuJu Smith-Schuster’s success based solely on Antonio Brown?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 4:44am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers had their nifty winning streak snapped at the hands of the Denver Broncos in week 12, and after their 24-17 loss the team now has to turn the page quickly before they host the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field in Week 13.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at whether JuJu Smith-Schuster’s success as a professional is based solely around the attention Antonio Brown attracts from the defense, or if Smith-Schuster is far more than that...maybe a budding superstar in the making?

Let’s get to the news:

Kevin Gorman: Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster shooting to superstardom

By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

JuJu Smith-Schuster never dreamt of catching 97-yard touchdown passes in back-to-back seasons, but NFL stardom was always part of the plan for the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver.

Smith-Schuster is achieving his goals faster than even he could have imagined. Not only has JuJu already bested his rookie totals for receptions and yards, but he leads the AFC with 77 catches and eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving goal he set before his second season.

JuJu showed his charm and charisma extends beyond being a social-media maven Thursday, as the 22-year-old talked about wanting to win a Super Bowl and building his brand globally.

“I just want to make it as big as possible, in a positive way,” Smith-Schuster said, “to influence younger kids and as many people as possible outside of the states.”

JuJu already has an endorsement from a Steelers superstar.

Ben Roethlisberger called Smith-Schuster “reliable, dependable and trustworthy” this week, saying he wished he would have thrown the ball to JuJu on four straight plays on the final drive in Denver. But the Steelers quarterback took it a step further Thursday, saying Smith-Schuster deserves league-wide recognition for his play.

“I think he’s rising fast, and I would think he’s a Pro Bowl guy,” Roethlisberger said. “He’ll get a lot of fan votes because the fans love him, but I don’t know if he’s got the name like (DeAndre) Hopkins or AB (Antonio Brown) … but he absolutely should.

“He’s making plays. He’s doing it all. He’s where he’s supposed to be. All of those things are great, but he also benefits from having that guy across the field from him, too. But he works. It’s not like it’s being given to him, just because teams are doubling AB. He’s still got to beat his guy.”

Smith-Schuster did that in prime time at Heinz Field, scoring a 75-yard touchdown on the Steelers’ first play against Carolina. He did it again with his 97-yard catch-and-run at Denver, matching the mark set last year at Detroit for longest play in franchise history.

If all of the adulation sounds like it could go to Smith-Schuster’s head, take comfort in knowing he still has the good sense to dismiss talk of supplanting Brown as the Steelers’ top receiver by saying he eats off the plate of the four-time All-Pro receiver. Not to mention Smith-Schuster also adds levity to the locker room, especially when asked about Roethlisberger calling out receivers Brown and rookie James Washington earlier this week.

“Us receivers, they call us ‘divas’ — I don’t know why, I can’t see that,” Smith-Schuster said, drawing laughter by flashing a sly smile and batting his eyelashes, “but we have to learn how to take criticism. We have to learn to be better, not only for ourselves but for the team.”

What the Steelers love is how Smith-Schuster plays football “above the neck,” a nod to his cerebral approach. Roethlisberger called Smith-Schuster “very smart,” noting he knows every route tree and can line up in the slot or on the outside, as he increasingly has in the Steelers’ past two games. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner is impressed by how Smith-Schuster “has a lot of very interesting comments between series about what he feels and sees,” a special trait for a second-year receiver.

“He’s very intelligent,” Fichtner said. “He sees things in-game. … He’s been able to take advantage of situations, quite honestly. When you’re going to rotate coverage to Antonio — and a lot of people have to do that — somebody better make those plays alongside him.”

Roethlisberger revealed Smith-Schuster’s suggestions aren’t always self-serving.

“He’ll come to me and say, ‘Hey, Ben, I think we can get them on this play,’ ” Roethlisberger said. “Usually, when guys tell you that, it’s a play where they’re going to get open. But he’ll tell me that he thinks this play will work, and it’s not necessarily designed for him.”

Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster: Success comes from Antonio Brown diversion

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Ben Roethlisberger won’t commit to Antonio Brown holding his longtime role as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ No. 1 receiver . But the player who might have passed Brown for that distinction will.

JuJu Smith-Schuster has more catches and receiving yards this season than Brown. But Brown’s second-year teammate attributed his success to the attention Brown draws from opposing defenses.

“Obviously, he’s been here for (nine) years,” Smith-Schuster said of Brown. “He’s getting double teamed, triple teamed. It’s hard, you know? But he still makes his plays, and he still has the explosive plays that he’s making.

“And for me to be a young guy, me and (running back James Conner) and some of the other guys are being able to eat off his plate because of what he’s done in the past.”

Brown between 2013-17 had the most catches in NFL history of any player over a five-year span. But although he is in the top 14 in both categories this season, his 71 receptions and 974 yards rank second on the team to Smith-Schuster’s 77 and 1,055.

No player, though, has more touchdown receptions than Brown’s 11, and only Tyreek Hill has more catches of 40-plus yards in the NFL this season than Brown’s five. Smith-Schuster is tied for sixth in the league with four such explosive catches.

“He’s helped me out a lot,” Smith-Schuster said. “We always talk about just making each other better. Every day I go out and practice, I try and be the best I can be on the field, competing against him.

“When it comes to gameday, it’s just we all talk about, ‘It’s G.O.A.T. time.’ It’s time, ‘The G.O.A.T. comes alive,’ ” Smith-Schuster said. “You make your plays, on both sides. And we’ve seen it work.”

G.O.A.T. is an acronym for “greatest of all time.” And Brown, statistically at least, has a something of a stake to such a grandiose claim, at least for a receiver through age 30. That’s led to speculation that Brown might resent that Smith-Schuster could be the cusp of eclipsing him in the hierarchy of Steelers’ offense already.

Not so, Smith-Schuster said.

“There’s no consideration about me having better numbers than AB,” Smith-Schuster said.

J.J. Watt to younger brothers Derek and T.J.: No cut-blocks

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

Daily competitors at home and in the weight room back in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Houston Texans star pass-rusher J.J. Watt has had an up-close look at the dust ups between younger brothers Derek and T.J. Watt.

Now, J.J. Watt will have a prime seat in front of his TV to watch both brothers face off on the field when the Los Angeles Chargers travel to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in a nationally televised game Sunday night.

”We were just talking about it in the group text the other day and I basically just said, no cut-blocks,” J.J. Watt told reporters in Houston. “That’s the only thing. Just don’t go at his knees. Otherwise, everything’s fair.

”It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. I hope there’s at least one play where they have to -- Derek has to block T.J. straight up and we can settle it once and for all and we’ll see, but it will be cool.”

Derek and T.J. Watt played at Wisconsin together, where T.J., 24, moved from tight end to outside linebacker and Derek stayed on offense at fullback. Two years older than T.J., Derek said the two butted heads in practice at times, but never during an all-out live session.

Derek Watt, 26, said the entire family will be in Pittsburgh for the game on Sunday.

A sixth-round selection by the Chargers in the 2016 draft, Derek Watt blocked for running back mate Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin. He has played 100 offensive snaps this season, serving as a lead blocker for one of the most potent rushing attacks in the NFL.

In his second NFL season, younger brother T.J. Watt has totaled 50 tackles, 10 sacks and four forced fumbles on the year.

”We’ve been talking,” Derek Watt said. “We’ve already been on FaceTime twice in the early part of the week, and it’s been pretty normal. We also talk and keep up in a group chat and all that stuff.

”There hasn’t been much smack talk. I know a lot of people have been asking about that. It’s more typical brother stuff. We know what’s happening this weekend. I’m going to see him and my family out there before the game, so it will be a good buildup to a big game.”

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions and open thread: Chargers Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 5:43pm

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

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

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

The rules haven’t changed...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

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

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

1. The Steelers are coming off a disappointing loss to the Broncos in Week 12. Finish the sentence:

The Steelers will beat the Chargers on Sunday night if Ben Roethlisberger _________.

2. What would be the game plan for the Steelers’ offense heading into the Week 13 game vs. Denver?

3. OVER/UNDER number of sacks on Philip Rivers in Week 13: 2

4. If you were Randy Fichtner, what would your game plan look like heading into the Sunday night game?

5. Not sure why I like this question so much, but here goes:

Who scores first, and who makes the first tackle for the Steelers?

6. What is your prediction for the game on Sunday? And how do you see the game shaking out?

Extra Credit: I love Christmas movies...which would you prefer in the battle?

A Christmas Story or Elf

No matter what, always remember...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

Steelers Week 13 injury report: Marcus Gilbert out vs. Chargers, Morgan Burnett doubtful, Bud Dupree and Cam Sutton questionable

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 3:42pm

The Steelers could be missing a number of players when they face the Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field on Sunday night.

The Pittsburgh Steelers final injury report of the week left a lot of questions unanswered on Friday and it appears at least two players will be game time decisions for the medical staff on Sunday night. While Marcus Gilbert has been ruled out for his sixth consecutive game, Morgan Burnett is also likely to sit out in Week 13 with a doubtful designation and Bud Dupree and Cameron Sutton have both been listed as questionable.

OUT: Marcus Gilbert
DOUBTFUL: Morgan Burnett
QUESTIONABLE: Cam Sutton and Bud Dupree

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) November 30, 2018

Burnett would miss his fifth game of the season if he cannot play against the Los Angeles Chargers and his first since Week 6. Having missed the full week of practice, his participation seems unlikely and there is a good chance Marcus Allen may get to see the first snaps of his career if Burnett is sidelined.

Considering Dupree was a full participant at practice on Friday after being limited on Thursday and sitting out on Wednesday, it is not out of the question he will be cleared to play on Sunday. Should he be forced to miss out, rookie Ola Adeniyi may yet be activated in time for the game.

The appearance of Sutton on the injury report is something of a surprise given he missed practice on Friday for personal reasons and hopefully this matter can be resolved before game day.

With Matt Feiler able to train fully each day, it should be expected that he will resume his role as the starter in Gilbert’s absence and a full week of practice for Vance McDonald suggests he will be good to go despite a hip concern.

The return of Stephon Tuitt after two weeks on the sidelines might be the biggest boost for Pittsburgh in Week 13 and he was finally able to put in two full days of training after being limited on Wednesday. An encouraging sign for his involvement against Los Angeles.

B.J. Finney was back with his teammates on Friday after two missed days of practice for personal reason of his own earlier in the week and he is also expected to play on Sunday.

Running back Melvin Gordon is officially out for the Chargers.

Chargers injury report — OUT: Melvin Gordon (knee), Brandon Mebane (not injury related). QUESTIONABLE: Tyrell Williams (quad), Joe Barksdale (not injury related). Gordon, Mebane and Barksdale did not practice. Williams was limited on Friday.

— Eric Williams (@eric_d_williams) November 30, 2018

Trying to decipher what the heck is going on with James Conner

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 12:51pm

There are three popular theories being tossed around trying to explain Pittsburgh Steelers RB James Conner's recent drop in production: concussion, loss of confidence, and exhaustion. One of these could possibly be the culprit, but it's probably a mixture of all three.

What's up with Steelers RB James Conner? I have witnessed players hitting the rookie wall enough over the years to realize it does happen to some players, but Conner isn't a rookie anymore. Or is he?

After hardly seeing the field during his actual rookie campaign, he has suddenly become the Steelers next star running back and therefore his workload has exploded. He has definitely made the most of the opportunity, at least up to November.

Coming off an incredible string of performances that garnered him the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, Conner's usage and production have plummeted. There appears to be a myriad of reasons why.

Being a starting running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers is pressure enough, especially when you add the ravenous fan base and the yearly expectations for the team, without adding any self inflicted pressure to the equation. It seems Conner has been feeling the effects of just that with his recent uncharacteristic performances.

Right after last season's star running back missed a league mandated report date and decided to sit out the whole season, I watched Bucky Brooks discuss the impact of that decision for the Pittsburgh Steelers on the NFL Network. He brought up an interesting theory on how that decision could affect James Conner, and admittedly I thought he was dead wrong at the time.

He speculated that Conner would now feel increased pressure in knowing that the cavalry wasn't getting ready to ride over that hill and save the day like everyone had been expecting. Now he was the one who was expected to be the hero and save the day, but this would be his first time experiencing those expectations at the pro level.

Part of being a star is being able to handle being the star, and everything that goes with it. Conner has went from being a feel good story to being the main story. Every action and reaction is scrutinized, and every mistake magnified. If you play well you are just doing your job, but if you falter occasionally you can rest assured the hounds will be nipping at your heels. One more thing to look forward to, you will forever be compared to the man who held your position before you, whether it's good or bad. That comes with the territory.

Bucky Brooks predicted that Conner would struggle with these new expectations. Conner promptly goes out and, Bam, he is in concussion protocol after the Panthers game. Although Conner was cleared to practice the following week and never missed any game action, something definitely seems a little off in his performance.

Concussions can affect your vision, balance, and equilibrium. That could help explain a couple of dropped passes in key situations against the Jaguars, or last week's costly fumble after an impressive catch and run. He wasn't utilized fully in the running game against Denver for some unknown reason, but was effective when given the opportunity to tote the rock. His pass protection through out the game was excellent, which has become the norm.

I don't believe Conner has hit any imaginary wall due to increased usage because he hardly carried the ball in a few games this season due to the score or other game situations. Exhaustion is not an issue, and he came to camp in phenomenal shape.

I believe Conner's decreased usage and production are a result of his own success. Defensive coordinators are designing game plans specifically to stop him, because the Steelers offense is most effective when Conner is running wild over, around, and through their defenses.

It is up to Randy Fichtner and the Steelers offense to adjust accordingly and commit to establishing the running game each week. That is when the Steelers display their true potential.

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