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Podcast: Steelers restructuring, reward or remorse?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/01/2021 - 8:25am

Matt Peverell breaks down the Steelers salary cap and player personnel situation every week in The War Room.

Join BTSC’s Matt Peverell for his solo show as he looks at possible future Steelers and examines the ins-and-outs of the Steelers dollars and “sense” situation when it comes to personnel.

Check out the newest addition to the BTSC family of podcasts and stay a while with Matty in The War Room.

Rundown of the show:

  • The impact of restructures longer term on team performance
  • The AV of 1st Round draft picks at different positions and how various top tier Steeler draft picks have stacked up or exceeded these averages
  • An all too early preview of 2022 interior offensive lineman and names to look out for

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

30 Scenarios in 30 Days: Why Ben Roethlisberger will throw single-digit INTs in a full 17-game season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/01/2021 - 7:15am
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

In the new “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” series, we break down situations which could take place for the Steelers in 2021.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the 2021 regular season, but before the real games begin, the team has to head to training camp to fine tune their skills. As we here at BTSC prepare you for the start of camp, we give you a series called “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” which gives you a Steelers scenario every day leading up to the start of camp.

It is simple how it works. We provide you the scenario, reasons why it will or won’t happen, and then our prediction for what we think will take place.

Let’s get to the scenario...

Scenario: Ben Roethlisberger will throw single-digit interceptions in a full 17-game season.

Seasons Roethlisberger has thrown single-digit INTs:
2005: 9 (12 Games)
2010: 5 (12 Games)
2012: 8 (13 Games)
2014: 9 (16 Games)

Why it will happen: In my opinion, the key to this prediction is whether the Steelers are successful in their attempt at running the football. If they can generate a running game, and when I say that I am talking about a running attack which is ranked near middle of the league or above, it takes a tremendous amount of pressure off Roethlisberger to have to always make the difficult throw. Roethlisberger has shown, as recently as 2020, he is more than capable of protecting the football, and if the Steelers can run the ball it should only assist him with making proper reads and delivering passes to a stacked wide receiver corps.

Why it won’t happen: When you look at the statistics above, Roethlisberger has only had one season in his career where he played in a full length regular season and had single-digit interceptions. There is a reason for that statistic, and it is how Roethlisberger can be careless with the football. In seasons where Roethlisberger played in every game, only happened four times, he averaged 14 interceptions a season. I excluded the 2020 season where he threw 10 interceptions because he was rested in Week 17. The thought of Roethlisberger playing in all 17 games, something Dave Schofield predicted wouldn’t happen in 2021, and throwing less than 10 interceptions seems far fetched.

Prediction: As much as I would love to suggest Roethlisberger will play a very clean brand of football in Year 18, I know better. Even with a running game, Roethlisberger always has, and will, gamble with down the field throws. He trusts his receivers to make plays, even when the coverage is solid, and sometimes those end up in the defender’s hands. The receiver used to be Antonio Brown, and now it might be Chase Claypool. Either way, if Roethlisberger plays in all 17 games, which is a huge if, I see him being around the 10-12 interception range in 2021.

Check out yesterday’s ‘30 Scenarios in 30 Days’ prediction:

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

Najee Harris ranked in the top half of all starting NFL RBs, as a rookie

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/01/2021 - 6:00am
Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ prized draft pick is ranked higher than most expected in the latest rankings.

The Pittsburgh Steelers made a decision many NFL fans disagree with when it comes to the NFL Draft.

They drafted a running back in the first round.

When the team selected Alabama product Najee Harris with the 24th overall pick, many fans were skeptical. Why were they skeptical? Because their thought process is you can find value at the position later in the draft. Players like Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry and plenty others were not first round running backs. Suddenly, the general consensus is players like Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott aren’t worth the first round tag.

It makes for an interesting debate, and one Steelers fans are hoping pays off for them in 2021. NFL Network’s Maurice Jones-Drew, a former NFL running back himself, ranked all 32 starting running backs in the league. You might be shocked where he has Najee Harris ranked, but let’s take a look at the players who were listed before Harris:

Maurice Jones-Drew’s RB Rankings

1. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
2. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
3. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
4. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
5. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
6. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
7. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
8. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
9. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
10. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
11. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
12. J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
13. David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
14. Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
15. Austin Eckler, Los Angeles Chargers
16. Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

“The Steelers have finally found a new bell cow in Harris, who has a similar skill set to Le’Veon Bell. One of the best backs to come out of the draft in quite some time, Harris will be at the center of the Steelers’ offense as a versatile weapon who’ll take a ton of pressure off an aging Ben Roethlisberger If the Steelers do make one final Lombardi Trophy push with Big Ben under center, the rookie will play a huge role in their success.”

If you want to see the rest of the rankings, click HERE.

So, what do you think of these rankings? Is it absurd to consider Harris, who hasn’t carried the ball once as a professional, higher than some players who are already established runners in the NFL?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes on the Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

Podcast: Have Steelers’ “Decembers to Remember” become forgettable?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/01/2021 - 4:30am

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

For most of the past decade, the Steelers seemed almost unbeatable in the final month of the season. Since 2018, the 12th month of the year equaled “Seasons Beatings”. How often did the Men of Steel finish strong an falter in the end? Thank goodness for the Stat Geek to break it all “dahn”. 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 pulls out the Steelers slide rule and geeks out only like he can.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • 10-year trends of how often the Steelers’ seasons fall through in the end
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Dick LeBeau reflects on presenting one of his “sons” into the Hall of Fame

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/30/2021 - 2:00pm
Photo by: 2013 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have a heavy presence in Canton, OH this summer, and a large contingent will be excited to see Dick LeBeau present Troy Polamalu for induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The town of Canton, Ohio is not far from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Just over two hours by car, to be exact. For this simple reason it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone how Pittsburgh Steelers fans invade Canton whenever one of their favorite players or coaches is to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

As someone who has family in Canton, they always talk about the Terrible Towels which are seen everywhere the week of induction when a member of the Steelers is inducted, but I don’t think anyone can prepare for what is about to unfold this summer.

This summer, with two classes being inducted together thanks to COVID-19, the Steelers will have the following individuals inducted into the Hall of Fame:

Class of 2020
Troy Polamalu
Bill Cowher
Donnie Shell

Class of 2021
Bill Nunn
Alan Faneca

That is a lot of black and gold which will be on display both August 7th and 8th when they all receive their gold jackets and unveil their busts. With enshrinement just over a month away, all players and coaches who are being inducted have selected who will be presenting them at the ceremony. Bill Cowher will have Art Rooney II, Alan Faneca chose Hines Ward, but the most notable was when Troy Polamalu selected former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to present him.

When LeBeau heard of Polamalu being a first ballot inductee he was excited to just be there to watch his prized pupil get the recognition he deserves, but when Polamalu asked him to present him it meant a lot to the Hall of Fame player/coach.

“I am very honored. I can tell you that,” LeBeau told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “I was so thrilled and happy for Troy when he got selected. I thought it would be unbelievably great if I was there just to see it. It was just so important to me that Troy go in, and that he got in with the first opportunity that was available to him. I had been telling everyone for five years that Troy would go in on the first chance he had because he was that great and certainly deserves it.

“Troy has a lot of people in his life. I would have understood wherever he went. I was over the moon when he did call and say he would like me to present him.

“Our players were like my sons. You saw it, you know personally how close we were as a defense. It’s going to be great putting your son in there.”

LeBeau doesn’t just appreciate, and love, all of his players, but he recognizes now just how perfect the tandem of Polamalu and LeBeau were at that time. It was a match made in football heaven.

“I think there are many situations like that on that defense where we were so close to each other,” said LeBeau. “They were extremely talented and were so successful. That 2008 defense, I don’t know if anybody will put numbers up like that ever again. It was such an honor and a blessing to be a part of that.

“I think in the situation with Troy, his particular talent and ability matched up perfectly with the way I like to attack on defense. I think it was just a perfect union.”

LeBeau is beloved by everyone who ever played for him, and he reciprocated that appreciation and love for all of his players. It makes the moment presenting Polamalu even sweeter. How sweet? Sweet enough where he will be as happy unveiling Polamalu’s bust as he was when he unveiled his own when he was inducted in 2010.

“I couldn’t think of a happier moment. It will be ever bit as happy as when we were unveiling my bust,” LeBeau said. “I think there may be some more Steelers off of that group going in there one day.

“The popularity of Troy was nationwide, probably worldwide, but I can’t substantiate that. I do know he was famous and well known and a favorite player of people across this country. That is where great, great stars end up. They end up in the Hall of Fame of their sport. In Troy’s particular case, he is every bit as good a man, husband, and father as he is a football player. That is a great combination.

“I can’t wait for it. That is one of the neatest things about getting to be there, have the honor to be there by his side, is to see his friends and teammates. I know when I went in in 2010, the franchise took the whole team there and they all sat back in the left together. I couldn’t look back there at them. I would have started crying.

“It’s going to be so neat to be back in that arena and see the guys that were there when I went in, now there to support one of their own who is going in. It’s going to be great. A family reunion without a doubt.”

It will certainly be a family reunion in many ways. Not only are the Steelers having all of the aforementioned individuals being inducted, but you can imagine all of the other players who will be in attendance. It is expected many of the players from the great 70s teams will be there to usher in Shell, as will the great players of the 90s and 00s to see Coach Cowher, Polamalu and Faneca get inducted as well.

This weekend in August will be one to remember, and LeBeau being an integral part of it just seems to fit.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

The Steelers Trifecta: Edmunds, Finney, and Fitzpatrick

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/30/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Day 10 of the Steelers Trifecta! Featuring Trey Edmunds, B.J. Finney, and Minkah Fitzpatrick

Welcome to the Steelers Trifecta! Over the 30 days leading up to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 training camp, we will be highlighting three players every day in order cover the entire 90-man offseason roster. So without further ado, here are today’s three players:

Trey Edmunds Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

Position: Running Back/Fullback
Age: 26
Year: 4
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 223
Drafted: UDFA 2017 (Saints)
College: Maryland
Roster Outlook: Doubtful — Veteran Practice squad option
Analysis:

The Steelers running back room will be dominated by the usual names. Najee Harris will be the bell cow, Anthony McFarland will be the change of pace guy, and either Benny Snell Jr. or Kalen Ballage will be the short yardage back. Heck, Jaylen Samuels could even be a wing option, and Derek Watt is entrenched as the Steelers starting fullback. Trey Edmunds has faced these odds of making the team before, and was a player that was routinely cut and re-signed depending on injuries and roster transactions. I anticipate 2021 will be much of the same for the lesser known Edmunds brother.

B.J. Finney

Position: Center/Guard
Age: 29
Year: 6
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 318
Drafted: UDFA 2015
College: Kansas State
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

The Steelers offensive line is very much in transition. They will have a brand new starting five combination, and while the interior three spots look to come down to Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, and Trai Turner, B.J. Finney will be the top backup behind all three of them. Finney may even have an opportunity to start early in the year before Kendrick Green is ready to go. It is also worth noting Finney struggled mightily on both of Seattle’s and Cincinnati’s offensive line in 2020 so don’t hold your breath we will be getting the same player we remember.

Minkah Fitzpatrick Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

Position: Safety
Age: 24
Year: 4
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 207
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 11, 2018 (Dolphins)
College: Alabama
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

What is left to be said about Minkah Fitzpatrick. You could argue he could push T.J. Watt as the best player on the team, or maybe even argue him as the best safety in football. All in all the Steelers dealing for Fitzpatrick completely changed this team for the better. If the Steelers are able to move Fitzpatrick around more as the years go by, and his turnover totals pile up he could be another player that hoists the defensive player of the year award. He will also be an integral piece on another Steelers Super Bowl run.

Be sure to check back everyday for anther ‘trifecta’ of Steelers, and as we go along click back on previous articles listed below so you don’t miss a thing.

Don’t look for a T.J. Watt contract extension before training camp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/30/2021 - 11:30am
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The downtime of the NFL ofseason between minicamp and training camp does not often bring contract extensions from the Steelers.

Not too long ago I wrote an article here at Behind The Steel Curtain giving three acceptable examples of the very limited breaking news which could occur between Steelers minicamp and 2021 training camp.

There was a flurry of news last Thursday between the Steelers not returning to St. Vincent College, releasing David DeCastro, and signing Trai Turner. Still, all three of the items listed in my previous article are still standing. But in the comments, a fourth item was brought up which I felt the need to address. It was an extension for T.J. Watt.

This was specifically left off of my list for good reason. The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t generally do contract extensions during the downtime between minicamp and training camp.

There are actually four main times when the majority of the Steelers contract extensions get signed. The first is in March before the start of the new league year or slightly after it begins. The second time is during OTAs and minicamp when players are officially back at the facility for the first time. The third most common time when players are signing their contract extensions is when they report to training camp. Lastly, the very end of the preseason at the beginning of September is the last-ditch effort to get a contract extension signed.

To come up with these dates, I went back and looked at all the transactions on the Steelers website as far back as 2012, which is all the farther they go. Additionally, I looked up some big-name players and the dates in which they signed their contract extension with the Steelers. Almost everything falls within these for time periods.

For example, Ben Roethlisberger generally gets his deals done in March. In both 2008 and 2015 Roethlisberger signed his extension in March. In 2019 Roethlisberger’s extension came in April, but the reworking of his contract in 2020 also came in March.

Maurkice Pouncey is another player who generally got his deals done prior to training camp. In 2014 Pouncey’s extension came while the team was still doing OTAs, and his 2019 contract was signed in March before the start of the league year.

Another example of contract extensions signed during OTA/minicamp was in 2002 when Alan Faneca, Kimo von Oelhoffen, and Tommy Maddox all signed their deals in early June.

On the other end of the spectrum, there has been a lot of contract extensions worked out after players reported to training camp, with many times things going right up to the start of the season. David DeCastro deal in 2016 came the second week of September much like Stephon Tuitt in 2017 and Joe Haden in 2019. Troy Polamalu signed his extension in 2007 right after training camp began, but his famous deal in 2011 came in September right before the Steelers left for their Week 1 matchup.

The only exception which could give Steeler fans some hope of a deal with T.J. Watt coming before the Steelers return for training camp comes courtesy of Cam Heyward. No, it was not his 2020 extension which was signed in early September last year. Instead, it was his 2015 contract extension which was signed in the middle of July about a week before training camp began that season.

So it’s not impossible for the Steelers to work out a deal with Watt in the coming weeks. It’s not that they have some rule that they won’t do it much like they do when it comes to contracts during the season. Instead, it’s a history where it’s not generally the time the two sides get together. If wanting to estimate when this deal is likely to be done, I would put my money on early September before the regular season begins.

That is, if a deal gets done before the 2021 season.

Podcast: Will the Steelers have any first-time Pro Bowlers in 2021?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/30/2021 - 11:00am

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

The Steelers have their share of stars that have received plenty of accolades, including Pro Bowl selections. The there are those valuable players that haven’t received national due. Who is ready to take that next step and earn at least a Pro Bowl nod? This will be just one of the subjects that will be discussed in the latest installment of 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
  • Players that could finally be Pro Bowl bound

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

Spotify: 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:

With his option declined, Terrell Edmunds is out to prove his worth in 2021

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/30/2021 - 10:00am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers declined Terrell Edmunds’ 5th year option, and now the safety will have to prove his worth heading into free agency.

There are times when you feel for players like Terrell Edmunds. Edmunds, who most had projected as a Day 2 draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, had no choice in the Steelers taking him in the first round.

Fans have expectations for first round picks, and rightfully so, and often times Edmunds’ game has left a lot to be desired. This is one of the main reasons why it wasn’t a slam dunk the Steelers pick up Edmunds’ 5th year option this offseason. Once the deadline came and went, Edmunds joined just Jarvis Jones and Artie Burns as the only players to have their options declined since the option came into existence.

In case you didn’t know, fans should understand there was more to this decision than just Edmunds’ on field performance. When the team traded with the Miami Dolphins for Minkah Fitzpatrick, they were then in control of his 5th year option as well. Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) the price of the option varies depending on the success of the player. In this case, Fitzpatrick’s option was more expensive than Edmunds’. To complicate matters, the first ever drop in the NFL’s salary cap made this a very difficult decision, and the Steelers chose Fitzpatrick’s option over Edmunds.

How did Edmunds find out about the team not picking up his option? Head coach Mike Tomlin called him personally and told him.

“Coach (Mike) Tomlin called me personally and told me they weren’t going to pick up my fifth-year option this year,” Edmunds told reporters during mandatory minicamp. “He told me that doesn’t mean business is over, but just stay motivated and come out and do what I can.”

There is no reason the Steelers can’t sign Edmunds after the season. If he plays well, and the two sides agree on the terms of a contract, they will have exclusive negotiating rights with the former Virginia Tech safety until the new league year begins.

As for Edmunds, he isn’t ruling out the possibility of a return to the team who drafted him in the first round.

“I would love to come back to Steelers Nation. They are the people that gave me the opportunity to come into the NFL, made all of my dreams come true. It is still open. Maybe next year we can make something happen. I am just coming in every day, working hard every day, keeping my head on straight, and give 100 percent every game. Everything is on a whole new level. You have to bet on yourself, double down on yourself and just do hard work.”

While that sounds great, you have to understand the situation from a player’s perspective. Certainly, there is some loyalty to the team who drafted them, but they also are likely to want to test the open market and see what their worth might be to other organizations.

In the meantime, Edmunds is focused on having his best season with the Steelers in 2021, and he believes the team has had a great offseason so far with work in Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamp.

“I think it was good we all came together,” said Edmunds. “We lost some guys. Just to have new guys in those roles feel comfortable with the calls and adjustments, that is a big thing for our chemistry.

“Right now, we are keeping everything the same. It worked last year. Everyone was in good position. If it’s not broke don’t fix it. Minkah (Fitzpatrick) said that the other day and we want to stick to that.”

If Edmunds has been anything, it has been reliable. If he is able to take that durability and combine it with better ball skills, he could very well price himself out of Pittsburgh when the 2021 season comes to a close. The Steelers hope he is a big contributor this season, but would also realize it could mean them losing a former first round pick.

That was the gamble the organization took when they chose to decline Terrell Edmunds’ 5th year option.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the upcoming 2021 regular season.

Offense in Focus: Using the power run game to set up big plays

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/30/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

When Matt Canada has a successful rushing attack, his offense really opens up.

This article got shelved for almost a month due to some technical issues with uploading longer gifs to articles, like long TD runs. Those issues are fixed now, so welcome back! If you need a refresher, the previous articles are linked at the end of this article.

This is the fourth part in our look at Matt Canada’s offense at his various college coaching jobs. Today we again look at his time at the University of Wisconsin, when his offense was defined by the run game, and his three future NFL starting running backs.

In the last part, we looked at a play action pass, and today we are going to look at how his strong run game set up big plays, specifically from misdirection. We’ll start like we always do, with the initial formation.

Another heavy set with two running backs and one wide receiver, this time aligned in single back with both tight ends to one side, Melvin Gordon lined up at wide receiver is the only difference between this formation and a traditional single back set.

This formation is heavily leaning to the bottom of the screen, with both tight ends and a back lined up as a receiver, they are showing power to that side. Now let’s move on to the motion.

Nothing elaborate, just balancing the tight ends. I love the linebackers moving and pointing and talking, you can tell the motion is in their heads, they are thinking about how players may move, and while they don’t mess up reacting to the motion, they are moving around and thinking, they aren't chomping at the bit to attack the play, they are thinking, it’s a small victory for the offense, but small advantages can lead to big benefits.

The inside run game that was the workhorse for Matt Canada’s 2012 offense has the defense crashing the middle. The counter runs (and shovel passes) from wingbacks and tight ends has Nebraska’s #42, the linebacker on the play side, watching the man who motioned to his side as the ball goes right past him. The only one defending Melvin Gordon is the deep safety that takes over man responsibility for Gordon.

Check out the main part of this play from a different angle.

There’s one player defending the actual run here. Melvin Gordon is more than a match for a safety, and he’s gone for a touchdown. This touchdown is created by several factors.

First and foremost, the inside run game was strong enough that teams had to pay serious respect to it. One of the contributing factors in the Steelers run game falling apart was David DeCastro’s injury in week 5 and his return had him not playing as well. When Dotson and a healthy DeCastro were playing with Maurkice Pouncey, the threat of a jet sweep was real, because teams had to work to defend inside runs. When the inside run game fell apart, so did the threat of a jet sweep.

Second is the motion and various threats from wingbacks. Second tight ends and fullbacks are almost always the least dangerous weapons on the field, and defenses can put their weakest defenders on them, or use that defender to help other places. Matt Canada turns that on it’s head by attacking teams with that position, wing back counters, passes, and lots of motion make the defense pay special attention to a player they normally would pay the least to, and that shows up here in a big way. The linebacker staring down the #2 tight end is the player in the best position to help the safety shut down the jet sweep, but he doesn’t even realize what is happening, because he has to watch his man, the #2 tight end who came to his side in motion.

The previous three parts of this series focused on the motion Canada uses to make teams think before running plays, even basic run plays, and how he uses the #2 TE or FB (typically as a wing back) as a playmaker when the defense is focused on more traditional threats.

While all of that can be called window dressing for a pretty standard college offense, it isn’t just sizzle, it is manipulation. Forcing defenses to think about a player that they are used to ignoring with little risk, makes the better offensive weapons harder to contain. If you think of the way Antonio Brown’s gravity could make Coby Hamilton a target worth throwing too at times in 2016, Matt Canada’s offense would be like Todd Haley moving Cobi Hamilton around a lot, finding creative ways to get him the ball and gain yards, causing the defense to divert fewer defenders to Antonio Brown.

The Steelers have been collecting versatile depth weapons like Jaylen Samuels, Derek Watt and Anthony McFarland for years, and drafted Pat Freiermuth this season. The options for versatile H-backs and wingbacks are on the team. The changes on the offensive line this summer have resulted in them replacing key parts of one of the most effective pass blocking lines in the NFL with mauling interior run blockers. Building a power run game with Najee Harris has been a major focus in the Steelers offseason, and the success or failure of that focus will be an enormous factor in the success of Matt Canada’s offense in 2021.

Previous Offense in Focus articles

30 Scenarios in 30 Days: The Steelers will hold opponents to under 20 points a game

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/30/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the new “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” series, we break down situations which could take place for the Steelers in 2021.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the 2021 regular season, but before the real games begin, the team has to head to training camp to fine tune their skills. As we here at BTSC prepare you for the start of camp, we give you a series called “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” which gives you a Steelers scenario every day leading up to the start of camp.

It is simple how it works. We provide you the scenario, reasons why it will or won’t happen, and then our prediction for what we think will take place.

Let’s get to the scenario...

Scenario: The Steelers will hold opponents to under 20 points a game

Steelers points surrendered per game:

2020: 19.5 ppg
2019: 18.94 ppg
2018: 22.5 ppg
2017: 19.25 ppg
2016: 20.44 ppg
2015: 19.94 ppg
2014: 23.0 ppg
2013: 23.13 ppg
2012: 19.63 ppg
2011: 14.19 ppg
2010: 14.5 ppg

Why it will happen: Just look at what the Steelers generally do on defense. This is their calling card. While many are really down on the Steelers going into the 2021 season, they are forgetting that there is a lot of this defense still intact as well as the return of Devin Bush. Every loss the Steelers defense had from 2020 was a calculated loss, meaning they knew what their alternatives were while making their decisions and chose not to keep certain players. Seeing this defense completely fall off a cliff this year would be a surprise.

Why it won’t happen: The Steelers went from one of the easiest schedules in 2020 to the most difficult one for 2021 based off of last year‘s records. But not all things are created equal simply looking at records. For example, the opponents the Steelers played last year and do not play this season actually gave up less points on defense than the new teams they will face in 2021. But when looking at points scored per game, this is where it actually shows the difficult task at hand for 2021. The Steelers new opponents for this coming season averaged 26.86 points per game while those opponents from 2020 they do not face this season only scored 22.19 points per game.

Prediction: This is a tough one. While the number of 20 is not historically unreasonable for this defense, they are taking on some pretty prolific offenses in 2021. This statistic may ultimately determine the success of the 2021 Steelers, but getting below 20 might not be the standard for success. If this defense carries the way and wins the “strength on strength” matchups week after week, they could keep their average under 20 points. But against some of the teams they are playing, keeping them under 20 may not be the case but yet they still can pull off a victory. To ultimately make a decision, I’m going to have to say the defense is still impressive and the driving force behind winning games, but they give up over 20 points a game.

Check out yesterday’s ‘30 Scenarios in 30 Days’ prediction:

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

6 reasons I’m glad Steelers training camp won’t be held at Saint Vincent College

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/30/2021 - 6:00am
Handout Photo

You might have a few reasons why you’re disappointed Steelers training camp won’t be held at St. Vincent College for the second year in a row. However, I have six reasons why I’m glad!

In news that I never thought would be so incredibly disappointing to people before the advent of social media, the Steelers announced last week that they won’t be conducting their annual training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. for the second summer in a row.

I think the reason has to do with the facilities at St. Vincent not being up to snuff in terms of the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol.

Anyway, below is a quote from Steelers team spokesman Burt Lauten, last week, shortly after the decision was made:

“We are disappointed we won’t be holding our 2021 training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. We were prepared to safely host training camp on campus with fans, but unfortunately, our plan was not approved due to the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols.”

While Lauten might be disappointed with the decision, and while many Steelers fans share in that feeling, yours truly is happy.

I have six reasons why.

  1. I’m under less pressure to go now. Being a Steelers writer, people are always asking if I’m going to camp. “Are you going to camp?” they’ll often ask. Now I have a convenient excuse for not going and can even feign disappointment. “Darn it!” I’ll say while stomping my foot. “Maybe next year.” Don’t get it twisted. It’s not like I hate watching the Steelers do stuff, you see. It’s just that, well, I’m from Pittsburgh. Pittsburghers don’t like to cross bridges to get to the other side of town, let alone drive 40 miles. And what about the tolls I’ll have to pay to and from Latrobe? Who has a million dollars just lying around, burning a hole in their pocket in this day and age?
  2. I can avoid sitting on that awful grassy hillside. I hate that hillside. You ever try to sit on that hillside at St. Vincent College and watch practice? You spend half the time trying not to slide down onto the field. Do you think I want Cam Heyward kicking my butt for stepping into his football octagon? I’d be fair game the moment I hit the end zone. I suppose a trip to training camp would be a little more tantalizing if I was guaranteed a seat in the bleachers at Chuck Noll Field. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened since 2009—my first camp experience. Since then, it’s been nothing but butt sliding on that hillside.
  3. I don’t have to pretend like I know what I’m seeing as I watch Pat Freiermuth catch a pass or Chukwuma Okorafor block a dummy—or even one of those inanimate objects that linemen hit to perfect their blocking techniques.
  4. I don’t have to worry about some college kid waving a sex toy at me as I sit in traffic on Route 30. This actually happened to me on my way home from a trip to training camp back in 2016. As I sat there waiting for the light to change, I looked over at the car to my left and saw this kid waving...well, let’s just call it a weird-looking yardstick. Why he did that, I do not know, but I did make sure to keep my gaze straight ahead until I got back onto the Interstate. Anyway, since someone waving a sex toy at you in traffic is something that only happens once every five years, there’s a good-to-great chance I’ll experience that again, this summer. Therefore, I must avoid Route 30 at all costs.
  5. As per Lauten, fans will be allowed to attend select training camp practices held at Heinz Field—camp practices will be split between Heinz Field and the team’s facilities on the South Side of Pittsburgh. This is great news! Not only is Heinz Field much closer to me than St. Vincent College, but the stadium has zero grassy hillsides to sit on. I plan on parking my car in the West End of Pittsburgh and walking over. You might be asking, “Well, what if these select practices are only open to season-ticket holders?” “Darn it!” I’ll say while stomping my foot. “Maybe next year.”
  6. I can avoid the usual dirty looks I often get from other Steelers fans in attendance at St. Vincent when I step in front of little kids so I can be first in line to get JuJu Smith-Schuster’s autograph on the way back to his dorm room. We’ve become soft as a society, and I blame participation trophies.

Podcast: Beware the bogus reports during the Steelers 2021 offseason

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/30/2021 - 4:30am

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

An inside source reported in January that T.J. Watt was disgruntled and wanted the team to ship his stuff back to the Dairy State. That was debunked. Now another anonymous report has surfaced that the Steelers’ interest in Trai Turner was due to Kevin Dotson being out of shape and not initially because of David DeCastro. That story is being debunked already. But it is still out there. 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 Note
  • The Live Mail Bag
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Will Alex Highsmith make Steelers fans forget about Bud Dupree?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/29/2021 - 2:00pm
handout photo

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be looking to get some major contributions from Alex Highsmith in Year 2.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are known for their defense, but more importantly sacking the quarterback. After leading the league in sacks in 2020, the biggest question surrounding the black and gold pass rush is whether Alex Highsmith can fill the void left when Bud Dupree jettisoned for the Tennessee Titans via free agency.

Highsmith had a stellar rookie season as the No. 3 pass rusher, but saw extensive experience when Dupree was lost for the season with a torn ACL. That experience has people excited for what Highsmith can do in Year 2 with a full year under his belt.

Prior to the start of mandatory minicamp, T.J. Watt spoke with reporters and was asked about Highsmith filling the gap left by Dupree, and if he would be able to step up and take attention away from his side of the defense.

“I don’t know if I can say exactly when, even when it was Bud and I, they were sliding to either one of us, chipping and everything,” said Watt. “It was carryover from when it was Bud and I. We were seeing a lot of chips and slides.

“Alex is a really talented pass rusher himself too. If guys want to slide my way and chip and everything, he is going to have one on ones on the backside and I am very confident he is going to win the majority of those battles too. I don’t think there is a way you can totally protect both of us at one time.”

Watt has been with Dupree since he entered the league, and leading up to 2020 the duo was one of the best in the NFL. But that doesn’t hinder Watt’s excitement to working with Highsmith on a full time basis.

“I am really looking forward to working with him and continuing to work,” said Watt. “The last five or six games we had together last year gave us a real good look at how we gel together and things we can improve on collectively. That starts with camp here and getting the communication with him and the whole front five. I am excited to get to work with these guys again.”

When assessing what Highsmith does well, and where he might struggle, is up to interpretation. There is no denying his pass rushing repertoire is far and away better than Dupree’s when he was entering his sophomore season in the NFL, but Highsmith’s ability to stop the run will be key within the defense.

Watt points out it isn’t so much about stopping the run or pass rushing moves, but consistency across the board.

“I think the big thing is pass rush,” said Watt of what Highsmith brings. “He has a great repertoire of moves already coming off his rookie year. He can spin, he can do his ghost move, he is developing more power in his game. I think that is a real high positive. I also think he handles the run well. It’s just a matter of being more consistent for the both of us. I think that is the biggest challenge of being an NFL player, trying to be consistent week in and week out. I have said it time and time again. Anybody can have a great game. It’s about putting together great weeks and a great season. That starts with being here at minicamp.”

As for Watt, who is coming off another season where he was arguably snubbed for the Defensive Player of the Year award, his goal in 2021 is to provide more splash plays for the defense. Whether it be sacks, forced fumbles or interceptions, game changing plays is where he is focusing his attention.

“I just want to be the best possible player I can be, not just for myself but for the Pittsburgh Steelers,” said Watt. “I want to make splash plays. The big thing for me is noticing the plays I didn’t make last year, wishing I could have converted on some forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, sacks, tackles for a loss. There is a lot of good from last year, but there is a lot of stuff I can continue to improve on. That is why I love this game so much. You are never at your ceiling. I am just trying to get better each and every year.”

So, bringing things full circle, will Highsmith be able to make Steelers fans forget about Bud Dupree? Maybe, to an extent, but I don’t think anyone is expecting Highsmith to completely erase Dupree. If Highsmith can simply take a step forward in his progression, the Steelers’ defense will continue to be one of the best in the league.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

The Steelers Trifecta: Dotson, Ebron, and Edmunds

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/29/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Day 9 of the Steelers Trifecta! Featuring Kevin Dotson, Eric Ebron, and Terrell Edmunds

Welcome to the Steelers Trifecta! Over the 30 days leading up to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 training camp, we will be highlighting three players every day in order cover the entire 90-man offseason roster. So without further ado, here are today’s three players:

Kevin Dotson Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Offensive Line
Age: 24
Year: 2
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 321
Drafted: Round 4, Pick 135, 2020
College: Louisiana
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

Despite the rumor of Dotson coming to minicamp not in the best football shape, 2020 film of Kevin Dotson shows he is one of the best young prospects the Steelers have on the offensive line. With the release of David DeCastro, Dotson becomes the Steelers number one returning option as other players in the mix were not on the Steelers in 2020. There is no doubt in Dotson’s roster status for 2021 and the only real question is which guard position he will start at based on who else grabs the other starting role.

Eric Ebron Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Tight End
Age: 28
Year: 8
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 253
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 10, 2014 (Detroit Lions)
College: North Carolina
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

Playing more snaps on offense in 2020 then he had his entire NFL career, Eric Ebron showed some wear down towards the end of his first season with the Steelers following his injury. Looking to bounce back, and work alongside second-round draft pick Pat Freiermuth, Ebron is not in question of making the roster but only how he will continue to be utilized in the Steelers offense.

Terrell Edmunds Mitchell Layton-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Safety
Age: 24
Year: 4
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 217
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 28, 2018
College: Virginia Tech
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

Not only is Terrell Edmunds the Steelers best option at strong safety for 2021, he may be playing with a bit of a chip on his shoulder as he was not given the fifth-year option for 2022. Unless something changes between now and the start of the season, Edmunds will be in a contract year and will look to show the Steelers, and the rest of the NFL, what he is capable of bringing to the table.

Be sure to check back everyday for anther ‘trifecta’ of Steelers, and as we go along click back on previous articles listed below so you don’t miss a thing.

Najee Harris doing all he can to improve homelessness in California

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/29/2021 - 11:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back is doing his best to make a difference both on and off the field.

Najee Harris isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, NFL player who came from dire circumstances. We’ve all seen the documentaries about players who grew up in a one bedroom house with five other siblings. Where young athletes were forced to walk miles with their equipment just to get to practices in the summer.

These stories aren’t anything new to the NFL landscape.

If you are a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and watched the Najee Harris ‘Road to the Pros’ documentary series, you know about Harris’ upbringing. He bounced from home to home, his family often facing eviction, and there were moments when they didn’t have a place to call home.

Again, these types of stories are all too common in professional sports, but Harris is trying to do everything he can to help others avoid the same problems he faced as a youth. Most recently Harris met with Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, to discuss the homeless situation in the state.

Check out the video which was released by the office of the governor, and features Harris:

.@ohthatsNajee22 is an inspiration. He experienced homelessness & eviction at a young age and is now paying it forward.

Homelessness can be solved & California is tackling it through Homekey. pic.twitter.com/Y4ZqfNKRMS

— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) June 29, 2021

Harris is a very genuine person, and you can see his sincerity about trying to rectify the situation so others don’t have to endure what he did growing up in the Bay area.

This isn’t the only community outreach Harris does. He has partnered with several organizations and causes in California, and is already starting to make an impact in the Pittsburgh area.

While Harris is unproven as a player in the National Football League, he seems to have already passed the test as a quality human being who is doing everything he can to better the situation for others.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

Podcast: Steelers who may bust the bubble and escape trouble

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/29/2021 - 11:00am

In the latest episode of “Steelers Hangover” show, Bryan Anthony Davis, Tony Defeo and Shannon White look at the week that was and the Steelers going forward.

We the fans, along with the media, always think that we know who will and will not make the Steelers 2021 roster. But there are players that will fight their way on to the roster. Who are they? The Steelers Hangover. On this show, Bryan Anthony Davis, Tony Defeo and Shannon White break down all things Steelers! Join the veteran trio as they analyze all things black-and-gold.

Check out the rundown of the show

  • News and Notes
  • Steelers that may bust the bubble and escape trouble

and MUCH MORE!

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

Spotify: 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

Is there a cost to be paid when teams overlook injuries?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/29/2021 - 10:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a habit of downplaying the severity of player injuries

On Thursday, June 24th, the Pittsburgh Steelers released David DeCastro. It wasn’t the biggest surprise because DeCastro hadn’t been speaking to media and hadn’t been practicing. After the Steelers brought Trai Turner in for a tryout, it was pretty easy to deduce there were issues with DeCastro’s health after his injuries in the 2020 season that played a large role in his diminished play. The Steelers made that official when they released their star right guard. The surprising thing was they designated the release a Non-Football Injury release. This release status tells you two things. First, the Steelers were releasing David DeCastro while he was injured, and second, the team was stating the injury was not caused by his work playing football for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The next morning, Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an article that included parts of a conversation via text-message he had with DeCastro in which the 6 time Pro-Bowl lineman named the injury that caused his release, bone spurs in his ankle. He stated that he had surgery to clean it out the previous year, and needed to do it again, which he noted would be his third surgery on that ankle.

In an interview with Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider, DeCastro noted that the doctors told him the damage to the ankle stemmed from his knee injury back in his rookie season on 2012, and had been getting worse.

The difference in how DeCastro’s injury is labelled matters. If DeCastro had a football-related injury in 2020, it would need to be on the injury report, if it was significant. That’s a key word, significant. You don’t report “bumps and bruises,” but you have to report injuries that affect a player’s ability to play football. If a football related injury caused a player to retire, you would have to consider it significant, and frankly, if you watched David DeCastro play after his return from his knee injury, whatever was wrong affected his play, and that makes it worthy of being listed on an injury report.

The Steelers didn’t list DeCastro’s ankle in any injury report in 2020. Chronic bone spur issues have been listed by NFL teams in the past, Eric Berry of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018 was listed with an ankle injury almost every week of the season for bone spur issues that were instrumental in his release from the team. Berry was released with no injury designation, after his bone spurs were deemed not serious enough to require surgery. He hasn’t played in the NFL since.

The Steelers are in the opposite situation, after not listing DeCastro’s ankle at all in 2020, they released him injured after team doctors told DeCastro his ankle needed surgery. There’s no chance of a legal issue or NFL fines here, David DeCastro signed the clean bill of health the doctors gave him at the end of the season. But there’s more to this, and this isn’t the first time the Steelers have had issues with how they report injuries.

A culture of overlooking injuries

In 2019, Ben Roethlisberger injured his elbow in the season opener against New England. He spoke with team doctors, they evaluated him, and after he missed practice that week, Roethlisberger ended up starting week 2 before further aggravation of the elbow ended his season. The problem with that process? The Steelers listed Roethlisberger’s absence from practice as non-injury related. The Steelers were fined for not disclosing Roethlisberger’s injury after the truth came out.

In 2017 the Steelers left Le’Veon Bell’s groin injury out of the injury reports for multiple games in the playoffs. After Bell was pulled from the loss to New England, he stated that the injury had occurred two weeks prior against the Dolphins, and had gotten worse since. Mike Tomlin corroborated that story, stating that he knew about the injury, but didn’t deem it as being “significant”. The Steelers held Bell out of three practices in the two weeks between the Miami and the New England game, labelling each one as not-injury related. The Steelers escaped a fine for that one, largely because the NFL let the Seahawks get away with the same thing earlier.

Mike Tomlin viewing an injury that kept a player from practicing as not significant might sound familiar, because in camp this season, when Tomlin was asked about David DeCastro’s absence, he stated, “If I thought injury circumstances or reasons why people were not participating were significant, I would share them with you.” Multiple times the Steelers have not listed injuries on injury reports because they weren’t “significant,” and then those injuries caused those players to be unable to play football.

For his part, DeCastro has stated he will leave it up to the lawyers and union whether to file a grievance. DeCastro has made a lot of money, and doesn’t seem interested in fighting the Steelers, an organization he showed a lot of respect and affection for in the same interviews his injuries were discussed.

Not every player has the money David DeCastro has made. Isaac Redman talked to Behind the Steel Curtain in 2015 about his release from the Steelers. Redman was released by the team after a neck injury in the 2013 training camp that hurt bad enough he could not play. That neck injury would end his career, yet he was released with no injury designation. By Redman’s account he had a CAT scan scheduled for October through the team when he was released in 2013, it would take him until August of 2014 to get the final diagnosis that would result in his retirement. If the Steelers had recognized his injury, he wouldn’t have been able to be released like he was, and would have to have been placed on injured reserve where releasing him would require an injury settlement to cover his loss of ability to work due to the injury.

On the opposite side of the coin from the Isaac Redman story is the Ryan Shazier story, a case where the Steelers did just about everything they could for a player whose injury cost him his career, and plenty of players attesting to the Steelers taking care of their players better than other teams.

I’m not trying to demonize the Steelers, but I’m not going to put on my black and gold goggles, put my fingers in my ears and yell that there is nothing to see here either. The Steelers have an incredible legacy and a great reputation. They aren’t always going to live up to that reputation, I understand that, human beings make mistakes. But treating significant injuries as insignificant is a bad trend for the Steelers. So far we’ve looked mostly at the legal impact of the Steelers downplaying the severity of injury, but with David DeCastro, the legal side is irrelevant, he signed the paper saying he was healthy, he hasn’t shown interest in pursuing a grievance.

So you might be wondering why I am even talking about this.

The on the field cost of not respecting injuries

NFL players play hurt, they play through injuries, it’s a huge part of the culture of football. Not just the macho side of not wanting to look weak, but the structure of football contracts and the way the league operates, players putting their health first won’t have a job long. Jerome Bettis played when he was hurt because he was afraid the Steelers would cut him. He was less effective and it likely accelerated his decline, but he played. Ben Roethlisberger, without much fear of being cut and losing money, plays hurt a lot, and he wins games when he’s hurt. In week 2 of 2019 it didn’t work out, instead of gutting out a win he tore all five of his flexor tendons in his throwing arm over the course of a drive as he pushed himself to finish the drive. The Steelers got a field goal on that drive, but they lost their quarterback for the rest of the season.

In 2020 we saw David DeCastro play hurt, we saw his usual dominance that he had shown earlier in the season disappear and we saw him struggle to make blocks. David DeCastro went from the Steelers best offensive lineman to one of their worst, and yet he played.

In that week 2 game against the Seahawks, Mason Rudolph was better in the second half than Ben Roethlisberger was in the first half. Roethlisberger playing through that injury was worse than his backup. With Roethlisberger the Steelers gained 113 yards on 6 drives and scored 10 points, the team didn’t have a single 50 yard drive. In the second half, with Mason Rudolph the Steelers gained 158 yards and scored 16 points on 5 drives, with both a 60 and 75 yard scoring drive. A healthy Ben Roethlisberger is much better than Mason Rudolph. A banged up Roethlisberger playing through pain is better than Mason Rudolph. But the 2019 version of Roethlisberger wasn’t.

David DeCastro missed one game after his week 5 injury, and played all but a handful of snaps the rest of the season. Most of those snaps he was not good, and for most of those snaps Kevin Dotson sat on the bench while the run game disappeared and Ben Roethlisberger was forced to get rid of the ball faster and faster because of the pressure the defense was able to generate in his pocket.

How much of an impact these decisions made we can’t be sure of. We don’t know what would have happened with Ben’s elbow if he had been pulled from the week 2 game of 2019, and we don’t know what difference replacing DeCastro with Kevin Dotson would have made. We only get to see what actually happened, we don’t know what could have happened. But what we do know, is that the Steelers have a history of downplaying injuries, and we can look at the film and see players playing hurt and playing poorly despite an injury report that says they are perfectly fine. Multiple times Steelers players have played with unlisted injuries that were made worse by playing, enough to affect their play or even force them to stop playing. But those players matter, and the games the Steelers lose when players aren’t able to play good football matter.

The Steelers ran for 684 yards in the first 5 games of 2020, David DeCastro played in two of those games and looked good, Kevin Dotson played in three and looked good. When DeCastro returned from injury in week seven through the end of the season the Steelers ran for 719 yards in 11 games. Perhaps at some point the Steelers should have put two and two together and realized that playing their injured all-pro guard wasn’t helping the team, and giving him time to rest and recover, even if it meant digging deeper into the depth chart, might have been a better choice.

Film Room: A healthy Trai Turner could help transform the Steelers’ rushing attack

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/29/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Jim Dedmon/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers’ latest addition to the offensive line could have ae big impact on the team’s running game in 2021.

The Steelers signed guard Trai Turner last week just hours after releasing veteran David DeCastro.

Like DeCastro, Turner is a former Pro Bowler who played through injuries in 2020. And, like DeCastro, his performance suffered as a result. Following five straight Pro Bowl appearances from 2015-2019, Turner was rated the worst run-blocking guard in the league by Pro Football Focus last season. He will save the Steelers $5.75 million on the salary cap compared to DeCastro. While the savings is nice, the real issue involves which Turner the Steelers are getting: the perennial Pro Bowler or the shell of that player from 2020.

Trai Turner (2019)

In 2019, a healthy Turner was the rock of the offensive line for the Carolina Panthers. At 6’3-315, he was a stout, powerfully-built interior lineman. He could move defenders off the ball as well as pull and block in space. He was a smart player who understood how to pick up twists, loops and trades by a defense and was above-average in pass protection. At age 26, he seemed to be in the prime of his career.

In Carolina’s Week 8 game, a 30-20 win over the Tennessee Titans, Turner and his fellow linemen helped star tailback Christian McCaffrey rush for 146 yards. Since running the football is a chief concern for the Steelers, the film clips below showcase Turner’s run-blocking in that contest. Turner is the right guard (#70) in all of these clips.

The first thing that jumped out watching him was his strength coming off the football. Below we see Carolina run a one-back Power concept. This is a gap scheme that requires vertical movement from the offensive line. Turner and the right tackle (72) began by double-teaming the 3-tech DT, with Turner eventually taking over the block. Watch how Turner kept a wide base to generate power, moved his feet and drove the DT to the second level. He finished the play with a shove, indicating he was blocking to the whistle:

Here’s one-back Power again. The Panthers ran it that day against Tennessee like they invented the play. Part of the reason they had so much success was because Turner was creating movement in the A-gap. Watch as he got off the ball with a low pad level, exploded into the 3-tech then chipped off to the linebacker. Turner was a bit late climbing to the backer but showed great hustle to chase the play and find someone to block:

Here’s one more clip that showcased his power. This is a lead play from the 1 yard line out of 22 personnel in which the Titans challenged their big guys up front to knock the defense off the football. Turner complied, getting under the pads of his defender and jolting him back across the goal line. This should bring joy to Steelers’ fans who remember Pittsburgh’s feckless attempts to run the ball in short yardage situations last season.

While power at the point of contact was Turner’s signature feature as a run-blocker, he also demonstrated he could operate in space. Here’s a clip where he moved laterally to his left to prevent the 3-tech from crossing his face then continued to pursue the block even as the ball-carrier stretched the run to the opposite sideline. Watch Turner shove the tackle late in the play. This is not dirty. It’s doing what he’s coached to do, which is to finish every play with his hands on a defender:

This next clip features outside zone, a play Matt Canada is expected to run a great deal of in Pittsburgh. Turner had the difficult task of climbing to block the playside linebacker (55). While Turner didn’t exactly engage the backer, he got out quickly enough to cut off the backer’s path to the football. The backer could not come downhill as a result and had to pursue the play vertically. Turner again stayed after him, blocking until the whistle:

While it might not look like Turner did much here, the speed at which he operated and the angle he took to close the backer’s path to the football are examples of the subtle things effective linemen do to create successful run plays.

Here’s another. It’s one-back Power again and Turner has another double-and-chip with the right tackle on the 3-tech (90) and backside backer (59). The late shift from the tackle alerted Turner he was probably slanting to the left. Rather than try to double team him, which would have opened up the A-gap, Turner gave him a quick shove and handed him off to the OT before climbing to the backer. Watch how square Turner stayed as he climbed. By not turning his shoulders, he closed the backer’s alley to the football. The backer had to come over top of Turner as a result. So, while Turner didn’t necessarily block the backer here, his understanding of Tennessee’s line stunt and his body positioning kept the backer from having a direct path to McCaffrey:

Finally, we see Turner do something the Steelers have asked their guards to do for years: pull and trap. This is counter-gap, a Pittsburgh staple. Turner was responsible for kicking out the edge player to his left. Look how quickly he got out of his stance, how flat his path to the block was, how he cut off the defender’s path to the ball by attacking his upfield shoulder and how he ran his feet on contact to create movement. This is textbook stuff from a guard. You can’t do it much better than Turner did here:

So, in 2019, the film showed that Trai Turner was playing with explosiveness, power, smarts and passion. He looked like everything you’d expect from a player who’d made five consecutive Pro Bowls.

Trai Turner: 2020

Turner was traded that off-season to the Los Angeles Chargers in exchange for another perennial Pro Bowler, offensive tackle Russell Okung. It seemed like a good deal for both teams at the time. But Turner suffered a groin injury early in the season that caused him to miss six games, and when he returned he bore little resemblance to the player the Chargers thought they were getting.

A groin injury is especially troublesome for an interior lineman. Power players like Turner rely on their hips, legs and core for explosive movements. In the following clips, all taken from the Chargers’ late-season win against Denver, we see how Turner’s injury compromised his ability to move fluidly and generate power.

Watch him (right guard, #70) on this inside zone run. He is tentative putting force into the ground and driving his legs. He doesn’t come off low like he did in the earlier clips and he doesn’t roll his hips. This suggests he is hesitant to put stress on his groin. Without that stress, and the push it generates, he cannot sustain his block. His defender falls back inside to assist on the tackle for a short gain:

Something similar occurs on this outside zone play. Turner has to reach the playside (left) shoulder of the 3-tech tackle. To do so, he needs to spring from his stance to gain outside leverage on the block. He simply can’t do it. Turner shuffles at the snap, cannot get to his aiming point and is driven into the backfield:

Here’s one more. Again, no get-off, no leverage, no power. This looks nothing like the player we saw in those Carolina clips. It seems very unlikely that Turner, at just 27 years of age, suddenly lost his technique and explosiveness. The injury was clearly hampering his play:

While the physical impact of the injury was obvious, the time and reps it cost affected his communication with his new teammates. On several occasions, Turner failed to execute switches or combo blocks, suggesting he was either very rusty, not acclimated to the new offense or struggling to sync up with his fellow linemen.

Here’s one example. LA runs an RPO against this “Under” look from the Broncos. Denver executes a “long stick” stunt, crashing the left side of their front to free up the middle linebacker (45). Turner should trade off with the right tackle and pick up the pinching edge player while leaving the backer for the OT. The OT stays with the pinch, however, and Turner blocks air. The backer comes unblocked to make the tackle for a short gain:

In the next clip, Turner is the one who fails to trade off against a stunt. He chases a pinching tackle and is late redirecting to block the backer, who again has an open window to the ball-carrier:

This problem showed itself repeatedly against Denver. While Turner was not sharp executing against Denver’s line movements, neither were his teammates. It makes you wonder how prepared the Chargers were up front. They did not look like a well-coached unit in this contest.

Finally, there is this clip. Turner executes his block effectively here. But watch him as the play continues. Once the running back is through the hole, most of LA’s linemen chase the play, looking to pick up an extra block. Some even catch the back and manage to push him forward. Not Turner. He watches from behind, making no effort to hustle or help his teammates:

This play occurred in the 4th quarter of a game that was tied 13-13 with the Chargers driving for what turned out to be the winning field goal. The fact that Turner appears to be going through the motions while his teammates are giving their all is troubling. In an interview with Sirius XM’s NFL Radio last week, Turner acknowledged that the injuries, the transition to a new team and the challenge of dealing with COVID made 2020 a particularly rough season. It shows in this clip.

The good news for Steelers’ fans is that, in the same interview, Turner proclaimed himself fully healed. “I’m back at 100 percent,” he said. “I’m feeling good. I’m just ready to come back and have a phenomenal season.”

Challenges await Turner in Pittsburgh, of course. The Steelers are reshuffling their entire line behind a new coordinator, a new line coach and a new starting running back. They will need to gel quickly to avoid some of the problems Turner faced in Los Angeles. However, playing on a one-year, $3 million prove-it deal, Turner should be extremely motivated to show that, at age 28, he remains one of the premier interior linemen in the game. If so, he will give the Steelers a powerful guard to pair with three other physical players up front — rookie center Kendrick Green, second-year guard Kevin Dotson and tackle Zach Banner. Those four, along with first-round pick Najee Harris, should provide the nucleus to make good on Pittsburgh’s promise to run the ball more effectively.

30 Scenarios in 30 Days: The Steelers offense will average over 30 points per game

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/29/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

In the new “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” series, we break down situations which could take place for the Steelers in 2021.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the 2021 regular season, but before the real games begin, the team has to head to training camp to fine tune their skills. As we here at BTSC prepare you for the start of camp, we give you a series called “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” which gives you a Steelers scenario every day leading up to the start of camp.

It is simple how it works. We provide you the scenario, reasons why it will or won’t happen, and then our prediction for what we think will take place.

Let’s get to the scenario...

Scenario: The Steelers offense will average over 30 points per game in 2021

2020 Points Per Game: 26 (12th)

Why it will happen: On paper the Steelers’ offense has lost a lot, mainly along the offensive line, but you can’t ignore just how dynamic the offense is at the skill positions. Najee Harris, Eric Ebron, Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson...you get the picture. If Ben Roethlisberger can have time to throw, there is a good chance this offense is more dynamic than what fans saw in 2020. The 26 points per game last season wasn’t horrible, but the team struggled when it mattered most. In the final stretch of the regular season, and in the red-zone. If the team can turn field goals into touchdowns, and keep the pedal down for an entire season, they have a chance of averaging 30 points per game. On top of that, the recurring theme in all of these predictions is the new 17th game on the regular season schedule. Giving the Steelers another four quarters to add to their total could be the ticket to this prediction coming to fruition.

Why it won’t happen: It isn’t out of the realm of possibility the Steelers’ offense is dynamic, and maybe even better than 2020, but 30 points per game is difficult to do. The Steelers came close under Todd Haley’s direction, but 30 points per game has always eluded the Pittsburgh offense. Without Maurkice Pouncey, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler and now David DeCastro, it seems unlikely the team can put together a line which can add four more points to the total, on average, for the 2021 season.

Prediction: I am as optimistic as they come with the Steelers, but this is the first prediction I’ve done in this series where I really don’t think it could happen. Would I be upset if it did? Absolutely not, but with the new offensive line, an unproven rookie running back and an aging quarterback doesn’t give me the most confidence when it comes to averaging 30 points per game. With that said, I want to also add I don’t feel it is necessary for the Steelers to average 30 points per game for them to be successful in 2021. If they could be at, or near, the 26 points they averaged in 2020 they will be in almost every game they play with how stout the defense will likely be this season.

Check out yesterday’s ‘30 Scenarios in 30 Days’ prediction:

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

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