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BTSC staff say goodbye, or good riddance, to Tom Brady

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 02/02/2022 - 7:00am
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The BTSC staff big farewell to one of the organization’s biggest rivals upon the news of his retirement.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had many enemies in the Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin era. Whether you talk about Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Vontaze Burfict, Myles Garrett or even Chad Johnson. Nonetheless, none of them come close to comparing to Tom Brady.

The former New England Patriots turned Tampa Bay Buccaneers tormented the Steelers during his time in New England, and many Steelers fan nightmares star No. 12 driving a stake into Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl hopes and dreams.

Nonetheless, on Tuesday news broke of Brady planning to retire from the NFL after 22 remarkable seasons.

Tom Brady officially retires. Among his posts… pic.twitter.com/o9GqgRKsoO

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 1, 2022

With Brady reportedly being done, there is a lot of emotion with Steelers faithful. Some can’t stand him to this day, others have developed an appreciation for his overall play, while others will miss having him in the league.

Wherever you stand, the BTSC staff wanted to weigh in on the topic, so below you will see a short paragraph from writers and podcasters who wanted to give their two cents on the topic.

Feel free to add your own commentary in the comment section below!

Jeff Hartman

With the Steelers in full offseason mode, I was actually painting a ceiling when the news came through our slack channel of Brady’s retirement. I said it there, and I’ll say it here too...I still can’t stand that man. Sure, he was arguably the greatest to ever do it at the quarterback position, but that doesn’t mean I have to like him. I can have a general appreciation for what he’s accomplished without showering him with love and praise. Forget that. The Patriots, and mainly Brady, were a thorn in the Steelers’ side for his entire tenure with the Patriots, and if it weren’t for the 2001 playoff game where the Steelers knocked Drew Bledsoe out of the game, if Brady would even be Brady today. Probably, but I still can’t stand him. I don’t say goodbye to Brady, I say good riddance. Guess I’ll have to find another player to constantly root against no matter where, or who, they play.

Bryan Anthony Davis

Why on earth are we celebrating the retirement of Tom Brady. Everybody is honoring a cyborg manufactured at Skynet and was created by Cyberdyne Systems for SAC-NORAD and not a real person or a man. The truth is that the Tom Brady that we have watched rip open our black-and-gold hearts has never ever breathed life and is nothing more than artificial intelligence more annoying than Haley Joel Osment in that A.I. movie in 2001. No real human being could do the things that the imposter wearing No. 12 for New England and Tampa Bay for all these seasons did. So go ahead and honor this machine that we wrongly let dominate a football league for what seems like ever. I’m glad that the league is decommissioning him and giving others a chance. I won’t miss you Tom Brady. I hate you because the Steelers picked Tee Martin instead of you.

Dave Schofield

There are plenty of reasons for Steelers fans to despise Tom Brady over the years. From matchups in the playoffs to one game where we all know somebody caught that ball (I hope my brother brings this up), there are many reasons to say “good riddance” to Brady. For me, I only ever witnessed him play in person one time. This game was in 2018 at Heinz Field in Week 15. With the Steelers holding onto a four-point lead halfway through the fourth quarter and the Patriots threatening, I saw Joe Haden come down with the interception at the 4-yard line. The Steelers then held the ball for more than five minutes and kicked the field goal to go up seven. Brady still almost led them back to win the game, but they came up short and the Steelers were victorious. It was the last loss by the Patriots during the 2018 season as they won their final two regular season games and all three of their postseason contests. Out of all the other things I could focus on, I’m going to remember that game. Why? Simply because I can.

(Now for the confession: I only went to that game because I couldn’t sell the tickets. I really didn’t want to see Brady beat the Steelers again. Perhaps it was fate.)

Geoffrey Benedict

I have a different view of Tom Brady than most Steeler fans, I was born an hour outside of Detroit Michigan and have been a University of Michigan Wolverines fan for longer than I have been a Steeler fan.

I remember Tom Brady being the guy who followed Brian Griese at quarterback, following the 1997 National Champion Wolverines. The guy people wanted benched so #1 recruit Drew Henson could start. He wasn’t flashy, but the team won 10 games in both his seasons leading the team. When the Patriots beat the 2001 Steelers in the playoffs I was upset, but not at the Patriots. The Steelers 4 turnovers were what made me angry. I actually rooted for the Patriots in the Super Bowl against the Rams, I’ve always been a fan of defense over flashy offensive teams.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t grow to hate Tom Brady in the coming years. Those Patriot teams have animosity reserved for them I’ve never had for any other team. Brady was a unique QB whose skill-set made him the perfect foil for Dick LeBeau’s defense, one of the greatest defensive schemes in NFL history. LeBeau’s scheme beat most quarterbacks, but played into Brady’s hands and it was awful.

But his career took a 180 degree turn for me when he went to Tampa Bay. I delighted in the Patriots falling apart while Tom Brady took the Buccaneers to the Super Bowl, and as a big fan of defense, I loved seeing players like Levonte David, Ndamukong Suh, former Steelers Steve McLendon and Ross Cockrell win the Super Bowl, and I was able to embrace Tom Brady and his unique greatness.

The Patriots still suck, and Bill Belichick isn’t the genius he has been lauded as for almost 20 years. He’s just another very good coach that was carried to championships by a great QB.

K.T. Smith

When I think of Brady, I’m always reminded of Anthony Smith. Smith, for those who don’t remember, was an otherwise forgettable Steelers’ safety drafted in the 3rd Round out of Syracuse in 2006. In the run-up to Pittsburgh’s December 2007 clash against the then-undefeated Patriots in Foxboro, Smith guaranteed a Steelers victory. Those words found their way to Brady’s ears.

Brady hit Randy Moss, who ran right past Smith, for a 66-yard touchdown pass on New England’s first possession. Later, they ran a flea-flicker to victimize Smith for another. Following that one, Brady ran over to Smith, got in his face and said some things he would not repeat in case, as he told reporters afterwards, “my mother reads it.” He threw for 399 yards and four TDs in all. The Pats won, 34-13.

The moment Anthony Smith opened his mouth, that game with New England was over. That’s because no one this side of Michael Jordan loved a challenge, or thrived on a slight, as much as Tom Brady. Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team and Brady had to wait until the 6th Round to be drafted. Both used those rejections as fuel for a fire that was hot as Mercury. More than natural ability, more than football IQ, it was Brady’s hatred of losing and his desire to prove people wrong that made him one of the greatest competitors American sport has ever known. I loathed Tom Brady for it, because so often it manifested in misery for the Steelers. Still, I cannot deny his greatness. He is the GOAT of NFL quarterbacks, no questions asked.

Congratulations, Tom Brady, on a truly remarkable career. Now don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out…

Big Bro Scho (Rich Schofield)

I could make this really short and sweet if I wanted to and just say GOOD RIDDANCE! I guess I should go an and articulate my point a bit more. Although never a Patriot fan, I did like Drew Bledsoe. I was sad to see Bledsoe injured, but thrilled the Patriots then had to roll with some no name 6th round draft pick. Little did I know that no name 6th round draft pick would spend the next two decades making my life as a football fan miserable. Not only did he seem to have the Steelers number, it seemed that I was always rooting against him and he seemed to always get the best of me not matter the color of the helmets his opponent was wearing.

This guy ticked me off so many times it isn’t even funny anymore. The Tuck Rule. Comeback in the Super Bowl after being down 28-3 against the Falcons. How many game winning drives in the last 2 minutes of a game can one guy have?

As poorly as the Steeles faired against him, there are teams whom he dominated as much or more. His record against Buffalo is 33-3. Atlanta, Minnesota and Dallas never beat him!

Maybe I am an evil person, but the moments I remember best are some of the ones where he failed. Two Super Bowl losses to the Giants (including the helmet catch and ruining the perfect season), the Philly Special in the Super Bowl, losing a season after a knee injury against the Chiefs (although they changed the rules because of it), Deflategate and subsequent suspension and the favorite of Scho 2.0 (#paykyle), was him forgetting it was 4th down, thinking instead it was only 3rd, when our friend De’Andre Houston-Carson of the Bears broke up a pass intended for Cameron Brate.

In the end, what can I really say. The guy could (and probably still can) play. Not only play, but also win. What I will say is what I started with...GOOD RIDDANCE! Now I can watch Super Bowls again until I find another player I refuse to watch play in one.

You may have noticed that I have not yet even said this players name in my write up, and that is on purpose. I don’t just hate the game, he is one of the few where I hate the player too (although I do respect his game). I will close with mentioning the players name I think of most often now when it comes to the Steelers and the Patriots....Jesse James caught that ball!

Anthony Defeo

Good luck to the man who already has everything. In reality, you should be wishing me luck, luck with trying to survive this apparent Steelers downturn after they were only able to win two Super Bowls. In a normal world, where two Lombardi Trophies are considered to be a fair amount for a fan, I would be happy and content. But in your universe, where seven rings is now the standard of excellence, I will always feel inferior. So, thanks...I guess?

Andrew Wilbar

Despite the fact that I am a Michigan fan, I have never rooted for Tom Brady. Spy gate was, of course, near and dear to the hearts of all Steelers fans, and the fallout with Deflate Gate did not make me like him any more. How about the time they were caught on video recording the Bengals sideline? Think of all the times they may not have been caught as well. Was the pulling of the fire alarm in the motel at 3:00 in the morning just a fan, or was it planned?

While I do believe Bill Belicheat is most responsible for the cheating, Brady was certainly the biggest beneficiary. He may have beaten the Steelers more than Ben Roethlisberger beat the Patriots, but as the two quarterbacks are likely to enter the Hall of Fame the same year, I believe that Roethlisberger’s résumé is more credible than Brady’s. We may have lost to Brady on a frequent basis, but at least we lost honestly.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shannon White

My lovely wife asked me a question today while she was cooking supper. "Did Brady really retire or not?" I assured her that today it finally became official. I told her that my fellow BTSC colleagues and I were going to share our thoughts about the man in this article. She asked me if I remember him playing in college, and she thought it was incredible that so many teams didn't draft him. I told her that I indeed had watched him play multiple times for the Michigan Wolverines in college, and remembered those games well. Honestly, I wasn't impressed in the slightest. I thought he might have a career as a quality backup QB, but not even a hint he would go on to be the greatest winner in NFL history. But I am hardly alone, as every team passed on selecting him for over six rounds.

Earlier today my mother called me asking if I had heard about Brady's retirement. My mom knows basically nothing about football. She roots for the Steelers because she knows how much I have always loved them. Recently she has become enamored with Tom Brady, probably because of his advanced age. She ask me regularly how he has been playing. Although I find her asking me about a sworn enemy more than a little aggravating, I always give her an update. When she found out I was going to be sharing my opinion in this article, she asked "You aren't going to say anything too bad about him are you?" I reminded her that I am honest to a fault, but I will leave it at this.

Tom Brady is the greatest winner in NFL history. He found himself in the perfect QB/HC pairing with Bill Belichick, but he was equally responsible for their unmatched success. That's all I got. Because as my mom always taught me, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all!"

The Super Bowl LVI matchup between the Bengals and Rams includes plenty of great stories

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 02/02/2022 - 6:00am
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl LVI: A matchup that includes plenty of great storylines, even if you’re a Steelers fan.

Before I begin this article, and since I am obligated to tie everything in with the Steelers in some way (I believe I’d lose my Steelers writing license, otherwise), how about the fact that Super Bowl LVI will include defensive lineman Aaron Donald, a Pitt alum, a Pittsburgh guy and someone who Steelers fans will want the team to acquire years from now when he’s in the twilight of his career with the goal being “to win a ring with his hometown team”? Ditto for receiver Tyler Boyd.

Yes, I think having two Pittsburgh guys as part of the upcoming Super Bowl LVI matchup involving the Rams and Bengals is at least one intriguing storyline to sink your teeth into over the next two weeks.

I don’t know if you recall this, but a week or so prior to the Rams Super Bowl LIII matchup against the Patriots following the 2018 season, Donald was spotted shopping at Ross Park Mall. How yinzer is that?

Speaking of a yinzer thing to do, Boyd made headlines after the Bengals' 24-10 Week-3 victory over the Steelers at Heinz Field by saying that his hometown team gave up at the end of the game.

So, there you go. If you don’t feel like camping out at Ross Park Mall this week in order to possibly catch a glimpse of Donald grabbing some pretzel nuggets at Auntie Anne’s, you can use Boyd’s comments on the Steelers earlier in the year as fuel to either criticize him or Mike Tomlin’s inability to motivate his team.

Then, there’s Mike Hilton, the former Steeler who somehow betrayed the team by taking more money to sign with Cincinnati. That’s a good story, right?

Those are nice stories and all, but what about the Bengals, a team that will be making its first trip to the Super Bowl in 33 seasons? And the way Cincinnati did it after so many years of futility—finally getting over the top after drafting the franchise quarterback number one overall just two years earlier—that’s likely how the NFL would script it if this whole thing was rigged—and it’s not, as far as you know.

Joe Burrow is THE MAN, and I think he knows it. Judging by the way he dresses and talks, I’m looking forward to the next two weeks and watching Burrow pull off his best Joe Namath impression.

How about the Rams and their approach to getting back to the Super Bowl? They went all-in prior to the 2016 NFL Draft and traded multiple first-round picks to the Titans in order to take quarterback Jared Goff number one. Not long after that, they hired Sean McVay to be their head coach.

The Rams had their coach, their quarterback, and Donald, who had been a defensive force for their franchise since they selected him in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

The Rams had moved back to Los Angeles prior to the 2016 campaign and were primed to make a run at a championship.

They came close in that aforementioned Super Bowl LIII matchup against New England, but the Patriots defense was just too much for Goff.

It would have been easy for Los Angeles, who inked Goff to a mega-deal prior to the 2019 campaign, to stick with the status quo, even as Goff and the Rams struggled over the next two seasons. But the Rams wouldn’t just stand pat. Nope, prior to the 2021 season, they traded two more number-one picks to the Lions, along with Goff, in exchange for quarterback Matthew Stafford, like Burrow and Goff, a former number one draft pick. Stafford put up good-to-great numbers in Detriot, but he could never take the lifeless Lions anywhere but down.

Now, after all these years of coming up short, Stafford is actually in the Super Bowl with a new team.

And what about all those other premium draft picks the Rams have traded away in recent years in order to bring in even more big-name players, including Jalen Ramsey, who cost two first-round picks, and Von Miller? I mean, holy cow. Thanks to all of this wheeling and dealing, Los Angeles hasn’t had a first-round pick since 2016 and won’t have one until 2024 (maybe). Can you imagine how miserable recent and future offseasons have and will be for Rams fans who are addicted to the draft?

Hard to argue with the results, though. You can say the same for the Bengals, who have been built mostly through the draft.

If the Bengals win, it could signify that they are the next juggernaut in the NFL, a young team to be reckoned with for many years to come. It would make Burrow a bigger star than he already is.

If the Rams win, it will be a long time coming, and it would also justify the obvious mortgaging of their future.

Can you imagine what it would do for Stafford and his legacy? Some might start talking about the Hall of Fame as a realistic destination. It seems weird now, but I’m sure folks would have felt the same way about Jim Plunkett (the number one pick of the 1971 NFL Draft) prior to his career resurgence with the Raiders in the early-’80s that included two Super Bowl titles. He hasn’t been inducted, but he’s been in the discussions, which is better than most former NFL quarterbacks.

No doubt it would cement Donald’s legacy—not that it needs much cementing, especially with his resume. He doesn’t need any Super Bowls to make it into the Hall of Fame, but—and this is just an educated guess—I’m sure he wouldn’t mind winning at least one.

Oh yeah, and the Rams will be playing the Super Bowl in their home stadium, something that hasn’t happened since last year.

The Rams, a fourth seed, vs. the Bengals, another fourth seed. This didn’t seem possible a month or so ago when the Rams were floundering a bit and the Bengals were still the Bungals in the minds of many.

Yet, here we are, a Super Bowl that includes unlikely participants whose stories are intriguing and inspiring, even for Steelers fans.

And, hey, at least it’s not Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh, amirite?

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 02/02/2022 - 4:30am

Get the latest BTSC podcast content in the ‘Podcast Roundup’.

The Pittsburgh Steelers seasons come and go with no real offseason, at least not for those die hard fans. For those fans, the preseason bleeds into the regular season, the regular season into the offseason, free agency and the NFL Draft. It is a vicious, never-ending cycle.

Nonetheless, we here at BTSC, and our podcast platform, are here with you every step of the way. In the past we have given you the podcasts in individual articles on the website, but have decided to go with a ‘Podcast Roundup’ article which has the latest three podcasts for your enjoyment. The reasoning behind this is to take up less space on the site for the great written content we have at BTSC.

Nonetheless, enjoy the shows below with a brief description of each show:

From the Steelers Cutting Room Floor: Profiling the men in headsets, Defense edition

The Steelers have some questions on their coaching staff and it’s time to break them all down. Welcome to From the Steelers Cutting Room Floor. Join BTSC’s Geoffrey Benedict for weekly player analysis as it pertains to the Men of Steel. This week, a look at the Steelers coaches on the defensive side of the ball.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • An in-depth look at the Steelers defensive coaches
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

The Scho Bro Show: What goes into Steelers players making the Pro Bowl?

The Steelers have four players in the Pro Bowl with T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, Diontae Johnson and Najee Harris representing the Men of Steel in Vegas this weekend. Back in the summer, the Scho Bro Show put together a list of possible first time Pro Bowlers after the 2021 season. Siblings Dave and Rich Schofield will dust off that compilation and talk about how a player making a Pro Bowl isn’t always the best thing for the team and how much teammates affect what happens. 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
  • Steelers in the Pro Bowl
  • Circumstances that lead to players making the all-star extravaganza

Dave and Rich walk you through everything you need to know regarding the black-and-gold.

Let’s Ride: Patience is key for the Steelers QB situation

Since Ben Roethlisberger retired after 18 years as the Steelers signal caller, the Steelers face a tough task looking for the player to follow Big Ben. A patient, delicate and deliberate plan is necessary after a legend departs the team. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on the Wednesday episode of “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Note
  • The art of the search for the next Steelers quarterback
  • The Mail Bag
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

Of all villains, Tom Brady topped them all for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/01/2022 - 2:00pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had their share of villains, but none top Tom Brady.

Over the weekend rumors swirled of the impending retirement of Tom Brady from the game of football after 22 seasons in the NFL. After those reports were debunked by multiple sources, including Brady himself, Tuesday Brady made the decision final.

After a career which saw him win 7 Super Bowls, Brady is hanging it up.

Tom Brady officially retires. Among his posts… pic.twitter.com/o9GqgRKsoO

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 1, 2022

Having already thought about this over the weekend when the rumors started, I couldn’t help but consider where Brady ranks among Pittsburgh Steelers villains since 2001. There have been some tremendous villains who have tormented the Steelers, just look at some of these names:

  • Ray Lewis
  • Terrell Suggs
  • Vontaze Burfict
  • Chad Johnson
  • Ed Reed
  • Myles Garrett
  • Adam “Pacman” Jones
  • T.J. Houshmandzadeh

When you look at that list of names, you can see some players who absolutely got under the skin of both the players and fans of the black and gold, but if you are honest with yourself, Brady sits atop this list.

No, he wasn’t a divisional rival, but Brady was a thorn in the Steelers’ side every time the two faced off against one another. How bad was this thorn? Just think how many Super Bowls the Steelers could have been a part of if not for Brady and the Patriots getting in the way?

In his career, Brady has played the Steelers 15 times, all with the New England Patriots, and sports a 12-3 record, including the playoffs. Fans likely remember the Steelers’ three wins over Brady, in 2004 with a rookie Ben Roethlisberger, a 2011 game at Heinz Field and the game in 2018 which was sealed by a Joe Haden interception in the waning minutes.

But look at Brady’s stats during those 12 regular season games:

Record: 9-3
TDs: 29
INT: 5
Yards: 3,744
Completion %: 68.8
Rating: 111.1

Now the 3 playoff games:

Record: 3-0
TDs: 5
INT: 0
Yards: 706
Completion %: 71.6
Rating: 118.6

The retirement announcement of Brady should be accompanied by a sense of appreciation, by all NFL fans, for being able to see one of, if not the, greatest quarterbacks of all time play the game. But that doesn’t mean Steelers fans won’t be happy to see No. 12 no longer playing in the league. Any fan of the Steelers who was old enough to see Brady play can recall multiple times when he and the Patriots were the team who showed just how truly inferior Pittsburgh was, on more than one occasion.

There are NFL villains, and then there was Tom Brady for the Steelers. I’m sure the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets can write a similar story today as AFC East rivals, but the Steelers saw their playoff hopes and dreams dashed too many times by Brady to not consider him the top nemesis for the Steelers during his time in New England. And if Brady’s overall success vs. the Steelers wasn’t enough to tick off Steelers fans repeatedly throughout his career, the fact he chose to retire the same year as Ben Roethlisberger further frustrates the fan base. Why? Barring the Pro Football Hall of Fame waiving the necessary 5 year wait period before being inducted, it will be Brady and Roethlisberger being on the ballot for the first time together.

Even in retirement Brady makes Steelers fans mad.

While the NFL world will wax poetic about Brady, and rightfully so, I spend today saying good riddance. The NFL might be lesser without Brady in it, but as a Steelers fan I find his retirement to be a day where I sit back and smile knowing Brady can no longer torment my beloved Steelers.

The Steelers can't let Minkah Fitzpatrick lead the team in tackles again

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/01/2022 - 12:30pm
Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Steelers have their warts and forcing their ballhawk safety lead the team in tackles sure is a bad one

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a list of problems coming out of the 2021-2022 season. One of those problems, and a serious one, has been pushed down the pecking order of importance since the season ended. This issue would be Minkah Fitzpatrick leading the Pittsburgh Steelers in tackles and breaking a franchise record for tackles in a season by a defensive back.

Sure, it is great seeing Fitzpatrick make contributions on the physical side of the game, but the problem remains that running backs and receivers were getting to the deep free safety before getting tackled by someone else.

The Safety position is properly named as they really are your safety blanket and last line of defense between the offensive player and scoring a touchdown. Getting past them means you’re probably going to put points up on the board. So, it is positive when your safety can consistently get guys to the ground and stop splash plays from happening. However, for the Steelers, these plays often happened and Fitzpatrick was tasked with making way more tackles than he ever should.

Who is to blame? You can point the finger at basically every other position on the defense. The most obvious issue is at the feet of the linebackers who really should be leading the team in tackles.

The problem with placing all the blame at the linebackers however is the defensive line’s issues. The defensive line was so bad at times in 2021 the linebackers were getting swallowed up by offensive linemen before they could even diagnose the play. This is a multi-tiered issue for the Steelers, so finding talent at both the defensive line and line backer positions are needed.

Letting Minkah Fitzpatrick worry less about stepping up into the run game and diagnosing pass plays would let him play his best style of ball and save his body from breaking down over time with the added stress of being a top tackling defensive back. This defense operates best when the defensive line keeps the linebackers clean, and the linebackers simply make the tackles they are supposed to make. If the Steelers can do that, I am certain Fitzpatrick’s turnover totals will jump back up along with his total tackles going down.

But what do you think? Do you have an issue with Minkah Fitzpatrick being the Steelers Leading tackler in 2021-2022? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

The Steelers search for a new General Manager might not be conventional

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/01/2022 - 11:30am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ search for their next GM might not go as many fans would want/like.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are entering an offseason where they are experiencing more turnover than usual. Just look at the changes which will take place:

  • New Defensive Coordinator
  • New Outside Linebackers Coach
  • New Offensive Line Coach
  • New Quarterback
  • Several other key free agents
  • New General Manager

About that last bullet point, many fans are wondering what the search for a new General Manager (GM) will look like. It has already been made known how Kevin Colbert will remain with the Steelers throughout the 2022 NFL Draft, but what will the process look like to bring in the next GM?

While meeting with media last week, team president Art Rooney II shed some light on what this process will look like to find the next GM, whether that’s in-house or not.

“Kevin will fill his normal role through this year’s draft. I don’t see it as something critical that we have somebody on board before the draft, even though we’ll be doing some interviews prior to the draft. But more than likely we’ll fill the position after the draft.”

Yes, you read that correctly. The Steelers aren’t planning on naming the next GM before the draft. Rather, they will allow Colbert to do his usual job, and then turn the reigns over to the next GM.

One thing which stood out in Rooney’s comments, was how the organization could considering keeping Colbert on board in an advisory role, even after the new GM has been hired. This isn’t out of the ordinary for NFL teams, the Baltimore Ravens did the very same thing when Ozzie Newsome stepped down, but helped Eric DeCosta get settled before completely taking over.

“We have left the door open, Kevin and I, to possibly have him fill an ongoing role after the draft, but we will be conducting a search for a new GM starting immediately and probably won’t make a hire until after the draft.” Rooney said. “We will be interviewing people, and we’ve already interviewed two of our in-house candidates, Omar Khan and Brandon Hunt.”

Hunt and Khan have long been considered the front-runners for the GM job once Colbert decides he is done, and it will be interesting how the Steelers fill that role, if they choose one of the aforementioned candidates. However, despite what conventional thought/wisdom would say, it looks like the Steelers are just going to take a wait-and-see approach to their next GM after the draft, rather than naming the next GM as the ‘GM in waiting’.

Whether the job goes to Hunt or Khan, or potentially someone out of the organization, will come down to the expectations the team has for their GM. They do things differently in Pittsburgh compared to other NFL teams, and they don’t expect that to change.

“A GM has a lot of responsibilities these days,” said Rooney, “and we’ll be hiring somebody who can fulfill all those responsibilities, which No. 1 includes being a talent evaluator and putting our draft together and everything else that goes with working as a GM in the NFL today. Having said that, we’re looking for somebody who fits with the way we’re structured and our culture. We’re not really planning to change our own structure here.”

If you’re not sure what makes the Steelers’ GM position different than others, Bob Labriola of Steelers.com explains:

What Rooney was referring to is that some teams have a general manager who is responsible for the hiring and firing of the head coach, who has complete control of the roster, who makes the final decision on every draft pick. That’s not how the Steelers operate. While Colbert was involved in the process that replaced Bill Cowher following the 2006 season, it wasn’t his decision alone. Colbert definitely is very influential as a talent evaluator, but decisions made during the draft are not his alone to make. The 2019 trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick that sent the Dolphins the Steelers’ No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft had to be approved by Rooney. That’s the way the Steelers always have operated, even back in the day when the head of the player personnel department was a son of the owner.

So, all that said, it is safe to say the Steelers search for their next GM will not be conventional. It likely won’t be made as public as other teams make their GM search, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While unconventional, who Rooney ultimately chooses to replace Colbert will be something to watch as the offseason progresses, mainly after the 2022 NFL Draft.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for a very exciting offseason.

Game-changing plays a big factor in the Steelers 2021 special teams PFF grades

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/01/2022 - 10:00am
Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

In the grades provided by PFF, it was splash plays on special teams that affected the grades the most.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 season has come to a close. While the Steelers come up short of the ultimate goal of winning the championship, they have lots of company as 30 other teams will come up short as well. Whether you are in the category of believing the Steelers over-performed or under-performed, there were definitely things the Steelers did well this season and other places where they need a lot of improvement.

But how did the individual players grade out?

For this exercise, we will be looking at the player grades from Pro Football Focus (PFF) for the entire 2021 season, including the postseason. Before going any further, I must give the typical disclaimer that PFF grades are subjective. While some people rely on them heavily, others are quite skeptical of the process in which they are determined. It is completely up to each person as to how much stock they put into PFF’s grades. For me, I often look at the grades to see if my own “eye test” lines up with what others viewed as how a player performed. If nothing more, the grades create a discussion about how accurate, or inaccurate, they are each week.

We already broke up the scores into offense and defense. To finish up, we’ll now take a look at the special teams. Included will be all the players who played at least 50 defensive snaps and the total snap counts for each player will be included. For reference sake, the player on the Steelers who played the most snaps on special teams this season is 358 according to PFF.

Overall

Top 5 (regardless of position)

S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 90.7 (81 snaps)
S Miles Killebrew: 87.6 (356 snaps)
ILB Ulysees Gilbert III: 87.6 (358 snaps)
OLB Derrek Tuszka: 87.2 (217 snaps)
TE Kevin Rader: 74.9 (50 snaps)

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

ILB Marcus Allen: 49.4 (322 snaps)
WR Ray-Ray McCloud: 47.6 (171 snaps)
CB Cam Sutton: 45.3 (107 snaps)
CB Justin Layne: 41.7 (259 snaps)
RB Benny Snell Jr.: 36.9 (347 snaps)

Field Goals

K Chris Boswell: 82.3 (73 FG snaps); 61.0 (163 overall snaps)

I thought it was only fair to give the specialists their own groups and give their score in their specialty along with their overall grade for special teams. As you can see, Chris Boswell’s field goal/extra points grade was fantastic and ranked him sixth in the NFL.

Punting

P Pressley Harvin: 54.4 (77 punt snaps); 63.8 (143 overall snaps)
P Corliss Waitman: 53.3 (7 punt snaps); 61.1 (16 snaps)

I know I broke the rule of including someone with less than 50 snaps, but I felt Corliss Waitman’s punting score should be included along with Pressley Harvin’s. The two grades were fairly close and you can take from it whatever you like.

Long Snapper

LS Christian Kuntz: 53.6 (157 snaps)

I don’t know how Christian Kuntz graded below a 60.0, especially since he was a factor on coverage after snapping the ball. The fact that his name was rarely mentioned and a bad snap didn’t seem to be the cause of any problems this season, I expected him to score much higher.

Defensive Front Seven

OLB Derrek Tuszka: 87.2 (217 snaps)
DT Chris Wormley: 59.4 (117 snaps)
DT Henry Mondeaux: 59.3 (62 snaps)
DT Cam Heyward: 59.2 (109 snaps)
OLB Alex Highsmith: 59.1 (66 snaps)

The scores were separated by a fraction of a point with the stand out being Derek Tuszka. He had the highest grade of any player not associated with the block of a kick.

Inside Linebackers

ILB Ulysees Gilbert III: 87.6 (358 snaps)
ILB Buddy Johnson: 72.7 (59 snaps)
ILB Robert Spillane: 69.1 (255 snaps)
ILB Devin Bush: 59.9 (64 snaps)
ILB Joe Schobert: 58.9 (82 snaps)
ILB Marcus Allen: 49.4 (322 snaps)

Gilbert obviously gets a boost from scoring a touchdown on the blocked punt in Week 1. It was also nice to see Buddy Johnson get a good score in his limited action this season. Exactly why Marcus Allen landed so low, I couldn’t really tell you other than having two penalties.

Defensive Backs

S Minkah Fitzpatrick: 90.7 (81 snaps)
S Miles Killebrew: 87.6 (356 snaps)
CB James Pierre: 71.7 (243 snaps)
CB Arthur Maulet: 65.2 (183 snaps)
S Terrell Edmunds: 60.9 (87 snaps)
S Tre Norwood: 56.9 (213 snaps)
CB Cam Sutton: 45.3 (107 snaps)
CB Justin Layne: 41.7 (259 snaps)

If you’re wondering why Minkah Fitzpatrick has a score through the roof, you should know that PFF still grades plays that go through to completion even if they ultimately don’t count due to a penalty. So Fitzpatrick’s field goal block in return for a touchdown against Green Bay still affected his score. In looking at his 81 snaps on special teams, three of them came as part of the hands team on kickoff return and all the rest were as part of the field goal block team. Of course, Miles Killebrew also scored high by blocking two punts this season. Justin Layne led the team in special teams penalties with five which landed him at the bottom of the list.

Running Backs

FB Derek Watt: 71.7 (353 snaps)
RB Kalen Ballage: 55.1 (105 snaps)
RB Benny Snell Jr.: 36.9 (347 snaps)

Derek Watt is the special teams captain for a reason— he makes plays when given the opportunity. Benny Snell comes in at the bottom of the team most likely because he had four penalties called against him.

Receivers

TE Kevin Rader: 74.9 (50 snaps)
TE Zach Gentry: 65.7 (141 snaps)
WR Cody White: 58.2 (105 snaps)
WR Ray-Ray McCloud: 47.6 (171 snaps)

Kevin Rader barely saw enough snaps to qualify, but mainly playing on kick return and kick coverage earned him scored high enough to land in the top five. As for Ray-Ray McCloud, he had a decent returning scores (66.4 kickoff, 55.1 punt) but a poor overall score.

Offensive Line

C J.C. Hassenauer: 64.1(53 snaps)
OT Chuks Okorafor: 63.6 (69 snaps)
OT Dan Moore Jr.: 63.2 (67 snaps)

I had to include these guys because they played more than 50 snaps, but they were the only three lineman who made the cut. Used only on field goal and extra points, there had to be four other players out there on the line other than the long snapper. The fact that they all scored over 60.0 means that they did their job.

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

2021 Exit Interviews: Taco Charlton and Alex Highsmith

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/01/2022 - 9:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Steelers need production from outside linebackers other than T.J. Watt.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 NFL season has come to a close. Because the Steelers are among the 31 teams who did not finish fulfilling their ultimate goal, they are in the process of wrapping up their season and moving forward into 2022.

Since the Steelers conduct exit interviews with all their players, we here at BTSC thought we would do the same. By outlining two players each day, we will be able to look at their season in retrospect as well as looking toward the future. Since Coach Tomlin stated he starts his interviews with rookies, first year players, and those heading into free agency, we will do the same. To start, we will pair a potential free agent with a first-year player as we work through this process to eventually cover the entire Steelers roster.

Next up is outside linebackers Taco Charlton and Alex Highsmith.

Taco Charlton Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Outside Linebacker
Years with the Steelers: 1
Years in the NFL: 5
Contract Status: Free agent
Contract Details: Expiring one-year minimum deal with no dead money.
Games played in 2021: 11 regular season, 1 postseason
Games started in 2021: 1 regular season
Snaps (regular season): 216 (defense), 11 (special teams)
PFF score: 62.3 (DNQ for ranking)
Notable stats (regular season): Charlton had 18 tackles, two quarterback hits, 0.5 sacks, and one pass defensed.

Notes: Charlton signed with the Steelers practice squad prior to Week 3 and was elevated in Week 8 when Melvin Ingram missed the game “due to injury“ before being traded. After the trade, Charlton was signed to the 53-man roster appeared in every game for the rest of the season. Having a chance to show he could still play in the NFL, Charlton should be on board to come back to the Steelers on a team-friendly deal if both sides want the relationship to continue. Charlton would do so knowing he was acting as depth and part of a rotation and would still need to earn his spot in training camp.

Alex Highsmith Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Position: Outside Linebacker
Years with the Steelers: 2
Years in the NFL: 2
Contract Status: Signed through 2023
Contract Details: $1,169,073 salary cap hit for 2022. Would cost the Steelers $416,146 in dead money if released.
Games played in 2021: 16 regular season, 1 postseason
Games started in 2021: 16 regular season, 1 postseason
Snaps (regular season): 851 (defense), 60 (special teams)
PFF score: 65.5 (53rd of 109)
Notable stats (regular season): Highsmith had 74 tackles, 15 of which were for loss, 15 quarterback hits, 6.0 sacks, and one forced fumble.

Notes: While many, including myself, were looking for Alex Highsmith to explode onto the scene in his second season, we would only be disappointed because we had the highest of expectations. Playing a little less than double the snaps he did in 2020, Highsmith tripled his sacks and his tackles for loss and more than doubled his quarterback hits from his rookie season. Although Highsmith didn’t make an enormous leap in year two, if he continues his progression into year three he would be an even bigger compliment to the other All-Pro players on the Steelers defensive front.

So what do you think? How would you conduct Charlton’s and Highsmith’s exit interview? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Make sure you check back each day for another set of exit interviews. If you have missed any of the previous articles, they are listed here:

Ben Roethlisberger & Najee Harris
Eric Ebron & Pat Freiermuth
Trai Turner & Kendrick Green
Chuks Okorafor & Dan Moore Jr.
Robert Spillane & Buddy Johnson
Montravius Adams & Isaiahh Loudermilk
Joe Haden & Tre Norwood
Christian Kuntz & Pressley Harvin
JuJu Smith-Schuster & Cody White
J.C. Hassenauer & John Leglue
Marcus Allen & Tegray Scales
James Washington & Chase Claypool

State of the Offense, Part Two: The outside zone play, and its benefits in Pittsburgh

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/01/2022 - 8:00am
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

In Part 2 of this series we dive into why the outside zone play will be critical to the success of the 2022 Steelers offense.

This is Part Two in a three-part series examining the state of the offense in Pittsburgh. In Part One, we looked at how borrowing from Matt LaFleur’s scheme in Green Bay could benefit the Steelers. Here, we look at why an investment in the outside zone play could pay dividends for the offense.

One of the big storylines in Pittsburgh heading into the 2021 season was the mandate from management that they run the football better. The Steelers had struggled for several seasons in that area, and they were challenged to improve. A new coordinator was hired. A new line coach, too. The line was reconstructed. The best running back in the draft was acquired. The front office could not have been clearer: be more physical, run the football better.

And still, they failed.

The Steelers finished 29th in the league at 93.1 yards per game. That was up from their dismal 2020 performance, where they finished last at 84.1. But it did little to fulfill the mandate. By the end of the season, the run game was struggling so badly that they reduced it to a single scheme: inside zone. Inside zone is a fine play, one of the most versatile ever invented. But, in the absence of complementary schemes, it is limited. The Steelers could not get to the edge. They could not set up the play-action pass. They could not stretch defenses to open the middle of the field. While a poor offensive line was the primary culprit for their struggles, and while improvement in that area is essential, Pittsburgh must diversify its scheme to run the ball more effectively.

With that in mind, Matt Canada would be wise to invest in the outside zone play. Outside zone is one of football’s most useful concepts. Canada loved it as a college coordinator, and today, in the pros, it’s become a staple of some of the best systems in the league. When you examine the offenses of Todd McVay, Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur and Andy Reid, you find that each relies heavily on outside zone.

For an explanation of the outside zone play, and why it would benefit the offense in Pittsburgh, let’s dive in.

Philosophy

The idea at the heart of outside zone is this: stretch the defense horizontally, then gash them in the seams created by the stretch. In that sense, it’s the perfect play for the “spread” notion that has infiltrated contemporary offenses. Additionally, outside zone uses the aggressive tendencies of defenders against themselves. It forces them to be disciplined and gap-sound. When defenders flow hard with the outside zone action, they get washed out of the play by blockers, creating the seams on which outside zone thrives. This displacement of defenders can also be exploited by complimentary actions like bootleg passes, trap plays and RPOs. In short, outside zone is effective because, when executed well, it scrambles the structure of a defense and makes it unsound.

Scheme

The play is blocked similarly to inside zone, which is designed to hit in the A-gaps. Both are combo schemes, with a pair of blockers working in tandem on a down-lineman and a linebacker. With outside zone, as the name indicates, the aiming point is wider. The running back generally aims for the C-gap between the play-side tackle and tight end. If the edge is sealed, the back will press it. If not, he will look for a seam so he can stick his foot in the ground and go.

Because the aiming point for the back is wider, the blockers aim wider, too. Their goal is to run through the play-side shoulder of their near defender. Since defenders are trained to defeat these types of blocks, they fight laterally to prevent this from happening. This causes the defense to stretch, creating the seams on which outside zone thrives:

Outside zone drawn to a bunch set, one of Canada’s favorite formations Film

As we go to the film, let’s focus on how this concept stresses a defense.

Here’s McVay’s scheme in Los Angeles. Watch how the back, as he heads for the C-gap, recognizes an opening inside when the linebacker tries to penetrate and is washed out by the right guard. The back makes a decisive cut, gets up-field and is into the secondary:

On this one, the back recognizes the over-pursuit of the play-side linebacker, so he cuts up inside, then winds the ball back when the safety over-pursues as well:

And here, he recognizes there is no cut, and that the tight end and tackle are getting movement on their double-team, so he presses the edge before turning up-field:

Notice that these plays were called to both the strong and weak sides of the formation, and that each hit in a different gap. The back didn’t run to a pre-determined hole but instead found open grass based on the movement of the defense. This flexibility is one of the most attractive assets of the scheme.

Even when the run fails to yield a chunk play, it can be valuable. Here’s Shanahan using outside zone in San Francisco. The 49ers do it from 21 personnel, with the fullback leading on the unblocked alley player to the right of the formation:

Dallas does a nice job pursuing and manages to hold this to a moderate gain. Consider, though, what the concept does to the defense. Look at all the defenders running laterally, and how the middle of the field opens as a result. This is just as important as the result of the play itself, because of how it sets up the next concept.

That concept — the bootleg pass — has many variants. Here, San Francisco uses a simple two-man route. They fake an outside zone run, then roll Jimmy Garoppolo the other way. The receiver to the side of the boot isn’t really an option. He’s simply running off the near corner to create space for the Over route, which comes from the opposite side of the field:

Watch the flow of the defense. The front-eight all bite hard on the run action. The safety bites, too, and in attempting to recover, nearly runs into the corner chasing the Over. The displacement of so many defenders creates plenty of space, and Garoppolo makes the throw for a nice gain:

Here’s a variation of that route that integrates a third receiver. San Francisco clears out the corner to the side of the boot again, this time by having him chase a crossing route to the opposite side of the field. This allows them to bring tight end George Kittle, who is aligned on the right wing at the snap, under the formation and into the flat. With all of the run-action going right, Kittle pops out wide open on the other side:

Here’s another variation. This is Tennessee running the clear-out for the Over route, but they add a wrinkle by slipping a tight end up the numbers away from the boot. In the scramble to reclaim proper positioning, three defenders chase the Over while no one accounts for the tight end:

As you can see, these routes complement each other, giving the play-caller options on how to manipulate defenders. And they all capitalize on how the run-action breaks down the structure of the defense.

When we think of outside zone in Pittsburgh, it’s instructive to consider how Alabama used it with Najee Harris. The Tide especially liked it near the goal line, where Harris’s vision was an asset. Look at this run, against Florida, where Harris patiently lets his blocks develop, then cuts in behind the flow of the defense:

Here’s another, against Texas A&M. The end-zone view provides a good look at how Harris uses the movement of the defense against itself. While A&M does a nice job setting the edge, a gap is created when linebacker Buddy Johnson (#1), now Harris’s teammate in Pittsburgh, tries to undercut the block of center Landon Dickerson (69). Dickerson pins Johnson inside, and Harris finds the seam:

Notice, too, on this clip, the pursuit of A&M’s back-side edge player, #20. He comes hard down the line to tackle Harris as he’s crossing the goal line. You can see as the clip develops how quarterback Mac Jones (10) rolls away from Harris once the hand-off is made. There’s no doubt Bama had a bootleg pass off of this look that would have exploited the aggressiveness of the edge defender if necessary.

Personnel

Any scheme is only as good as the players who execute it. In Pittsburgh, no scheme will thrive until they address their personnel issues. That said, as they do acquire new talent, finding players who are suited for outside zone would be smart.

The Steelers may look for an upgrade at the back-up running back spot, but with Harris in the fold, and with Mike Tomlin’s preference for the bell-cow approach, they’re set up well.

The line is a different story. Their struggles have been well-documented, so expect a shake-up regardless of the scheme. But, as far as outside zone is concerned, linemen who are athletic enough to reach opposing defenders and climb to block flowing linebackers are preferable. The Steelers have several linemen who technically fit this description. Dan Moore Jr, Kendrick Green and Chuks Okorafor are all fairly athletic. All, too, have displayed limitations. Moore and Green both struggled with scheme and strength as rookies, while Okorafor lacked power at the point of attack. Meanwhile, none of the team’s guards — Trai Turner, Kevin Dotson, John Leglue or B.J. Finney — possess much lateral quickness. The Steelers will surely address the line in both free agency and the draft.

A change to the coaching staff could benefit the line as well. Adrian Klemm talked a great deal about making the unit more physical when he was promoted last spring. The results spoke otherwise. The most disappointing aspect of Klemm’s tenure was how the line regressed over time. This is often an indictment of a coach’s failure to teach and make adjustments. Line play is certainly about being physical, but it’s equally about communication and sound technique. Under Klemm’s tutelage, those aspects suffered.

The good news is that Chris Morgan, who replaced Klemm for the final three games, has significant experience in the outside zone scheme. Morgan was with Shanahan in both Washington and Atlanta, where it was used extensively. Should he be hired permanently, it seems reasonable to expect he’ll be a better teacher than his predecessor.

Finally, there’s the question of who will succeed Ben Roethlisberger. Mason Rudolph appears to be in line for a one-year trial. Rudolph is no Russell Wilson, but he moves well enough to be useful on boots and roll-outs. Outside zone also sets up the RPO game well. Roethlisberger was never comfortable running RPOs, so finding a quarterback who is better trained in this area would be helpful. Whether with Rudolph or someone else, Canada must capitalize on the play-action opportunities the outside zone scheme provides.

Conclusion

Defenses were far too comfortable against the Pittsburgh offense in 2021. With just one core run scheme, no play-action game and an inability to use the entire field, the Steelers were too easy to defend. While the personnel must improve for the offense to be better next season, the scheme must improve, too.

Integrating outside zone and its compliments would be a great place to start. It would punish defenses for being overly-aggressive and would open up areas of the field that were inaccessible this past season. Matt Canada used the scheme extensively as a college coordinator. He would be wise to do so again.

Next week, in the final installment of this series, we’ll look at how attacking the middle of the field in the passing game could provide another means of improving the offense.

5 Steelers free agents the team should attempt to retain

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/01/2022 - 7:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a long list of free agents for the 2022 offseason, but here are some players the team should bring back.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of salary cap space this offseason, and while the majority of fans are looking at bringing in new names, it should be noted several of the Steelers’ free agents should be primary targets to be retained.

Yes, I’m suggesting some of the players from the 9-7-1 team from 2021 should be retained. Below are the Top 5 players I believe the Steelers should retain, and my reasoning behind it.

Not sure who is on the Steelers’ complete list of free agents? Check the list below:

Of course, you are free to choose your own Top 5 and let me know where I was wrong in the comment section below.

Now onto the list...

1. JuJu Smith-Schuster

When it comes to the stock of a player, Smith-Schuster’s stock has never been lower after missing the vast majority of 2021 with a shoulder injury. He did himself a huge favor by battling back and playing in the Steelers’ AFC Wild Card game, but if the Steelers want to lock up Smith-Schuster for multiple years, now is the time. On top of the price tag for Smith-Schuster, the Steelers could use his grit and experience in the team’s wide receiver room.

2. Akhello Witherspoon

It is still wild for me to consider fans’ attitudes, and I would definitely be in this category, who went from ‘Witherspoon is a waste’ to ‘Witherspoon must be retained’. However, here we are, and Witherspoon’s play has fans seeing how important he can be to the future of the team’s secondary. His play down the stretch certainly will ratchet up his price, but if the organization feels he is a long-term solution at cornerback, you don’t want to let him get away.

3. Terrell Edmunds

There is definitely a “Terrell Edmunds Hate Club” in the Steelers fan base, and those who are a part of that club don’t want the Steelers to bring him back. However, the Steelers should absolutely consider bringing back Edmunds if his price tag doesn’t go through the roof. Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick, who’s contract will be taken care of like T.J. Watt’s last season, could be a tremendous safety duo for years to come. But if Edmunds’ price tag is too much, the Steelers would be wise to let him walk and try to address safety in either free agency/the 2022 NFL Draft. Edmunds should still be a priority.

4. Montravius Adams

Similar to Witherspoon, Adams came on strong for the Steelers down the stretch. Despite Tyson Alualu returning in 2022, the team could use a more permanent fixture at nose tackle. The 26 year old Adams came to the Steelers via the New Orleans Saints practice squad, and hit the ground running. Adams showed tremendous get off all season, an ability to get after the quarterback and a motor which was impressive when tracking down ball carriers. He isn’t the next coming of Casey Hampton, but could be a very valuable asset for the Steelers to bring back in 2022.

5. Joe Haden

This was a difficult decision for me when narrowing this list down to five players. I would love nothing more than the Steelers to keep Haden, but only at the right price. If Haden is expecting anything more than a two-year contract, then he can find that contract elsewhere. On top of duration, if Haden is expecting market value, considering he is on the wrong side of 30 years old, he can find that contract elsewhere. But if Haden is willing to stay in Pittsburgh, and give the team a fair contract for both his age and value, I’d gladly bring him back to help solidify the back end of the secondary.

Other players the Steelers should consider bringing back:

Ray-Ray McCloud

It isn’t McCloud’s fault he was targeted a ridiculous amount of times filling in for JuJu Smith-Schuster. To me, he showed value not just as a returner, but also as a receiving threat. If the Steelers can get him on the cheap, he can be a valuable member of the offense in 2022.

Chuks Okorafor

I’ll be ripped for this, but if the Steelers bring Okorafor back as someone who will compete for a starting job, or be the team’s swing tackle, they should see if they can get that deal done. Okorafor can be serviceable at both left and right tackle, and that brings value. Let him test the free agent waters, and if he remains unsigned after the first wave, see if you can find some middle ground on a two-year deal.

Miles Killebrew

Killebrew was a special teams demon for the Steelers, but also played a role on the defense. When you are talking about retaining players who are specifically special teams players, you have to adjust the pay accordingly. If the Steelers lose Edmunds, Killebrew could have some leverage with the team, but if they can retain this core special team player, it would be a good addition for the next season, or two.

Taco Charlton

If, and only if, Charlton is willing to take a veteran minimum contract, I’d bring him back to compete at OLB. Considering when he was signed in 2021, there is a chance that happens. Given a year in the system, Charlton would be able to take that experience and turn it into production in 2022.

I talked about these players, and much more, on the latest Let’s Ride podcast. Check it out below:

It’s Ben Roethlisberger’s journey with the Steelers I’ll remember the most

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/01/2022 - 6:00am
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

A great story isn’t about the beginning or the end, it’s about the journey in between. Ben Roethlisberger’s 18-year journey with the Steelers was one I’ll certainly never forget.

I wish I had a great story to tell you about where I was and what I thought the moment the Steelers selected Terry Bradshaw number one overall in the 1970 NFL Draft.

Unfortunately, I was negative-two-and-a-half years old at the time and have no memory of it.

I do remember the hoopla that surrounded Bradshaw’s official retirement in the summer of 1984. I can recall the press conference that Bradshaw and the Steelers had with the local media. I can still hear the fits of laughter that broke out among the reporters when Rocky Bleier, who was a few years into retirement at the time and working as a Steelers analyst for Channel 11, raised his hand and deadpanned: “Rocky Bleier, WPXI.”

Heck, even Dan Rather (at least I think it was him) mentioned it on the CBS Nightly News broadcast the day Bradshaw’s retirement became official. I remember thinking as a 12-year old that this whole thing was a huge deal. Joe Greene retired a few years earlier and there wasn’t as big a deal made about it. Lynn Swann and Jack Ham both retired after the 1982 season. Mel Bount followed them a year later. I just recall brief news blurbs—no huge pressers.

I guess it’s just a bigger deal when the franchise quarterback hangs up his cleats for good. They have a huge press conference, tears are shed, people are thanked, reporters ask them what network they'll be working for, the whole works.

Fast-forward to 2004 and that year’s NFL Draft. I was 31 at the time—33-and-a-half-years older than when Bradshaw was selected. I was at work on this day, managing a small business. It was a Saturday, but that doesn’t mean much to most folks working in the “real” world. I couldn't watch the draft, but I could listen to it on my little radio in the back area where I spent a good bit of my day.

Who would the Steelers draft? Would they finally pull the trigger on a potential franchise quarterback in the first round, something they hadn’t done in nearly 25 years? There was this Ben Roethlisberger fella, this big guy with the long and funny name from Miami University (the one in Ohio), who had been linked to the Steelers for quite some time. But the Steelers weren’t the only team that needed a quarterback at the point of the draft where Pittsburgh, who was also linked to Philip Rivers, was picking at 11.

The Browns, drafting in the sixth spot, needed a quarterback. The Bills, selecting two spots behind Pittsburgh, could possibly make a move into the top 10 to try and find their next Jim Kelly. Cleveland passed on Roethlisberger at six, while Buffalo failed to make a move before it was the Steelers’ turn at 11.

Would the Steelers finally draft a quarterback? It didn’t seem to fit head coach Bill Cowher’s mostly conservative way of doing things—at least on offense. He was all about the smash-mouth, run-first style of offensive football. He was about defense, too. Besides, his guy from his alma mater, Rivers, was long gone. Also, Tommy Maddox, the toast of the town just two years earlier, appeared to be in a strong enough position as the team’s starting quarterback heading into the ‘04 campaign.

Anyway, you know the story; the Steelers did select Roethlisberger (as Steelers lore tells it, the late Dan Rooney was VERY persuasive in getting his brain trust to make this decision), and the rest is history. Yes, sir, I’ll never forget where I was when the commissioner announced the pick...I was away from the radio and tending to the business of managing employees. That’s what happens when you’re a manager—you’re never in the same place for more than a few minutes. Taking a break? Good luck with finishing that cup of coffee before they call you over the intercom. Enjoying that great song on the radio? There they go again, calling you to the front right before it gets to the good part. As for a day-long affair such as the draft? You can listen to it off and on, but it’s mostly off; hopefully, the stars will align just right so as to allow you to hear who the Steelers select in the first round.

Nope, by the time I got back to my little radio, the local analysts and beat writers were already weighing in with their opinions on the pick.

It was certainly a great 18-year journey for Roethlisberger, one that I don’t need to recount to you here and now. After all, if you’re a fan of the Steelers and/or football, you know what Roethlisberger meant to the Steelers and how he made them a marquee franchise once more. You know that he holds a special place in not only Steelers history, but in NFL history.

I just always figured that, when Roethlisberger finally decided to hang up his cleats for good, there’d be the big press conference, complete with the tears, the thank yous, the questions from reporters about his future (I think you can rule out Roethlisberger working with one of the big networks who have always gone out of their way to not appreciate him as much as other quarterbacks of his caliber—not even Roethlisberger is THAT tough), the whole works.

But none of that happened on Thursday morning when Roethlisberger officially called it quits. Nope, instead, he released a video on social media and announced it while in his living room, sitting next to his wife and kids. He shared memories, thanked a bunch of people and might have even gotten a little emotional (it was hard to tell). Not the way I pictured any of this going down—for example, instead of sitting in front of my television, I saw it on my smartphone as I lounged on my living room couch.

I was shocked. It came out of nowhere. I mean, not the retirement or anything—we knew that was happening as far back as January 3—but the way it went down.

That’s okay, though. As wise people often tell us, it’s not about how you begin or end, it’s the journey in between. While I wasn’t necessarily thrilled with how Roethlisberger’s career with the Steelers officially began or ended, I certainly was happy with the journey in between.

I remember where I was when I saw The Tackle. I remember third and 28 in Super Bowl XL. I remember Ben to Ten in Super Bowl XLIII. I remember the time he defeated the Baltimore Ravens with his nose splattered all over his face.

I can go on and on.

Ben Roethlisberger's 18-year journey with the Steelers was what mattered the most.

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/01/2022 - 4:30am

Get the latest BTSC podcast content in the ‘Podcast Roundup’.

The Pittsburgh Steelers seasons come and go with no real offseason, at least not for those die hard fans. For those fans, the preseason bleeds into the regular season, the regular season into the offseason, free agency and the NFL Draft. It is a vicious, never-ending cycle.

Nonetheless, we here at BTSC, and our podcast platform, are here with you every step of the way. In the past we have given you the podcasts in individual articles on the website, but have decided to go with a ‘Podcast Roundup’ article which has the latest two podcasts for your enjoyment. The reasoning behind this is to take up less space on the site for the great written content we have at BTSC.

Nonetheless, enjoy the shows below with a brief description of each show:

Steelers Hangover: Should the Steelers fellow the model of the Bengals or the Rams?

Super Bowl Combatants, the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams, followed completely different models to punch their ticket for admission to Super Bowl 56. The Steelers have some work to do to get back to the big game. Which particular model would be best for the black-and-gold to emulate for success post-Big Ben? Join BTSC’s Bryan Anthony Davis, Tony Defeo and Shannon White in discussing this as the hangover from the regular season shifts into the organizational build to the 2022 season.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • A recap of the AFC and NFC Championships
  • Analyzing the organizational models that the Steelers could follow in the off-season
  • and MUCH MORE!
The Live Mike: What the Steelers can learn from the Bengals’ turnaround

The Bengals were the worst team in football two years ago and not much better last season, but now tiger stripes will be in fashion in Los Angeles for the Super Bowl. Can the Steelers learn from this? And what will that lesson be? Join BTSC Deputy Editor Michael Beck on the latest edition of The Live Mike as he helps Steeler Nation navigate through the 2022 offseason and beyond.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Lessons the Steelers can learn from the organization formerly referred to as “The Bungles”
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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