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Steelers reportedly speaking to Mike Sullivan about their quarterback coach position

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/26/2021 - 11:01am
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Less than 24 hours after promoting Matt Canada to the offensive coordinator position, the Steelers are looking to fill the role of quarterbacks coach.

No, he’s not switching from hockey to football.

After the Steelers announced the hiring of Matt Canada as their offensive coordinator for the 2021 season, reports surfaced that, unlike the last time they hired an offensive coordinator who was previously their quarterbacks coach, the Steelers would be looking to replace Canada‘s role on the 2020 coaching staff. According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers are speaking with former Giants quarterback coach and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan about their open position.

The Steelers are talking to Mike Sullivan, a long-time former offensive coordinator/QB coach with the NY Giants and Denver Broncos, about becoming their QB coach, per source.

— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) January 26, 2021

Sullivan began his NFL coaching career in 2002 after making the jump from the college ranks where he had spent his entire career on the defensive side of the ball. The Jacksonville Jaguars defensive quality control coordinator in 2002, Sullivan switched to the other side of the line of scrimmage in 2003 as an offensive assistant. Sullivan spent six years as the New York Giants wide receivers coach before switching to quarterbacks coach for two seasons in 2010 and 2011.

After two Super Bowls with the Giants, Sullivan was hired as the offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two seasons before returning to New York as the quarterbacks coach in 2015. Sullivan was promoted to the offensive coordinator for the Giants for the 2016 and 2017 seasons before heading to Denver as their quarterbacks coach in 2018.

Sullivan spent last season as an administrator for Army, his alma mater, where he was director of recruiting.

With no requirements for the interview process set by the NFL, the Steelers may choose to interview multiple candidates or simply offer the quarterbacks coach position to whomever they choose.

Stay tuned to BTSC for, player updates, coaching hires, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers.

Podcast: A talkative Steelers off-season might get even louder this week

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/26/2021 - 11:00am

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

The Steelers aren’t preparing for the Super Bowl, but the team finds a way to stay in the news. The last two weeks were busy and this one promises to be as well. Let’s specu;ate what is next. This is just one of the subjects that will be discussed on the latest episode of the BTSC podcast, The Steelers Hangover. On this show, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo break down all things Steelers! Join the veteran duo as they analyze all things black-and-gold.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Steelers Q&A
  • 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

Steelers fans are facing more offseason uncertainty than they have experienced in a long time

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/26/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

There are several factors which are contributing to the many questions in regards to the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are known as one of the most stable franchises in all professional sports. With only three head coaches in the last 50 years, The Steelers have a reputation for continuing to put a quality product on the field year after year. But will 2021 bring the same expectations?

There are several factors contributing to the uncertainty with the Steelers as the 2021 offseason begins. If it were just one of these issues it would make for a normal year. But with three things contributing to the uncertainty in the Steel City, fans aren’t quite sure of the direction of this team heading in to 2021.

New Coaches

The Steelers managed to change up some of their assistant coaches from time to time, but if they fill all four vacated positions so far following the 2020 season it will be the most hires they have made since 2018. In that season, part of the reason the Steelers made four hires was due to adding positions as John Mitchell was promoted to strictly be the Steelers’ assistant head coach and Karl Dunbar was hired to fill his defensive line coaching position. The other hires were Daryl Drake after the retirement of Richard Mann, Tom Bradley after the departure of Carnell Lake, and the promotion of Randy Fichter to offensive coordinator after the Steelers did not retain Todd Haley.

As for filling this many open positions, it has been some time since the Steelers had to make such an overhaul of their coaching staff. Add in the fact several Steelers assistants have had interviews for opening coordinator positions around the NFL, there could be even more hires needed by the time the process is over. With the announcement of Matt Canada as the new offensive coordinator, it is reported the Steelers won’t make the same mistake again and hire a quarterbacks coach rather than ask Canada to perform both roles. Assuming the Steelers fill all the their open positions and not shirk their staff which is already the smallest in the NFL, the Steelers will have at least five coaches in new roles in 2021.

Quarterback Uncertainty

It’s been along time since the Pittsburgh Steelers were unsure as to what was going on with their quarterback position. Yes, there have been some concerns in recent years with Ben Roethlisberger. Most recently, coming off of a 2019 season where Roethlisberger missed 14 games with season ending elbow surgery left some questions as to how well Roethlisberger could perform. A couple years prior, Roethlisberger hinted at the thought of retirement. In the case of the injury, the question was about how effective Roethlisberger could be as he returned. When it was it earlier question of retirement, it was about if Roethlisberger would play at all. This time, it seems to be a combination of both factors.

For the 2021 season, many Steelers fans feel the time is right for Roethlisberger and the Steelers to part ways. Whether or not the Steelers organization feels the same will be determined in the next few weeks. But for the first time in nearly 20 season, the quarterback situation in Pittsburgh has reached a level where a change could very well be on the horizon.

Numerous Free Agents

When the 2021 league year kicks off in March, the Steelers have 19 players who finished the 2020 season either on the active roster or on the Reserve/Injured List who are set to become Unrestricted Free Agents. Of those 19 players, 12 of them started at least one game for the Steelers in 2020 and one more, Jordan Berry, does not count as an official starter as the team punter. In all, there are 94 total starts in 2020 by Steelers players set to become Unrestricted Free Agents.

Every year the Steelers lose players to free agency, but the potential on 19 is something so rare I can’t even tell you if it’s happened before. Of course the Steelers could sign some of these players for the 2021 season, but being over the projected salary cap does not help matters. If they work their numbers right, the Steelers could either keep a large number of the lower-end players or a few of their top priorities. Either way, there are going to be significant losses to other teams around the league.

The Steelers are entering some uncharted territory with the amount of potential changes to the roster, coaching staff, and the most important position on the field. When Mike Tomlin was hired in 2007 and had many subsequent changes to the coaching staff, the Steelers were set at the quarterback position and did not have a significant free agent loss. When Ben Roethlisberger was drafted in 2004 and became the starter, it was also a season with significant coaching changes as Ken Whisenhunt was the new offensive coordinator, but once again the Steelers did not have a significant free agent loss. With the potential of all three issues on the horizon for 2021, it’s no surprise the Steelers’ fan base is apprehensive about the coming season.

Dwayne Haskins Film Room, Part Two: Reason for hope amidst the struggles

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/26/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers newest quarterback has had his struggles, but is there hope with Dwayne Haskins?

This is part two of a film study on newly-acquired quarterback Dwayne Haskins, whom the Steelers signed to a one-year contract last Thursday. I covered Haskins’ on-field struggles in part one of this series, to which I’ve linked below.

Haskins, the 15th pick in the first round of the 2019 draft, was cut in December after a tumultuous season-and-a-half in Washington. In Pittsburgh, Haskins will have to prove he can develop as a player while putting the immature and juvenile behavior that paved the way for his exit in Washington behind him. Haskins failed to ingratiate himself to many in the Washington organization both on and off the field. He will have to become a better teammate as well as a better quarterback to succeed.

Fortunately, the Steelers do not need Haskins to step into the lineup upon his arrival. Ben Roethlisberger seems likely to return for an eighteenth season as the starter and Mason Rudolph appears entrenched as his primary backup. Should Roethlisberger not return, or should the Steelers part ways with him to save money, Rudolph will become the starter. Either way, Haskins should have time to sit, study and learn, a luxury he was not afforded in Washington.

For the Steelers, an investment in Haskins could pay great dividends, With Roethlisberger near the end of his career and Rudolph no certainty to succeed him, they were wise to take a flyer on the talented Haskins. He is just 23 years old, his physical skills are significant and he showed enough ability in his one season as a starter at Ohio State to make him a consensus first-round draft pick.

Here are some of the strengths that make Haskins an attractive prospect and some thoughts on how the Steelers might develop him moving forward.

Mobility

Haskins isn’t Kyler Murray or Lamar Jackson with his legs. He’s not even Josh Allen. But he is mobile enough to move out of the pocket, something that has largely disappeared from the Steelers’ offense the past few seasons with the aging Roethlisberger.

Below, we see Haskins in Washington running a simple bootleg. It begins with jet motion, a staple of the offense Matt Canada will likely install now that he has been named the Steelers’ new offensive coordinator. The motion, coupled with the complimentary flow of the running back, induces Philadelphia’s back-side end to chase the action. This allows Haskins to slip out of the pocket, where he throws a nice ball to an open receiver:

That concept looks similar to the one below, with Jacoby Brissett operating Canada’s offense when the two were together at North Carolina State. Canada substitutes a pump-fake for the play-action but the idea is the same: get his mobile QB out of the pocket where he can better see the routes develop:

Here’s another of Brissett, this time rolling right to execute a throwback to his tight end. Canada smartly brings the tight end in motion from outside the hash as a decoy. It looks like he will block the edge to allow Brissett to roll to his right. Instead, the tight end chips and releases, sliding unnoticed towards the opposite sideline:

Here’s Haskins running a similar concept at Ohio State. He rolls right, pulls up and makes a beautiful throw across the field towards the opposite corner:

These are nice counter plays to the sprint and boot action, as they exploit coverage that flows with the quarterback by throwing back against the grain. Pocket movement and misdirection of this sort were largely absent from Pittsburgh’s offense in the Roethlisberger/Randy Fichtner era. A mobile quarterback like Haskins puts these concepts back into play.

Haskins can also make plays “out of rhythm,” meaning those that occur once the structure of a play breaks down. For years, Pittsburgh fans reveled in Roethlisberger’s ability to “extend plays.” Haskins displayed similar traits both in college and with Washington. Again, he is not a “running” quarterback and will not be used on zone-reads or QB counters the way the Ravens do with Jackson. But he can threaten defenses with his scrambling ability and his penchant for escaping the pocket.

Here, operating from an empty set, Haskins faces a stunt from the Eagles in which they execute a twist with their right defensive end and tackle. The end comes down into the A-gap while the tackle pushes out to replace him. Haskins quickly recognizes the pressure, slides to his left and, with no defender in position to hold the edge, takes off for a nice gain:

There is nothing spectacular about this play, but it does show an ability Haskins possesses that Roethlisberger has lost and that Rudolph, to date, has not demonstrated. And while the empty formation used here is more of a Roethlisberger/Fichtner staple than something I expect from Canada, it can be great for a mobile quarterback. With a defense spread from sideline-to-sideline in coverage, they must be disciplined in their rush lanes to prevent the quarterback from escaping the pocket. Once he does, he has plenty of open space in which to run.

“Arm Talent”

“Arm talent” is a phrase I really dislike. I’m not sure of its origin but it feels like the creation of some studio talking-head. In all of my time around football, I’ve never heard a coach or player say “That guy has great arm talent.” A strong arm, yes. But arm talent? As though his arm functions independently of the rest of him? I don’t think so.

Whatever is meant by this phrase, I believe it applies to Haskins. His film highlights an ability to really drive the football. Like here, against Baltimore, where he sets his feet and rips a throw up the seam to Terry McLaurin (17):

In part one of this film room, we talked about how Haskins has a bad habit of hitching off of the final step in his drop, which often makes him late to his target with the football. There is no hitch here. Haskins hits that final step, plants and fires into a tight window.

Here’s another. On this play, Haskins bails from a collapsing pocket and takes off running to his left. As he nears the line of scrimmage, he throws from a difficult angle on a line to a receiver twenty yards down the field, who toe-taps the sideline for a nice completion:

This is a special play from Haskins. Despite the fact he is moving to his left, with a defender in his face and a receiver pinned into the boundary, he releases the football quickly, musters impressive velocity and puts the throw on the mark. We’ve seen guys like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen do this but few others. Haskins, at his best, can do it too.

Whether he can harness this “arm talent” and combine it with the other traits necessary to become a quality NFL quarterback remains to be seen. The talent exists, though. That’s a nice place to start.

Matt Canada

Canada should be a boon to Haskins’ career. He was brought in last season as the team’s quarterbacks’ coach and seems to have been beneficial to Rudolph’s development. The sample size is small, but Rudolph looked far more certain and decisive in his start at Cleveland the final week of the regular season than he had in his eight starts filling in for an injured Roethlisberger in 2019.

Chances are good that Haskins could develop similarly. Much like Rudolph, he suffered in Washington from being thrown into the starting lineup prematurely, allegedly, as the story below indicates, because owner Daniel Snyder wanted to “create a buzz” about his young QB. Washington never properly developed Haskins and his play suffered for it. Having an opportunity to sit, learn and work with Canada could do wonders for him.

A Canada/Haskins pairing is intriguing. Haskins gained experience in a system at Ohio State that stressed shifts, motions, pocket movement, RPOs and a vertical passing attack. These are all elements that Canada is likely to employ. He has been effective at adapting his scheme to his personnel and would (hopefully) understand how to maximize Haskins’ strengths while minimizing his weaknesses. Canada could use some of the passing concepts with Haskins that he ran at NC State. Brissett threw for over 5,200 yards with 43 TDs and just 11 interceptions under Canada’s tutelage with the Wolfpack. He bears striking similarities to Haskins in stature, arm strength and mobility.

One difference between the two, however. is that Brissett is regarded as a fairly cerebral quarterback while Haskins has struggled to master NFL schemes. Canada could mitigate those deficiencies by simplifying the complexity of his passing game. In part one of this film room, we talked about how Haskins tends to lock on his first read and struggles to get through his progression. He may not be ready for full reads that have him move from one side of the field to another. But structured reads, like the bootlegs shown above or the Levels concept below, could be an effective way to compensate.

Image courtesy of AFCA Football

Levels, which was a staple of Peyton Manning’s offense in Indianapolis, stresses a defense by stretching it horizontally. A quarterback can throw to either side of the formation depending on the pre-snap coverage, but it is designed to go to the trips side. The QB reads the play from the inside-out, progressing from the dig to the Y receiver to the square-ins from the H and the Z. The benefit for the QB on this play is that his eyes stay in the same basic area and he can see all three routes develop within his original line of sight. By keeping the route progression to the same side of the field and limiting eye movement, a quarterback can be more decisive. Canada would be wise to nurture Haskins on these types of concepts.

Canada might be able to lead Haskins to water, but it will be up to the young quarterback to drink. Before he makes progress in Pittsburgh, Haskins will have to acknowledge his failure in Washington. Reports of his lack of preparedness and sense of entitlement suggest a player who was immature, did not know how to work at the NFL level and assumed success was given. Hopefully, he has been humbled and is ready to start again. If so, his ceiling is high.

How high? It’s hard to say. Comparisons to Brissett are fair, as are those to Alex Smith, who also suffered a miserable beginning to his career before developing into a solid NFL starter. Neither of those players were criticized for their lack of work ethic. Yet Haskins has more natural ability than either. The road ahead for Haskins will require discipline. Still, should he become comparable to either Brissett or Smith some day, the Steelers will have made a wise investment.

Steelers Vertex: Examining the value of Maurkice Pouncey

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/26/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

With the possibility of retirement looming, it’s time to break down if Pouncey’s contributions match the financial implications.

Since one of the most pressing issues facing the Steelers this offseason is how to handle the contracts of a number of players with large salary cap hits, we’re going to take this opportunity to break down the player statistics, salary cap implications, and play on the field to help determine what would be in the Steelers’ best interest. This will be the focus on our Steelers Vertex series over the next several weeks.

Starting off with the obvious choice of Ben Roethlisberger, we left it up to YOU, the readers, to determine which player we will look at next. Next up is Maurkice Pouncey as the top choice in the voter poll. For now, the choices will be players under contract for the 2021 season but the Steelers will need to consider if they are going to retain, extend, or release.

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

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

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

As stated above, the topic at hand this week is looking at Maurkice Pouncey and making a case for what the Steelers should do if Pouncey does not decide to retire. Should they have him play out the rest of his contract, work a contract extension, or release him?

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

When it comes to offensive linemen, stats are not easy to come by. Of course, honors such a Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections are one measuring stick, but sometimes these awards are more about name recognition than play on the field. Regardless, Maurkice Pouncey is a nine time Pro Bowler and two time first team All-Pro selection. The only seasons Pouncey did not make the Pro Bowl was in 2013 when he was injured on the first drive of the season and was lost for the year, and in 2015 when his season-ending injury occurred in the preseason.

Perhaps the best way to look at Pouncey’s contributions is to examine the games he missed in 2020. Sitting out with several other starters in Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns may not give the best data, but Pouncey missed both Week 12 and 13 as he was on the Reserve/COVID-19 List. These two games are what many Steelers’ fans would call “the beginning of the end” for the 2020 season. Although the Steelers escaped with a win in Week 13 against the depleted Baltimore Ravens, it was a lackluster performance which bled into Week 14 and the Steelers first loss of the season. These games were the first two of the 2020 season where the Steelers failed to reach 20 points scored.

With reports of Pouncey considering retirement, his salary numbers have been widely reported. Pouncey is due $8 million in salary for 2021, so this would be the amount of salary cap savings the Steelers would see. Pouncey has a $6.475 million dead money hit as his 2021 cap number of $14.475 million is currently the fifth highest on the Steelers and the highest of any of their offensive linemen. Pouncey also has the fifth highest salary cap number of all NFL centers for the 2021 season.

In this case the numbers tell us very little, but the film should tell us a lot..

The Film Line:

Maurkice Pouncey at 31 isn’t the athlete he was in his prime. He’s a bit slower, a bit less agile and he isn’t as powerful as he was at his peak. But when we look at what he brings to the team, I’m going to skip right over his pass protection, because he remains one of the best in the NFL. Pouncey allows right around 1 QB pressure per game played, has given up 2 sacks in 2745 pass blocking snaps the last 5 seasons. He is credited with 10 blown pass blocks in the last three years, during that same stretch Quentin Nelson is credited with 16. (Stats from Sports Info Solutions) His weakness is getting driven back into the pocket when he loses leverage to really powerful defensive tackles. His strength is pretty much every other part of pass blocking.

There’s a reason Ben Roethlisberger loves Pouncey being his center.

For this article we are going to focus on what Maurkice Pouncey at the end of his career brings to the team outside of pass blocking.

Maurkice Pouncey is great getting to the second level in zone blocking. It’s one of the main reasons Mike Munchak switched the team to running a whole lot more zone runs. Pouncey, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster were fantastic on combo blocks, and it allowed Le’Veon Bell to be one of the most productive runners in the NFL. He could wait on those combo blocks to turn into downfield blocks and pick his way through the defense.

Week 15, 2nd quarter, 8:20. Maurkice Pouncey is the center, David DeCastro is the right guard.

Pouncey and DeCastro double the defensive tackle, and you can see it allows Pouncey to get leverage and while he drives the tackle backwards, DeCastro is able to go hunting for linebackers. DeCastro wasn’t his usual self after his injuries earlier in the season, but by this point in the season he was playing much better.

It wasn’t just DeCastro though, Maurkice Pouncey and Kevin Dotson also worked very well together, both in pass blocking and especially in the run game.

Week 2, 1st quarter, 5:54. Maurkice Pouncey is the center, Kevin Dotson is the right guard.

Pouncey does a great job getting away from the double team as soon as possible, it’s been a consistent strength of his for a decade. Here it’s just a one-arm jab and Pouncey is off to the second level as the tackle goes outside and Dotson has him locked up right away.

Compare that to when they ran that same play to the other side one drive earlier.

Week 2, 1st quarter, 11:19, Maurkice Pouncey is the center, Matt Feiler is the left guard.

Pouncey starts the combo block, he needs to help Feiler get set up and then get to the middle linebacker. Feiler doesn’t take the block over and by the time Pouncey gets off the block he’s too late to get in the linebacker’s way. Pouncey isn’t as strong in power schemes, where again he can struggle on 1v1 blocks with powerful defensive tackles.

The biggest negative you are likely to hear about Pouncey from Steelers fans is his snapping. Maurkice Pouncey has never been the most consistent snapper, but he is credited with only 8 fumbles on snaps (hits the ground without the QB getting a hand on it) in ten years as a starter. Of course 6 of those are in the last two years, with 4 coming in 2019 when he didn’t have Ben Roethlisberger. Mike Tomlin mentioned that Roethlisberger helped cover for Pouncey’s inconsistent snap placement, and it showed in 2020 with only 1 snap that was a fumble in the regular season.

Week 8, 2nd quarter, 13:33. Maurkice Pouncey is the center.

The ball hits the ground without the quarterback getting it, so it’s a fumble on the center. You can see how smoothly Roethlisberger scoops up the ball and he’s still able to make the play.

Look at the snap again, watch Pouncey’s snapping hand and his movement right after the snap.

Pouncey is focused on the defensive tackle that just slid next to him, and he wants to get that snapping hand out quickly to deliver a low strike and not lose leverage to a bigger, powerful defender. He wins that first contact and is able to anchor well because of it. Remember that is one of his struggles, big powerful tackles driving him backwards when he loses that first contact.

With that threat taking focus off his snap, his usual inconsistent snap placement ends up with the ball on the ground, coming out low as he is trying to keep low while rushing his delivery to win first contact.

Nine years as Ben Roethlisberger’s center and only 4 fumbles, but like JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 2 fumbles in his first 3 years, the timing of the mistakes often matters more than the frequency.

Wild Card game, 1st quarter, 14:54. Maurkice Pouncey is the center.

It doesn’t get much worse than opening a playoff game by snapping it into the end zone for a defensive TD. Let’s take a closer look.

You can see Pouncey starting to get out of his stance before he finishes the snap. On this play he has to cross the tackle’s face right off the snap, and he is moving before he finishes his delivery. A terrible mistake at one of the worst times imaginable.

They would run that play again, in fact, it was the next play the Steelers ran.

Wild Card game, 1st quarter, 14:40. Maurkice Pouncey is the center.

The difference is incredibly small.

Maurkice Pouncey’s game is declining, it is incredibly rare to see a center last this long at such a high level of play, because once you start to slip, you don’t have room to account for that, that snap has to be executed right, or bad things happen. Pouncey trying to get a bit of advantage on defenders causes him problems.

If Pouncey is finished, it will be understandable, but he will also be incredibly hard to replace. Not many centers in 2020 brought to the field what Pouncey still brought. It wasn’t just reputation that landed him that Pro Bowl nod, there aren’t many centers that can play the game as well as Pouncey does. On the field he’s still one of the best, even if he’s not the same player he was in his prime, when he was the very best at his job in the NFL.

The Point:

If Maurkice Pouncey is done, he’s going to be missed, and while this Vertex covers stats and film, Pouncey brings even more than that. It stood out to me how awful the Steelers looked after that bad snap, and it should stand out that it was the Steelers most vocal and emotional leader that messed up. A deflated Pouncey meant there wasn’t someone to pull the team out of that mess and get them re-centered.

That should give anyone pause, if the Steelers are looking to rebuild the talent on the offensive line with young players, the kind of leadership Maurkice Pouncey brings becomes even more important, and he showed this season that he was still a top center when he had Kevin Dotson and a healthy David DeCastro to work with.

If the Steelers enter 2021 without Maurkice Pouncey, they will have a major hole at center, and an incredible void in team leadership to fill.

Which player would you like to see broken down for next weeks Steelers Vertex? Make sure you vote in the pole below.

Past Vertex breakdowns:

Ben Roethlisberger should have the ability to leave on his own terms

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/26/2021 - 6:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ben has nothing left to prove to the NFL but the team and its fans should honor his wishes.

Regardless of this season’s dismal conclusion, the Pittsburgh Steelers remain an organization steeped in tradition, loyalty and glorious success. During the majority of the 1970s, the Steelers were the team nobody wanted to see on their schedule, as Chuck Noll assembled a juggernaut that captured four Super Bowl championships within a 6-year span. Adding two more NFL championships during the first decade of the 2000s, the Black-and-Gold became the league’s most successful franchise until the New England Patriots tied Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl win total on February 3, 2019.

Ben Roethlisberger is an absolute lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his place among the greatest quarterbacks in history is assured. Even approaching the age of 39, only a handful of NFL quarterbacks today can match Ben’s ability to pass a football with velocity and accuracy. During his remarkable career, No. 7 has given Steelers Nation countless thrills, as well as the perennial expectation of rooting for a contender regardless of all the personnel changes around him.

Despite the big bucks Ben would earn if he returns to the field later this year, his decision won’t be dictated by money. As the undisputed leader of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’ll come down to Ben’s personal feelings about whether there’s still something he wants to give back to the Steelers’ ownership, his teammates and the league’s most rabid and loyal fan base.

Whatever Ben decides, though, it’s important for Steelers fans to realize the outcome of the 2021 regular season is hardly the most important factor. Quarterbacks like Roethlisberger and Terry Bradshaw come around only rarely, and it’s obvious the team would be better off having #7 on the field next September than any other QB they’re likely to sign.

Should Ben decide to hang up his cleats this offseason, only a wild-eyed optimist could imagine the team somehow locating a long-term heir to his throne by the start of the 2021 season. The ever-impatient Steelers fan base must confront the painful reality that, when Ben walks away, the Black-and-Gold will find themselves on the threshold of what’s likely to be a lean period in the team’s storied history. And whether Ben returns to the field later this year or not, it’s unlikely to afford any solace to the fair-weather fan who cannot accept anything less than a seventh Super Bowl trophy next winter.

Watching the conference championships, a couple of things really stood out. First and foremost, nobody gets to the Super Bowl these days without a franchise quarterback. Should Bruce Arians win his first-ever Super Bowl as a head coach, everyone knows it’ll be because the Tampa Bay Bucs signed Tom Brady and his sidekick Rob Gronkowski, along with the beastly Leonard Fournette from the Jacksonville Jaguars and ex-Steeler Antonio Brown. Likewise, Andy Reid would still be in search of his first NFL championship if the Kansas City Chiefs hadn’t drafted Patrick Mahomes to trigger a Chiefs’ offense that already was loaded with talent when he arrived on the scene.

Secondly, all four teams that reached the conference championships possess solid running attacks to complement stout pass protection. No team can expect to reach the Super Bowl with the anemic running attack the Steelers displayed this season. It’s beyond obvious that Pittsburgh’s offensive line simply isn’t up to par with the units this season’s Super Bowl contenders are putting on the field. Furthermore, despite showing pro-level capabilities, neither the injury-prone James Conner nor the other running backs on the Steelers roster are on a par with the league’s premier backs.

Clearly, the team’s issues run deeper than the mere fact that age seems to have crept up on Ben Roethlisberger. Because we can’t expect all of these issues to be resolved during the course of the 2021 regular season, there’s no reason why Steelers fans shouldn’t welcome No. 7 back to the field in September if he opts to return. As both a player and a leader, Ben has more than earned the right to leave the game strictly on his own terms. And should Ben simply decide he’s had enough, the accolades he so richly deserves would then start pouring in to wash away the criticism and second-guessing No. 7 faced during the course of a particularly difficult and frustrating season.

Martavis Bryant trying to rejuvenate his career in the CFL

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/26/2021 - 5:00am
Photo by Mark Alberti/ Icon Sportswire

The former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver is trying to get back into the game, but the CFL.

There are few people who have come into the National Football League with as much freakish, natural talent as Martavis Bryant. However, the former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver has had his share of demons since he left Clemson to enter the professional ranks.

Bryant has dealt with substance abuse his entire career, to the point where he is still facing an indefinite suspension by the league, his third in his brief career. But that won’t stop Bryant from trying to get his career off the ground again, this time in the Canadian Football League.

As of Monday, Bryant recently signed a contract with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.

Yesssir ⚡️

Martavis Bryant is an Argonaut

» https://t.co/lbm5CXbeOB pic.twitter.com/F3HfDZDiM9

— Toronto Argonauts (@TorontoArgos) January 25, 2021

For Bryant, the move is a curious one. Not that he can’t still play football, and not that he won’t be able to produce for the Argonauts, but because of why he is in the CFL. According to the NFL Network, when given the opportunity to file for reinstatement to the NFL prior to the 2020 season, Bryant declined.

Bryant hasn’t played in the NFL since the NFL slapped an indefinite suspension to Bryant in December of 2018 while he was a member of the Raiders. Bryant had already been suspended the entire 2016 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy as a member of the black and gold. He was also suspended four games during his rookie season in 2014 for a substance-abuse violation.

His latest suspension was for violating the conditional terms of his reinstatement from his previous suspension.

Bryant joins the likes of players like Josh Gordon who are absolutely brimming with potential, but sometimes just can’t get out of their own way off the field. Either way, Bryant is back in football, just not the NFL.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.

Podcast: Resist the temptation of a first round running back, Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/26/2021 - 4:30am

In the latest podcast on the BTSC family of podcasts, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers and their plan for 2021.

The Steelers have plenty of needs in the 2021 NFL draft, while still having an opportunity to compete for a title. Many fans feel that the Steelers need to make a big change at running back and select one in the draft very early. Here’s why there shouldn’t. Join BTSC Deputy Editor Michael Beck on the latest edition of The Live Mike as he helps Steeler Nation navigate through 2021.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Why the Steelers shouldn’t draft a Round One running back.
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Steelers decide on Matt Canada as their next offensive coordinator

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 3:51pm
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have reportedly settled on their next offensive coordinator.

When it comes to the hiring process, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been behind the curve. With the AFC and NFC Championship games now in the rear view mirror, the vast majority of the National Football League has done their diligence in filling out their coaching staff.

But not the Steelers.

The Steelers entered the offseason with four coaching vacancies, and up until Monday they still had those four openings available. Early Monday afternoon the team hired Alfredo Roberts as their tight end coach, and it looks as if they have finally decided on who will be calling the plays for the foreseeable future.

According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, that would be none other than Matt Canada.

The #Steelers are finalizing a deal with Matt Canada to become their offensive coordinator, per source. Deal is considered imminent.

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) January 25, 2021

Canada’s promotion from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator will be a significant one, but still leaves the team with several questions heading into the new league year.

Will the Steelers hire a quarterbacks coach to replace Canada’s old position?

Will Ben Roethlisberger be returning now that he at least has one year with Canada in 2020?

Who will Canada bring in as the offensive line coach?

What will Canada’s approach be to the 2021 NFL Draft?

All questions which will only be answered with time, and Canada will need to take a crash course on the professional game as he will be tasked with these responsibilities for the first time in his career.

The Steelers brining in Roberts and promoting Canada means they still have to fill the positions of secondary coach, offensive line coach and quarterbacks coach. Teryl Austin also interviewed with the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator position, and if he is hired the team would likely have to consider filling his role as well.

This is just the start of what could be a crazy offseason for the Steelers, so be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and note surrounding the team as they prepare for NFL Free Agency, the new league year and of course the 2021 NFL Draft.

UPDATE:

The Steelers have made the move official.

We have promoted Matt Canada to offensive coordinator.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 25, 2021

On top of the news of Canada’s promotion becoming official, it is also being reported the Steelers are going to fill Canada’s previous role as quarterbacks coach. This is contrary to what the team did with Randy Fichtner when he was awarded the offensive coordinator job in 2018. Fichtner absorbed both positions until Canada’s hiring in 2020.

This per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Canada will not remain as QB coach. Steelers will hire someone for that position.

— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) January 25, 2021

Steelers reportedly decide on Matt Canada as their next offensive coordinator

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 2:33pm
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have reportedly settled on their next offensive coordinator.

When it comes to the hiring process, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been behind the curve. With the AFC and NFC Championship games now in the rear view mirror, the vast majority of the National Football League has done their diligence in filling out their coaching staff.

But not the Steelers.

The Steelers entered the offseason with four coaching vacancies, and up until Monday they still had those four openings available. Early Monday afternoon the team hired Alfredo Roberts as their tight end coach, and it looks as if they have finally decided on who will be calling the plays for the foreseeable future.

According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, that would be none other than Matt Canada.

The #Steelers are finalizing a deal with Matt Canada to become their offensive coordinator, per source. Deal is considered imminent.

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) January 25, 2021

Canada’s promotion from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator will be a significant one, but still leaves the team with several questions heading into the new league year.

Will the Steelers hire a quarterbacks coach to replace Canada’s old position?

Will Ben Roethlisberger be returning now that he at least has one year with Canada in 2020?

Who will Canada bring in as the offensive line coach?

What will Canada’s approach be to the 2021 NFL Draft?

All questions which will only be answered with time, and Canada will need to take a crash course on the professional game as he will be tasked with these responsibilities for the first time in his career.

The Steelers brining in Roberts and promoting Canada means they still have to fill the positions of secondary coach, offensive line coach and quarterbacks coach. Teryl Austin also interviewed with the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator position, and if he is hired the team would likely have to consider filling his role as well.

This is just the start of what could be a crazy offseason for the Steelers, so be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and note surrounding the team as they prepare for NFL Free Agency, the new league year and of course the 2021 NFL Draft.

Steelers announce the hire of new tight end’s coach Alfredo Roberts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 1:47pm

It is the first coaching hire for the Steelers of the 2021 offseason.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made their first coaching hire of the 2021 offseason. With the retirement of tight end’s coach James Daniel, the Steelers have announced they have hired Alfredo Roberts as their new tight end’s coach.

We have named Alfredo Roberts as our tight ends coach.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 25, 2021

Roberts played five seasons in the NFL as a tight end from 1988 to 1992. After three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs where he was drafted in the eighth round of the 1988 draft, Roberts went on to finish his career with the Dallas Cowboys. With 48 receptions for 450 yards and two touchdowns over his career, Roberts appeared in 80 regular-season games and started 36.

Roberts coaching career began in 1999 as the running backs coach for Florida Atlantic for two seasons before switching over to the wide receivers coach for two more seasons. Roberts made the jump to the NFL in 2003 where he spent four seasons as the Jaguars tight end’s coach before moving to the Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Indianapolis Colts with all stops being as the tight end’s coach. Spending a year out of the NFL and coaching high school in 2016, Roberts was the Los Angeles Chargers running backs coach from 2017 to 2019 before serving as their tight end’s coach last season.

Robert spent three years on the same coaching staff with offensive coordinator candidate Pep Hamilton in Indianapolis as well as last season with the Los Angeles Chargers.

On behalf of BTSC, welcome to the Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Roberts.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for breaking news, player updates, coaching hires, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers.

This waive of AFC quarterbacks should make Steelers fans pessimistic

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Steelers don’t even know if any of their quarterbacks will be back next year

The Pittsburgh Steelers dont have a single quarterback under contract beyond the 2021 season. Ben Roethlisberger will be 39 years old when Week 1 yet again roles around. For once, there is a ton of uncertainty swirling around the Steelers quarterback position. If you factor in the Steelers aren't in a position to take one this year, and won't be bad enough next year to grab a top guy either, my worry-ometer starts to buzz. It gets worse yet when you look across the rest of the AFC. You will find that a number of teams already have their quarterback position set for the next 15 years.

Patrick Mahomes is adding to a STACKED resume

➖ Super Bowl champ
➖ Super Bowl MVP
➖ 2 AFC titles
➖ MVP
➖ 3x Pro Bowl
➖ First-Team All-Pro
➖ 50 TDs in one season
➖ First QB with three 10-point comebacks in one postseason
➖ Biggest contract in NFL history

He's only 25 pic.twitter.com/rcQon3TJ5b

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 25, 2021

Just take a look at the AFC North alone. There's a real chance that if Roethlisberger looks like a 39 year old quarterback, the Steelers will have the worst starting gunslinger in the division. At the end of the day the NFL has also become a quarterback-driven league. Just take for example the quarterbacks that partook in championship Sunday. Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, and Josh Allen are considered the best at their position in the league. It makes sense that they were the final four teams, because they had the best quarterback play.

Let’s just take a look at some of the starting quarterbacks across the AFC that are 25 or younger

Baltimore Ravens - Lamar Jackson [24]
Buffalo Bills - Josh Allen [24]
Cincinnati Bengals - Joe Burrow [24]
Cleveland Browns - Baker Mayfield [25]
Denver Broncos - Drew Lock [24]
Houston Texans - Deshaun Watson [25]
Jacksonville Jaguars - Trevor Lawrence* [21]
Kansas City Chiefs - Patrick Mahomes [25]
Los Angeles Chargers - Justin Herbert [22]
Miami Dolphins - Tua Tagovailoa [22]
New York Jets - Sam Darnold [23]

11 of 16 teams have starting quarterbacks 25 or younger. Plus, Ryan Tannehill is playing some of the best ball of his career. Additionally, the Patriots and the Colts are front runners to land Matthew Stafford. Long story short, the conference is loaded at quarterback, and it will be for the foreseeable future.

What do the Steelers have to compete with these guys? After this upcoming season, they dont have anything. Dwayne Haskins is an RFA so as of this moment he is the most likely starting quarterback for this team in 2022 by default. For some strange reason, people reading this right now don’t see a problem with this. Haskins is a cast off and at this point nothing more than a camp arm on the same level as Paxton Lynch. His signing announcement was lumped in with a bunch of nobodies that likely won't even make the team. That should tell you what the organization thinks of him.

The Steelers don’t even have a decent pick to draft a quarterback this year unless they find the nerve to trade up for one. If you think Mac Jones or Kyle Trask is the answer, to me it feels like bringing a knife to an Uzi-machine gun fight when Patrick Mahomes comes to town. You're next thought might be ‘well, they can get someone in the 2022 draft,’ I would suggest that thinking is also flawed. As long as T.J. Watt, Devin Bush, and Minkah Fitzpatrick are roaming the Steelers defense they will never be bad enough to sink into the top 10 of the NFL Draft. No team drafting first overall is just going to hand over the top pick either, especially to a team picking in the teens. All of the sudden the Steelers will be faced with drafting the third or fourth ranked quarterback in a weaker class and hoping they will be good enough to topple the Chiefs dynasty.

Free agents also leave much to be desired the next couple years. Right now the Steelers basically have to pray they can pull the next Russell Wilson out of the third round or they’re going to be the whipping boys of the conference until Mahomes and Allen hang them up.

Sure a lot can happen in the next couple months; heck, a lot could happen in the next couple days. But right now it feels Steelers are banking on some sort of divine intervention when it comes to finding Ben’s successor rather than going out and making a move that they know will make them better. If that means telling Ben he’s not welcome back next year, then they have to do it. If it means moving picks to make a trade in the draft for a player, they have to do it. There is no more time to waste when it comes to finding someone to play the most influential position in all of team sports. This isn't a linebacker, or a right wing, or a power forward. This is the starting quarterback of your franchise, and right now the Steelers don’t have a plan obvious to anyone outside their walls.

Mahomes, Allen, Burrow, and even Trevor Lawrence are primed to own this division for a decade. If you don’t believe me, you don’t have to look any further then this same conference which was dominated by four guys the last 20 years.

The quarterbacks to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl over the past 20 years:

Tom Brady (nine)
Peyton Manning (four)
Ben Roethlisberger (three)
Patrick Mahomes (two)
Joe Flacco (one)
Rich Gannon (one)

— Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat) January 25, 2021

I believe the situation is rapidly heading toward critical designation. The Steelers need a legitimate succession plan, and the path of this team should be vividly clear at the conclusion of the 2021 NFL Draft. If the Steelers don’t have something by then, god help us all.

What do you think? Are you worried about Mahomes and Allen dominating the AFC for the foreseeable future? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.

2021 NFL Draft: Reese’s Senior Bowl Watch List

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 11:30am
Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

The Reese’s Senior Bowl is set to take place, what prospects will you be watching?

The Reese’s Senior Bowl is set to be played on Saturday January 30th at 2:30pm and can be watched on the NFL Network. The one thing I like about the event is the airing of the practices leading up to the eventual game. As of now, I have scrolled through the guide, and ESPNU and NFL Network has their coverages starting Wednesday and runs through Friday. Be sure to check your TV guide for times, and don’t forget to set the record function on your system.

Just an FYI for those interested, The Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers will be coaching the two respective teams.

The Watch List : National Team

Creed Humphrey - C - Oklahoma - There is a need to find the next anchor of the offensive line. Pouncey has yet to make a decision on his future, and even if he plays one more year the depth at that position is questionable. Humphries isn’t going to wow you with movement skills, more of a phone booth type blocker. Very powerful and has somewhat of a mean streak as a blocker. The question remains is his fit going to match the plan moving forward. I think he would pair nicely with Kevin Dotson long term.

Current Projection: Round 2

Hunter Long - TE - Boston College - Yeah I know, I’m always clamoring for a tight end, but it’s time to address the position in the draft and it’s time to get a dual threat player. Vance McDonald has retired and Eric Ebron has shown to be an inconsistent pass catcher while adding very little to the blocking game. Hunter Long is not the athlete everyone seems to want at the position. What he is, is a dual threat TE that has solid hands and is more than willing to do the necessary dirty work as a blocker. As a receiver, he has the zone awareness to sit in open spots, and he understands about using his size to block out defenders for positioning on routes and at the catch point. Added strength will be needed at the next level to become a more efficient blocker as well as technique but the willingness is there and that can’t be taught.

Current Projection: Top 75

Rashad Weaver and Patrick Jones ll - EDGE - Pittsburgh - Unless something crazy happens, Bud Dupree will move on to his second team. I was a harsh critic at times but found myself wanting him to stay at the end, I wish him well. That brings us to the possibility of adding either a starter, or someone to provide depth for that position. T.J. Watt is All-World, and Alex Highsmith has shown he can play in this league with room to grow as a player. The debate on that from fans continues. I grouped these two together because they have been joined at the hip somewhat playing together on what should have been a stout Panthers defense. I think Jones is the better athlete and Weaver is more advanced in terms of technique. Both are decent at defending the run although advantage goes to Weaver, in my opinion. However Jones ll offers more upside in terms of getting pressure. The one question I have is scheme fit. Can either play in the two point stance at the next level? We have seen Watt play in a three point, so does it matter?

Current Projection: Jones ll - Top 50 / Weaver - Top 100

The Watch List: American Team

Alex Leatherwood - OT - Alabama - Once again the offensive line needs an overhaul and filling the blindside would go a long way in rebuilding a once proud unit. Alejandro Villanueva is a Free Agent, and even if the money was right his play has declined. Zach Banner is coming off of an injury and is also a Free Agent. Chuks Okorafor remains as the only Tackle with any significant playing time. Leatherwood has a a hulking build that flourishes in the run game when he is squared to his man. Possesses an aggressive demeanor and decent strength. Will need to improve footwork at the next level to combat the elite pass rushers. He has position flexibility as he has played at Guard and some feel he is best suited at Guard or the Right Tackle spot.

Current Projection: Top 35

Kadarius Toney - WR - Florida - Some may consider this a luxury pick with so many needs and limited cap space to fill voids on the roster. There is still the possibility JuJu Smith-Schuster may be priced out of town, although Ben Roethlisberger said he wanted to keep Smith-Schuster in the mix. If Smith-Schuster does stay, this may become a non-factor, but if he leaves there may be a need to add to that room. Toney will draw comparisons to Diontae Johnson, and maybe even Antonio Brown. His explosiveness and quick twitch ability provide a serious threat for YAC. Probably not going to be a combat catch guy, but that doesn’t limit his down the field prowess. There are red flag concerns that need addressed, but if he can answer for those the rest is all cake. Position fit would most likely be in the slot.

Current Projection: Top 50

Jamie Newman - QB - Wake Forest/Georgia - This prospect falls into the same boat as Trey Lance in that he didn’t get to showcase his talents in 2020. Newman transferred to Georgia as a grad student but then COVID took it’s toll and Newman ended up opting out of his college season. Looking back at his Demon Deacon playing time, it was obvious he was an athlete that had some playing ability. He offers a strong arm and a toughness that resembles a Marshawn Lynch running style. Looking at the negatives the list is long, and to say he is more than a developmental quarterback at this point is being overly optimistic. Inconsistent mechanics, reading what the defense is doing and running through his progressions are all areas of needed work. I am not saying he hasn’t worked on these things in his time away from playing the game, but we haven’t been able to see that. This venue could go a long way to see if he has indeed began the necessary progression.

Current Projection: Anywhere from 3rd Round to being a an UDFA

I gave a short list of players I will be watching, it’s time to give yours. Feedback and varying opinions are always welcome. There are plans to have an article up for each day of the practices as well as a game thread. Be sure to check those out, and, as always go Steelers!

Podcast: Tales of Steelers AFC Championship Fame and Shame

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 11:00am

With the Steelers now in their off-season, it’s time to bring back an old favorite as we look back at Steeler tales from yesterday and today surrounding the black-and-gold.

The Steelers have a rich championship history and have appeared in 16 AFC Title Games since 1972. Join Mr. 2 AM in taking a look at Steelers news of the day and black-and-gold AFC Championship Game action from yesteryear, both delightful and disastrous. I’m also looking forward to your stories as well. This leads to the topic of the latest episode of the most unique member of BTSC’s family of podcasts.

Take a look and listen to the most unique offering in the BTSC family of podcasts, Tales From 2 AM. Join Bryan Anthony Davis, Mr. 2 AM himself, as K.T. Smith joins in on the fun for Tales from 2 AM with memories of the fun side of Steelers fandom.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Steelers stories from the AFC Championship Game
  • Q&A
  • 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

How Chase Claypool’s rookie season ranks among the best ever in Steelers history

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 10:03am
Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

How did Chase Claypool’s rookie season rank among the team’s best ever?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had pretty good fortune with rookie receivers in their history. Going back to the Chuck Noll era, there is a long list of notable players who came in and played well immediately. In the Kevin Colbert era, the Steelers’ organization has been known as a wide receiver factory. It seems as if they draft them, they will eventually turn into something special.

This is the case for many players, but no receiver in the Mike Tomlin era jumped off the screen as much as Chase Claypool did in 2020. The former Notre Dame product, and 2nd round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, wasted little time getting acclimated to the professional game. This without a preseason too.

With the season over, and we all now have time to reflect on the year that was, I wondered how Claypool’s rookie campaign ranked among some of the most prolific wide receivers in Steelers history.

Take a look at the key metrics I used for the players below:

Hines Ward
Games: 16
Receptions: 15 (33 targets)
Yards: 246 (Long: 45)
TD (Total): 0

Santonio Holmes
Games: 16
Receptions: 49 (86 targets)
Yards: 824 (Long: 67)
TD (Total): 2

Plaxico Burress
Games: 12
Receptions: 22 (65 targets)
Yards: 273 (Long: 39)
TD (Total): 0

Antonio Brown
Games: 9
Receptions: 16 (19 targets)
Yards: 167 (Long: 26)
TD (Total): 0

Mike Wallace
Games: 16
Receptions: 39 (72 targets)
Yards: 756 (Long: 60)
TD (Total): 6

JuJu Smith-Schuster
Games: 14
Receptions: 58 (79 targets)
Yards: 917 (Long: 97)
TD (Total): 7

Louis Lipps
Games: 14
Receptions: 45
Yards: 860 (Long: 80)
TD (Total): 10

Lynn Swann
Games: 12
Receptions: 11
Yards: 208 (Long: 54)
TD (Total): 2

John Stallworth
Games: 13
Receptions: 16
Yards: 269 (Long: 56)
TD (Total): 1

Looking at those players, now compare the results Claypool was able to accomplish in the 2020 season:

Chase Claypool
Games: 16
Receptions: 62 (109 targets)
Yards: 873 (Long: 84)
TD (Total): 11

I fully understand it isn’t fair to compare Claypool’s rookie season to that of Lipps, Swann or Stallworth. Why? In the 70s and early 80s they weren’t throwing the ball as much as they are in the modern era of NFL football.

Just look at Claypool’s targets (109) compared to the others, it should be noted targets were tracked for players like Swann and Stallworth. Those numbers don’t even come close in comparison. But that also shouldn’t diminish what Claypool was able to achieve in his first season as a professional.

At this point in the year, the focus should turn away from his first campaign and turn into what can he do in his second season. Opposing defense won’t be sleeping on Claypool like many did last season. Will he have a sophomore slump, or a standout sophomore season?

Only time will tell, but Claypool has certainly inserted himself as having one of the best, if not the best, rookie season in Pittsburgh Steelers history.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.

Dwayne Haskins Film Room, Part One: The not-so-good, bad and ugly of a struggling young quarterback

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

We take a deep dive into Dwayne Haskins in an effort to identify what the Steelers got when they signed the troubled QB to a Reserve/Future contract.

The Steelers signed former Washington Football Team quarterback Dwayne Haskins to a one-year contract last Thursday, prompting speculation they may see him as a developmental prospect with the potential to succeed Ben Roethlisberger.

The key word to that last sentence is potential, as Haskins, in his current form, is a long way from surpassing anyone on the Steelers’ depth chart. Still, his physical skills make Haskins an intriguing talent and his contract, which amounts to almost nothing, represents a low-risk investment.

The pros and cons of his signing were covered well in a Point-Counterpoint piece from Geoffrey Benedict and Shannon White to which I’ve linked below. This article is Part One of a two-part feature that will focus on what the film tells us about Haskins, beginning and with the areas in which he struggled.

Haskins was the starting quarterback for parts of two seasons in Washington, where they went a collective 10-23. He made 13 starts, compiled a 3-10 record and completed 60.1% of his passes. Haskins averaged a pedestrian 6.1 yards per attempt and threw 12 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. None of those numbers should leave Steelers’ fans jumping for joy.

The interceptions are particularly troubling but not necessarily surprising. Here are some other high-profile quarterbacks with their touchdown-to-interception ratio through the first 13 games of their career:

Ryan Tannehill: 8 TD-12 INT

Alex Smith: 8 TD-15 INT

Drew Brees: 12 TD-15 INT

Josh Allen: 11 TD-14 INT

Matthew Stafford: 19 TD-22 INT

Like Haskins, all of these quarterbacks were high draft picks who were thrust into the starting lineup early in their careers, either as rookies or second-year players. None played for successful teams. Brees’ Chargers were mediocre, finishing 8-8. Tannehill’s Dolphins went 7-9. Allen quarterbacked a 6-10 Bills team. Smith piloted a 4-12 49ers squad. And Stafford slogged through a 2-14 campaign with the Lions. Yet all recovered to have (or are having) successful, even spectacular, careers. It’s not uncommon, then, for young quarterbacks on bad teams to struggle as they learn the professional game while playing with weak supporting casts.

This is not to excuse Haskins for his poor play. I watched each of the fourteen interceptions he threw in Washington and there are indeed some bad ones in the bunch. He looks like a player rushed onto the field who is not yet ready for what he’s experiencing. To context that more clearly, I’ve broken his interceptions into categories with a corresponding reason for each. Many demonstrate the cardinal sins of a young player not yet acclimated to the job:

Slow progression reads/balls coming out late: 8

Inaccurate throws: 5

Dropped balls by his receivers: 1

13 of Haskins’ 14 interceptions were clearly his fault, with just one the result of a teammate failing to execute properly (specifically, a throw in his debut against the Giants in 2019 that bounced off the hands of a receiver). The 13 remaining interceptions all stemmed from slow progression reads leading to late throws or inaccurate passes often caused by poor mechanics. Here are examples of each.

Slow progression reads/balls coming out late

There are two common reasons why a quarterback is late getting the football out of his hand. The first is because he is processing information slowly. The second is because he hangs on his initial read too long before moving along in his progression. In Washington, Haskins fell victim to both.

Here is the first interception of his career, in a game against the Giants in 2019. New York is in man-coverage and Haskins attempts to throw an in-cut to his tight end, who breaks across the field from the right hash at the yellow first-down line. New York’s inside linebacker, who is not assigned to a man and whose responsibility is to disrupt crossers, does a nice job working under the route at its break point. This causes Haskins to hitch up in the pocket and wait for the tight end to clear the backer. That extra second provides safety Jabrill Peppers, who is locked onto the tight end, time to undercut the route. Peppers does so easily, returning the interception for a 32 yard touchdown to close the scoring in a 24-3 Giants’ victory.

If you look at the play again, you can see how Haskins stared down his target the entire time. He did not have the pocket presence or situational awareness to realize that once the backer picked up the tight end out of his break, the timing for that route was disrupted. At this point, Haskins needed to come off of the tight end and check the ball down to an outlet receiver. He had swing routes on either side of the field he could have chosen. Neither was likely to gain more than a yard or two, but 2nd-and-long is far more preferable than a pick-six.

Here’s another. On this one, Haskins is late on a throw to the sideline. He does get to a second read in his progression, looking right to a speed-out from his slot receiver before moving to a comeback route to his left. But you can see, again, how he hitches in the pocket prior to releasing the throw. He also fails to step at his target, resulting in a ball that lacks velocity. These mistakes make him late on the out-cut, allowing Green Bay’s corner to swoop in for the pick.

When Haskins comes off of his first read and looks left, he again stares down his target. This indicates he has a tendency to lock on receivers rather than identifying the drops of defenders. He should know on this throw that Washington is running a flood concept into the boundary, where three receivers overload the short, intermediate and deep zones along the sideline. The corner should be his read-key. There are mere seconds remaining in the half, so likely he is forcing the football to the deeper route to try to gain yardage towards a field goal. But the corner’s deep drop should eliminate that as an option. Had Haskins thrown the intermediate route to his slot receiver, which was wide open, Washington would have had a shot at a makeable 50 yard attempt. Instead, he forced a late throw into coverage and squandered a scoring opportunity.

Inaccurate throws

Another problem area for Haskins has been his accuracy. At Ohio State, Haskins was remarkably accurate, completing 70% of his near-600 pass attempts. That percentage dropped to 60.1 in Washington, a figure that ranks 33rd out of 35 qualifying quarterbacks the past two seasons.

Reasons for the drop-off include Haskins’ struggles with adapting to the speed of the NFL game and problems with diagnosing coverage. But, as we shall see here, he’s had issues with his mechanics as well, which have contributed to a number of inaccurate throws.

On the play below, Haskins attempts to throw to slot receiver Dontrelle Inman (80), who is the inside-most receiver to the trips formation. Inman runs a “divide” route between the linebackers on a 3rd and 15 play with Cleveland in a soft cover-2 zone. Ideally, Haskins wants to hit Inman in the hole between the backers and the safeties, which should be available against this particular coverage.

A couple of things impede that prospect. First, Haskins again stares down his receiver, which does nothing to widen Cleveland’s inside linebacker. Had Haskins looked first to the curl from Terry McLaurin (17), who is the middle receiver in the trips, he likely would have pulled the backer away from the hash, providing more space for the throw to Inman. Second, this throw needs to come out sooner. This is not a slow progression-read since Haskins is locked on Inman (there is no actual progression). Rather, the hitch he takes off of his fifth step delays his release, which gives the backer time to work under Inman’s route. This reduces the window into which Haskins must throw. Haskins compounds that mistake with a low release point, which prohibits him from getting any air under the ball. The ball needs to come out right off of that fifth step as a mid-level throw over the heads of the backers. Instead, Haskins takes an extra step then drills it as though it’s a slant.

Haskins clearly has issues with hitching up in the pocket, which often makes him late on throws. His release point is funky, too. His right elbow is often too low on delivery, preventing him from getting the football to its proper launch point. The throw below, for example, needs more trajectory to reach its target. It’s a corner route where the ball should take the receiver into the boundary. The receiver should run under this throw at the 11 or 12 yard line on an angle taking him inside the 10. Instead, it comes down on his inside shoulder at about the 20. Despite a clean pocket and no pressure in his face, Haskins misses both short and inside here, the result of flawed mechanics.

So, to summarize, Haskins has a bad habit of hitching at the top of his drop, which often makes him late on his release; stares down his receivers too often; is slow in his read progressions; and can be inconsistent with his release point, which leads to inaccuracy. These are just the on-field issues. We haven’t even talked about his questionable work ethic or lack of maturity. As the comedian Bob Newhart once joked, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

However, before we bury Haskins, we should remember that he is still a young quarterback who was drafted by one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the league. He also had two head coaches and two offensive coordinators in his season-and-a-half in Washington. Hopefully, provided a more stable environment, he will learn to process information faster, hone his technique and take better care of the football. He may never become as good as Stafford or Allen, much less Brees, but, given his natural ability, evolving into a player in the Alex Smith/Ryan Tannehill mold is not out of the question.

In Part Two of this film room, we’ll look at some of the things Haskins does well, particularly those which could make him a good candidate to run the offense new coordinator Matt Canada is likely to install next season.

(All video via JaguarGator9 on YouTube)

Mock Draft Monday: The Steelers look to add an athletic tackle with their top pick

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 7:15am
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

In the latest mock draft, the Steelers add an offensive lineman in the first round.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are heading into the 2021 offseason. With free agency looming followed by the NFL draft in April, the Steelers will have a plethora of decisions and moves to make before making their first draft selection. With the NFL combine not being held and pro days as the best option to get player information, there may be limited information in regards to draft prospects this year.

When talking about mock drafts or NFL free agency, you have to first identify the team’s main needs for the offseason. Before any gains or losses in free agency, there are some who would like to see the Steelers go with either offensive line or running back with their first-round pick. Others feel tight end or linebacker could be on top of the list. With plenty of chances for the Steelers to shape their roster prior to April, their goal is usually to get into position to draft the best player available rather than target a specific position. When it comes to what position the team will select with their first pick, it is certainly up for debate.

In the latest two-round mock draft by CBSSports, they have the Steelers addressing the offensive tackle position before anything else. With three of the Steelers starters from 2020 over 30 and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva set to become a free agent in March, drafting this position or any other along the offensive line is understandable. Since the Steelers could go in any number of directions with their first selection, it is important to look at all the possibilities presented by various mock draft outlets.

Check out the Steelers 24th pick:

24. Pittsburgh Steelers | Spencer Brown | OT | UNI | SR |

Being early in the draft process, there may be some players most fans are not familiar with. If this is the case, here is a breakdown of Brown according to thedraftnetwork.com:

PROSPECT SUMMARY - SPENCER BROWN

Spencer Brown aligned at right tackle for UNI’s offense. He presents as a leggy, somewhat high-cut player with rare length for the position. He plays with a nasty disposition and plays hard from snap to whistle. He’s a good athlete with regard to balance and body control. He is smooth and fluid in his pass set and plays with the football IQ to use his length to his advantage on the edge. Although he has been sufficient in the FCS, he projects with average lateral mobility when redirecting inside against quicker athletes. However, his length and instincts help him recover, making him difficult to beat when his technique is good.

Ideal Role: Eventual starting right tackle.

Scheme Fit: Vertical passing scheme.

For all you who are preparing yourself for the draft, what do you think of the selection? Would you be on board with the Steelers taking Brown with their first pick? Or do you feel there is a better player at this position or a different one who may still be available? Personally, I don’t know what to think of Spencer Brown at this stage of the process. Playing for an FCS team, he did not have a season this fall to showcase his talent. While some don’t have him as a player in their top 150 for this reason, his athleticism is something many believe will have him shooting up many team’s boards come April.

As always, let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and remember these mock drafts are merely speculation and caused to create discussion among the fan base.

If Ben Roethlisberger returns, expect the Steelers to go all-in again

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 6:00am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Will Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger return for 2021? If he does, you better believe the Steelers will try to compete. Otherwise, what would be the point of allowing him to return?

It’s still up in the air as to whether or not Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will come back for his 18th NFL season in 2021.

At least I think it is. I don’t know. Roethlisberger isn’t necessarily pulling a 2017, but even if he were, there are a lot of Steelers fans and media members who would be hoping for the opposite decision this time around.

Even if Roethlisberger does come back next season, the confidence in Pittsburgh parlaying that into a championship run is pretty low among many folks. The reasons are layered. For starters, you can cite Roethlisberger’s declining play as the 2020 season unfolded. Also, there’s that salary cap hell that may or may not exist for eternity (or at least until 2022).

That’s right, at this very moment, the Steelers are millions of dollars over the projected $180 million cap for 2021. That’s a lot of cans to kick down the road to get back into compliance. Who will the Steelers cut? Who will they allow to mosey on into free agency without so much as a half-hearted offer? Who will they extend into 2022 and beyond?

Lots of decisions, but I’m sure they’ll get back into compliance. After all, they really don’t have much of a choice, do they?

We knew there would be some roster upheaval heading into 2021, didn’t we? I think we knew that as far back as the last offseason. We knew players such as JuJu Smith-Schuster, Bud Dupree and James Conner were not likely to stick around. We knew some others could see the chopping block.

I don’t think this means the Steelers can’t compete, though. After all, the defense will still be good, even without Dupree and perhaps Mike Hilton and Tyson Alualu. The receiving corps will still be fairly deep without Smith-Schuster. As for the running back position, heck, people have been calling for some improvements for quite some time.

The bottom line is the Steelers should still be able to compete in 2021, even with the expected roster turnover. And I guarantee you, the Steelers think they can compete next year. Otherwise, why bring back Roethlisberger? What would be the point? They could save $19 million by simply taking the retirement decision out of his hands and politely asking him to get on with his life’s work. I believe this would be the plan if they thought they had no real chance to compete. They would use their freed-up cap space to go about fixing other areas of their roster. In the meantime, they would likely give Mason Rudolph and the newly-acquired Dwayne Haskins the chance to see if either can be the future at the quarterback position. Heck, maybe the Steelers would select a quarterback in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

What I’m saying is, the Steelers would immediately start the clock on their future if they truly believed 2021 was going to be a rough patch in their history.

You don’t need a 39-year old quarterback to help get you through a rough patch. But if you’re the Steelers and you think you still have a shot to do something next January, that 39-year old quarterback is most-likely your best chance at getting you to where you want to go.

Some things simply don’t pass the logic test, and the Steelers keeping Ben Roethlisberger around in 2021 when they don’t think they can compete is one of them.

The Steelers’ search for an offensive line coach continues with Hank Fraley staying in Detroit

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 5:00am
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking for an offensive line coach, and them an they had interviewed has decided to stay in Detroit.

The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t used to this much coaching turnover in an offseason, but as they look to replace four coaches, and maybe more, they continue the interview process for positions like offensive coordinator, secondary coach, tight end coach and offensive line coach.

With the team not renewing Shaun Sarrett’s contract, they interviewed Detroit Lions’ offensive line coach Hank Fraley to see if he would like to come over to Pittsburgh in a lateral move.

Steelers fans hadn’t heard much on this front, but it is now being reported Fraley has decided to stay in Detroit with the new regime which is taking over in the motor city.

Some good news for Lions fans still coming to grips with the news Matthew Stafford likely will be playing elsewhere in 2021:

Respected OL coach Hank Fraley will be back with the team, and Dave Fipp could be joining him as ST coach now that the Eagles are letting him interview.

— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) January 24, 2021

With Fraley staying in Detroit, it means the Steelers have yet to fill any of their four vacancies on their coaching staff.

It was reported earlier this month the Steelers wanted to hire an offensive line coach before hiring an offensive coordinator, and it doesn’t look like either decision is close to being decided anytime soon.

It should be noted the Steelers could have interviewed other candidates, but they simply weren’t made public. Either way, you have to expect the Steelers to start making decisions on these job openings.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for what could be a tumultuous offseason, NFL Free Agency and of course the 2021 NFL Draft.

Podcast: Is the Steelers’ Super Bowl Window really shut?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/25/2021 - 4:30am

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

The Steelers collapse towards the conclusion of the 2020 season has media and fans proclaiming that the Super Bowl window is shut for the Men of Steel. With Ben Roethlisberger also announcing his return in 2021 and a talented defense, is that really the case? This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC co-editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • The Super Bowl hopes of the Steelers for the next couple of years

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.

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