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James Conner can provide his most compelling evidence to replace Le’Veon Bell on Sunday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 11:44am

James Conner has proven a lot throughout the 2018 regular season, but a superb performance Sunday vs. the Ravens could further cement his spot as the starter.

James Conner has proven a lot since taking over as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting running back with Le’Veon Bell continuing his holdout. He was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday, and most recently was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month in the month of October.

He has broken down misconceptions of his game. Once thought of a liability in pass protection, Conner has shown he is more than capable of protecting Ben Roethlisberger when necessary. Some thought he couldn’t catch the football out of the backfield, yet he is proving on a weekly basis he is more than competent in this regard.

In fact, on our most recent podcast we talked about how there were things Conner does better than Bell, considering everyone just compares Conner to Bell’s skill set. He runs downhill better than Bell, has better balance after contact and has a better burst to break off long runs.

In my opinion, Conner has proven he is every bit the player Bell is/was, and in some instances, more complete. However, as most assume, we know what happens when you assume, if/when Bell returns he will eventually take over the starting duties, after splitting time with Conner when he first returns.

But what if Bell doesn’t show? Conner has shown he is more than capable of carrying the torch, but he can put an exclamation point on his work this Sunday when the Steelers travel to play the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Maryland.

Throughout Bell’s career, since 2013 for those who don’t remember when he was drafted, Bell has been very hit-or-miss when facing the Ravens.

In 9 games Bell has gone over 100 yards just three times vs. the Ravens, and was held below 80 yards rushing 5 times. He has totaled 7 TDs vs. Baltimore, but his averages show very modest numbers against the team’s biggest rival. Bell averaged 17.7 carries a game, and 80 yards a game in those 9 contests.

There are a lot of factors which come into play when talking about rushing stats vs. the Ravens. First, the Ravens typically have a very good run-stopping defense, and getting going against them isn’t an easy task. Second, would be the play of the offensive line. There are games when Terrell Suggs and company dominate the line of scrimmage, and no matter who was in the backfield would be able to make anything happen. Lastly, the play calling certainly would be a huge contributor to the success, or failure, of a running backs production on the ground in any given game.

In Conner’s rookie season, in two games vs. Baltimore, he carried the ball just 6 times, for a total of 32 rushing yards. This year, the Week 4 matchup saw Conner only get the football 9 times, for 19 yards, as the team got away from the run early after falling to a 14-0 deficit early in the first quarter.

A solid performance against this Ravens defense, which is a very good unit, would be a tremendous lift for not only the Steelers’ offense, but for Conner as he hopes to continue to prove he is not just the future of the running back position for the Steelers, but the man who should be the starter even if Bell shows up in the latter portions of the regular season.

There is nothing Steelers fans would love more than to have Conner be considered a ‘Raven Killer’ throughout his career. Going into M&T Bank Stadium, a place the Steelers have struggled, and putting together a memorable performance will be a huge step in the right direction.

James Conner wins AFC Player of the Month honors for October

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 10:34am

Just 24 hours after winning AFC Player of the Week honors, James Conner was named as the AFC’s winner of the monthly version of the award.

As the recipient of yet another award on Thursday, it would appear that it is not just yards that James Conner is racking up recently. Just a day after he was announced as the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for Week 8, Conner was awarded AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors for October.

WHAT. A MONTH. @JamesConner_ has been named AFC Offensive Player of the Month.

MORE: https://t.co/Om9ODxPlWg pic.twitter.com/PxLBOOgJFu

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 1, 2018

While winning the first player of the month award of his career is impressive enough in its own right for a running back who has only just started his seventh ever NFL game, the fact that he won the award in a month in which the Pittsburgh Steelers had a bye-week is remarkable.

Conner carried the ball 64 times for 367 yards in just three games in October, posting an eye-popping 5.7 yard per carry average and scoring six touchdowns. Another 159 yards from 13 receptions brought his total yards from scrimmage to 526 yards for the month.

When speaking to reporters on Wednesday in the wake of his weekly award, Conner was keen to point out the efforts of the offensive line and it can only be imagined how much he will be singing their praises after this latest accolade.

James Conner talks about winning AFC Offensive Player of the Week, and looks for a fast start against the Ravens. pic.twitter.com/4GmhcBgzZr

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 31, 2018

After earning POTW honors on Wednesday, Conner went up to each of his offensive lineman before practice to give them a hug and say thank you. Doesn't get more classy than that!

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) November 1, 2018

According to the NFL’s media research department, Conner is the first Steeler since 1950 to have two rushing touchdowns in three straight games. Should he be able score twice on the ground again in Week 9, he will match a feat not achieved in the NFL since LaDainian Tomlinson scored two or more touchdowns during an eight game span in 2006.

The last Pittsburgh player to win player of the month honors was the man Conner has replaced this season. Le’Veon Bell won the award in December of 2017 for a run of four games where he record 310 yards from 69 carries and four touchdowns, along with 24 receptions for 259 yards and two touchdowns.

Steelers Film Room: Highlighting how important and dynamic Mike Hilton has become

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 9:49am

Mike Hilton is the primary gadget on the Steelers’ defense.

When Mike Hilton broke out last season during the preseason, it was a shock to all of us. A guy who had been on two previous practice squads — cut each time — shows up and becomes the starting slot-CB for the season. He wasn’t only a preseason wonder either, but an absolutely key performer on a defense which was ailing after Ryan Shazier went down. After that, he was one of the few bright spots on that post-Shazier defense, and that dynamic ability has only continued into this year.

Hilton is an expert blitzer from the slot, and Keith Butler utilizes the 5’9” stick of dynamite on virtually every blitz he can dial up. He’s also extra aggressive from the slot in coverage. At his core, he’s an aggressive man-coverage corner who can literally match up with anyone. He even forced a pass breakup against Rob Gronkowski last season when the Steelers faced the Patriots. This guy is a top-3 slot-CB in the NFL, and he impacts every aspect of the game. He’s a pain for any Offensive Coordinator to game-plan for. In simple terms, Keith Butler uses him almost as a small LB. He’s undoubtedly a missile, and although he’s known for how effectively he blitzes, his coverage is fantastic too.

Two things:

1. Mike Hilton is a pro bowl level slot corner. Sticky coverage on one of the best slot guys in the game in Jarvis Landry

2. Look at L.J. Fort be all physical up there to the left. Completely takes the receiver (looks like Chubb?) out of the play. He was big today. pic.twitter.com/rOGvaVKHoi

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 28, 2018

Okay, empty set, Steelers are in Cover-2 man. Only Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds are deep on this play with palms coverage, and everyone else is in either in press-man (L.J. Fort, Joe Haden, Morgan Burnett) or off-man coverage (Mike Hilton, Coty Sensabaugh). With the slot guys and Haden pressing the outside receiver, Jarvis Landry is the prime target for Baker Mayfield here, so this all relies on Mike Hilton, and boy does he ever come through.

It may be hard to see up near the top of the screen, but look at how easily he mirrors the zig. His hips are in constant motion with Landry’s route and then the easy, fluid change of direction to come straight down on that play is top-CB stuff. He knows the situation and just comes up and makes a great hit. Even if Landry hangs on, you can see Hilton’s aggressiveness as he rushes downhill after the fast change of direction.

The most underrated part of Hilton’s game is the swagger he brings. He chirps after that play and, to me, that’s the sign of a leader. He gets in Landry’s head, you know he does, and Landry is a guy who likes to do the same back, just ask Artie Burns. I want my DBs to be aggressive and have swagger. I consider it an essential trait, and man does Hilton ever deliver!

Don't really know what Baker sees here, but good coverage by Chickillo to rebound over once it is thrown. Got squeeze it. Baker makes a rookie mistake here. pic.twitter.com/u9QtECfgHE

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 28, 2018

The Browns come out in a Todd Haley special, where they have the bunch set on one side and motion it out with a RB (formerly Le’Veon Bell) and make it trips instead, with Duke Johnson here running a slant. Although Anthony Chickillo makes a fantastic play on this ball, I want to focus on Hilton, who is covering Johnson on this play.

Notice once Johnson motions, Hilton immediately steps back one step, expecting Chickillo to come over so he can focus on mirroring. He mirrors that slant and Johnson gets inside leverage, but the change of direction by Hilton likely would have stopped Johnson short of the sticks regardless. The quickness in his hips makes Hilton that much better of a slot-corner. His ability to fluidly change positions and stay with the receiver allows him to react according to the situation.

But blitzes are where Hilton really shines, whether it is on a run or a pass. Just ask Nick Chubb about that.

#Steelers vs #Browns Thread:

Conservative play call by Todd Haley but a heck of a play by Mike Hilton. Hilton is a small LB out there with his blitzing ability. He is a beast. Also, good first step and bend around the edge by TJ Watt. Great play by both here. pic.twitter.com/KTKdImna8q

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 28, 2018

Perfect play call by Keith Butler here. It’s an inside zone and well, hello Mike Hilton. Tretter and Bitonio clearly double Javon Hargrave up the middle, and even though that’s the call, Bitonio has to call an audible and chip Hilton upfield so Chubb can cut back inside. Regardless, part of the reason Hilton is such a great blitzer is because of his timing. Right when this ball is snapped Hilton is firing down and gets into the backfield. Like I said, he’s used like a smaller LB in this scheme and it’s gorgeous to watch. Just a fantastic play call and great timing by Hilton.

Mike Hilton is fantastic in every facet as a slot-CB. He has blazing speed coupled with amazing reaction time and great coverage skills. That’s something you just don’t see all that often in an undrafted cornerback, much less a guy who was cut twice, including by the Patriots’ evil genius, Bill Belichick.

Hilton will be due money at contract time and he’ll get it from the team residing in the 412 area code. There are many reasons why the Steelers need to lock up Hilton for years to come, but perhaps the main reason is that he gives his all for this team on every single play.

Mike Hilton is worth it.

Steelers Injury Report: Marcus Gilbert returns to practice on Wednesday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 8:30am

While Marcus Gilbert was able to resume training, Coty Sensabaugh, Ben Roethlisberger and Bud Dupree were all sidelined

Barring one or two obvious injury concerns, the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be in relatively good health as they prepare to face the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9. Marcus Gilbert returned to practice as a full participant in training on Wednesday, while Coty Sensabaugh, Bud Dupree and Ben Roethlisberger all found themselves on the opening injury report of the week after they sat out practice.

DNP: Ben Roethlisberger (finger/coach), Coty Sensabaugh (toe), Maurkice Pouncey (coach), Bud Dupree (illness)
FULL: Marcus Gilbert (knee)

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) October 31, 2018

The inclusion of Sensabaugh was always expected after he was forced from the game against the Cleveland Browns in the second half with a toe injury, as was that of Roethlisberger with a fracture index finger on his left hand. While Wednesday is traditionally a rest day for the quarterback, it would not be a surprise to see him miss some more practice time in the coming days.

It can only be hoped that a new illness for Dupree will be short lived and he will be good to go by Sunday, especially with the Steelers so limited at outside linebacker. Maurkice Pouncey should be back at work on Thursday after being the recipient of his usual veteran rest day.

The return of Gilbert as a full participant to start the week bodes well for his involvement on Sunday. If he can repeat the feat again over the next few days, there should be little concern about his availability in Week 9.

On the other side of the field, there is a chance the Ravens could be missing some key players when they host Pittsburgh.

Limited: RB Alex Collins (foot)

— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) October 31, 2018

JuJu Smith-Schuster the youngest wide receiver to reach 1,500 yards

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 7:40am

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ second-year WR keeps racking up the accolades.

Sunday afternoon was not only a day when the Pittsburgh Steelers continued their quest for their seventh Super Bowl ring — it was also a special day for wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster. While the Steelers were dismantling the Cleveland Browns in a 33-18 win at Heinz Field, Smith-Schuster became the youngest wide receiver to hit the 1,500-yard mark in NFL history.

That Smith-Schuster accomplished this feat at 21 years and 340 days of age is quite the performance when compared to the man he replaces in the Youth Derby. Future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald accomplished the feat at the age of 22 years, 74 days. It’s also noteworthy how Smith-Schuster surpassed Fitzgerald for the yardage mark — he accomplished that in 21 games compared to the 25 it took Fitzgerald.

The Week-8 game was mundane for Smith-Schuster, as he only tallied four catches for 33 yards. Due to the flow of the game, he just wasn’t featured. Four receptions push his season total to 46, tied for 14th best with teammate Antonio Brown. The 594 receiving yards is good enough to be tied for 16th overall. (Most players above him in both categories haven’t had their bye-weeks yet.)

For comparison, JuJu had 58 catches for 917 yards in his rookie campaign last season and didn’t reach the 46-catch mark until Week 15, while the 594-yard mark didn’t happen until his 12th game last season. Unless the dreaded sophomore slump kicks in, an issue which has befallen many young wideouts in the past, Smith-Schuster is on pace for 105 receptions and 1,358 yards receiving.

Can the second-year wideout from USC continue this pace with so many other mouths to feed in the Pittsburgh offense? Can he avoid injury the rest of the season? Has he already avoided the sophomore slump?

...

For some fun, what would it take for JuJu to surpass Jerry Rice?

JuJu averages 4.95 catches per game so he would need 292 more games to surpass. Smith-Schuster has averaged 71.95 yards per game this pace would take him 297 more games to pass the NFL’s best wideout ever.

Growth of Vance McDonald one of the bigger surprises for Steelers in 2018

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 6:37am

Once considered a candidate for release, Vance McDonald could become the key offensive piece in the Steelers’ push for a divisional title this season.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers traded for Vance McDonald just days before the start of the 2017 season, little was known about the former second-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers beyond a reputation for drops and the inability to stay healthy. During his first year with the Steelers, it appeared those traits had followed him to Pittsburgh, but in 2018, fans are warming to a very different version of the oft-maligned tight end of last season.

Although McDonald technically suited up for 10 games in his debut year with the Steelers, he finished far fewer games than he started due to a variety of injuries — ultimately seeing only 270 snaps on offense out of the 1038 available (24.4%). The five drops he recorded marked the highest total of his professional career, matching a feat he achieved in 2015, but because of far fewer targets, this earned him his worst drop-rate percentage in five seasons.

Fast forward a year, and McDonald looks like a different player. He’s lost only one game to injury so far and he’s close to doubling his production from 2017 in the first six games of 2018. After a mere 14 receptions for 188 yards last season, McDonald has already recorded 23 catches for 321 yards and, perhaps most importantly, no drops.

His connection with Ben Roethlisberger is clearly showing signs of growth, with the quarterback enjoying a 126.3 rating when targeting his tight end and only five of his 28 passes to McDonald having fallen incomplete. With increased production comes increased playing time and he has already seen 223 snaps with less than half the year gone and at over double the rate of his previous season at 54 percent.

As he’s become more comfortable in the offense, his play on the field has flourished. As several defenders can attest this season, McDonald is playing a much more physical game this season. Punishing would-be tacklers has become something of a signature move for the tight end this year and we’ve seen notable highlights almost weekly.

Vanimal! #Steelers pic.twitter.com/nh0k9MTW7o

— SteelVideos (@SteelVideos) October 30, 2018

As the Steelers struggle to find consistency with a third wide receiver, McDonald continues to stake his claim as the go-to option and he currently finds himself fourth on the team in yards and receptions, just two yards shy of James Conner’s total. Martavis Bryant ended the year fourth in yards and receptions in 2017 with 50 catches for 603 yards — numbers McDonald would easily surpass on his current trajectory.

Once considered by many sports pundits and fans as a candidate likely to be released, his violent playing style has won over the detractors in 2018. If he can continue to progress during the second half of the season and also remain healthy, he could be a vital piece in the push towards another divisional title.

Podcast: The Steelers biggest test awaits in Week 9 vs. the Ravens

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 5:39am

In the latest episode of “The Standard is the Standard” show, we break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-gold from the week that was.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are heading into Week 8, and they’ve finally reached the halfway point of the 2018 regular season. With a surge of Steelers news, it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC flagship podcast The Standard is the Standard. On this show Jeff Hartman and Lance Williams break down all things Steelers, including a fun game of “True or False!”

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Recapping the week that was
  • Ravens Week, True or False!
  • Predicting Steelers vs. Ravens
  • Week 9 AFC North game predictions
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, and Lance Williams walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold.

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

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

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

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

Steelers News: Another week, another Le’Veon Bell prediction proven false

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/01/2018 - 4:36am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won three straight games and have finally started to “stack wins”. After their 33-18 win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 8, the team has to move on quickly as they prepare to face the Baltimore Ravens, on the road, in Week 9.

Something I did last season and I’m going to start again is the Black-and-gold Links article.

This is an article where I take stories from quality news sources across the Internet and add them here for your viewing pleasure. I won’t be posting the entire articles, but I’ll link each story and author so that you can read the full article.

Today we talk about how every single report or rumor which has swirled around the Steelers’ All-Pro running back, Le’Veon Bell, has proven to be pure poppycock.

They said he would report for Week 1.

Didn’t happen.

They said he would report during the bye week.

Didn’t happen.

They said he would report after the NFL trade deadline.

Didn’t happen.

It seems as if the only person who knows when Bell is coming back is Bell himself. Despite this situation, with each additional James Conner touchdown, it seems less and less likely he shows anytime soon.

Could Bell pull a no-show for the entire rest of the season? He could, and I doubt Steelers fans would have any issue with that at this point.

Let’s get to the news:

Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell still no-show as trade deadline passes

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Mike Tomlin was wrapping up his news conference Tuesday afternoon when he was asked the obligatory weekly question about Le’Veon Bell’s delayed return to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“Anyyy other questions?” Tomlin said, raising his voice into a high pitch while elongating the first word.

Tomlin smiled and walked away as laughter filled the room.

Nothing had changed. It was another day without Bell at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, although, like most others, this one had extra significance.

It was NFL trading deadline day, the final chance for the Steelers to ship their star running back to another team if Bell reported and signed his franchise-tag tender first.

Since that didn’t happen by 4 p.m., Bell is free to report to the team without fear of being traded once he puts his name on the $14.55 million contract that has been reduced by $6.84 million because of his eight-week absence.

The next date on the calendar to watch is Nov. 13. Bell must sign his contract by 4 p.m. that day. If he doesn’t, he can’t play in the NFL this season.

Bell’s teammates long ago gave up speculating when he might arrive, and they’ve thrown their support behind James Conner, who is third in the NFL with 599 rushing yards. On Sunday, he became the first running back in franchise history to record a third consecutive game of 100-plus-yards rushing with two touchdowns.

“I don’t want to talk about it because he’s not here,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said on his weekly 93.7 FM radio segment. “When he gets here, we’ll talk about it. Until he’s here, I’ll talk about James and the guys that are helping us win now.”

Thanks to Conner’s spiking yardage totals, the Steelers have won three games in a row and take a 4-2-1 record into their game on Sunday in Baltimore (4-4).

Conner was held to 19 yards on nine carries when the Ravens defeated the Steelers, 26-14, on Sept. 30 at Heinz Field. Since then, Conner has rushed for 367 yards on 64 carries, a 5.7 average. He has scored six touchdowns in that span, increasing his season total to nine.

“Keep it going,” guard David DeCastro said. “I think it’s one of the things that is the standard. I don’t think anyone is really surprised by it. No one is over here hooting and hollering and getting really excited about it.

“I think everyone’s like, ‘Let’s keep doing it.’ That’s what we pride ourselves on week-to-week and repeating it.”

Kevin Gorman: Steelers’ best move is one they didn’t make

By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Just hours before the NFL trade deadline, Mike Tomlin was asked about whether he expected the Pittsburgh Steelers to make any moves.

“I haven’t thought a lot about it, to be honest with you,” Tomlin said, stern and stiff-lipped. “I’m sure the phone will ring. We’ll see what happens. But more than anything, I’ve just been focused on Baltimore.”

Over the next three hours, a handful of deals were completed around the league: The Texans traded for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, the Eagles for wide receiver Golden Tate, the Rams for defensive end Dante Fowler, the Redskins for safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and even the Ravens for running back Ty Montgomery.

The Steelers stood pat.

Like it or not, that’s business as usual for the Steelers in October. Their wheeling and dealing has been done around the NFL Draft and before the start of the season, not at the trade deadline.

The best move is the one they didn’t make.

Le’Veon Bell didn’t sign his franchise tag tender, so the Steelers couldn’t trade the All-Pro running back who has boycotted the offseason and the first seven games. Perhaps this was his plan all along, to wait until after the trade deadline to report so he couldn’t be dealt.

Like him or not, Bell is better than any player who was traded Tuesday and would provide the Steelers the best boost if he ever decides to show up and play. He has until Nov. 14 to report, but it’s a crapshoot to say if and when he will arrive at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Bell just doesn’t play cornerback, the position of need.

The Steelers were smart not to press the panic button, refusing to overreact to the concerns at the corner opposite Joe Haden. Perhaps that will come back to bite them if Artie Burns keeps showing up late to the Saturday walk-through, if Coty Sensabaugh’s toe injury is worse than anticipated and if Cameron Sutton can’t cut it as a cover corner.

Telling from Tomlin was how he answered a question about why the Steelers put a premium on protecting draft picks, instead of playing fantasy football and using them to acquire players with pedigree.

“We believe in homegrown talent,” Tomlin said. “We invest time and resources into the development of players. Players buy into what we’re selling and work their tails off to improve and be reasons why we’re successful. I think it’s difficult to walk away from relationships when people are invested. We’re invested. The players are invested.”

James Conner’s numbers hard to ignore, with or without Le’Veon

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

The fans inside Heinz Field weren’t the only ones chanting James Conner’s name during Sunday’s 212-yard performance against the Cleveland Browns.

Apparently Ben Roethlisberger’s son was, too.

“I texted [Conner] and I told him, ‘James, it must have been pretty cool to have [Heinz Field] chanting ‘Con-ner, but you want to know something that’s even cooler -- when I come home and play catch with my son and every time he catches it he’s you,’” Roethlisberger recalled on his weekly radio show Tuesday. “I said, ‘Thanks for being a good role model and please don’t ever stop understanding that everything you do you have a chance to be an amazing role model.’”

The Conner project is off to a roaring seven-game start, which doesn’t discount Le’Veon Bell’s brilliance on the field over five seasons. But it does raise questions about how the Steelers should handle the running back position when Bell returns.

One obvious question is, should the Steelers ride the hot hand?

If building an NFL team, a full-strength Bell over Conner is the logical pick. The Steelers would probably make that pick. Bell is an All-Pro with a versatile skill set not seen since the days of Marshall Faulk. His raw production -- 128.9 total yards per game from 2013-17 -- is unmatched for a five-year stretch.

But Bell’s two-month absence has complicated matters. Conner has 922 scrimmage yards, the second most in franchise history through seven games -- behind Bell’s 938 yards in 2014. His 367 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns the past three weeks are why it’s “not hard to figure out” why fans chanted Conner’s name, coach Mike Tomlin said.

Bell hasn’t touched an NFL practice field in nearly 10 months. And though Steelers players are intrigued by a killer two-back system, the offense has been a one-back, workhorse attack for as long as Bell has worn the black and gold.

Snap counts show Morgan Burnett’s presence was felt vs. the Browns in Week 8

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 1:43pm

Morgan Burnett finally got back on the field, and the Steelers utilized him vs. the Browns.

It had been a while since Morgan Burnett graced a football field for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but following the Week 7 bye week, Burnett’s injured groin was healthy enough to get back on the playing field.

Some might have thought the Steelers would ease him back into duty, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. While the Steelers didn’t load him with starter repetitions, they used Burnett and L.J. Fort to be the sub package specialists in lieu of Jon Bostic and Vince Williams.

In fact, the snap totals almost mirror this sub package switch to a ‘T’:

Morgan Burnett - 23 snaps (36%)
L.J. Fort - 21 snaps
Vince Williams - 42 snaps (66%)
Jon Bostic - 42 snaps

The plan worked well against Baker Mayfield and the Browns’ offense, but whether this was a one week stint, or a sign of things to come, has yet to be seen.

Nonetheless, the Steelers will now hope a similar plan will work with relative effectiveness against Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens. With the Ravens utilizing more tight ends than maybe any other team in the NFL, it is safe to say this could be a game where Mike Hilton, Burnett and Fort see a lot of time.

Time to check in on other nuggets which caught my eye when looking over the snap totals from Week 8.

  • The Ryan Switzer project continues as the Steelers used him as a wide receiver on 19 plays. This is compared to Justin Hunter, who was active, and received 38 snaps.
  • Jesse James played significantly more than Vance McDonald in Week 8. James logged 40 snaps, to McDonald’s 27.
  • Roosevelt Nix saw time at fullback for 10 snaps, which is an increase from previous weeks. For those who pine for the Dan Krider days, it might never get to those levels, but it is still a step in the right direction.
  • There was less rotating along the defensive line. Cameron Heyward logged 53 snaps, Stephon Tuitt 45 and reserve tackles Daniel McCullers and Tyson Alualu recording 9 and 19 snaps respectively.
  • Artie Burns did see the field, but just on special teams. 10 snaps.

To see the complete list of Steelers snap totals from Week 8, check the grid below, or click HERE:

Mike Tomlin didn’t show a double standard with how he handled Artie Burns vs. Le’Veon Bell

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 11:48am

While Le’Veon Bell and Artie Burns’ situations may seem similar, there is one major difference being forgotten.

Former first-round cornerback Artie Burns has had a tumultuous 2018 season so far that came to a head Sunday when he did not play a defensive snap. Pittsburgh Steelers fans were confused why Burns did not play defense even after starting cornerback Coty Sensabaugh left the game late with a foot injury and Cameron Sutton took his place. Then the reports surfaced how Burns was benched due to being late to a walkthrough. After the report surfaced, fans wondered why the double standards when running back Le’Veon Bell played during Jacksonville Jaguars playoff game in January when he missed all but five minutes of a walkthrough.

Why was head coach Mike Tomlin flaunting double standards?

Was Burns sat due to Tomlin sending a strong message to players on them breaking team rules would not be tolerated:

Was Bell given favorable treatment due to his superstar status and the enormity of the playoff game?

If the two players committed the same infraction, why not hold their feet to the same fire?

There is one significant difference between the two situations. One instance was excused, while the other one was not. This is a fact which seems to have been lost this week.

Tomlin addressed Burns being late on Tuesday.

“He had a good week of practice last week. I don’t want to make more out of it than it is,” Tomlin said. “He was late. We wanted to be focused with the guys that were wired in and appropriately where they needed to be in the hours leading up to kickoff. He suffered the consequences of that.”

While the Steelers did not need Burns in a 33-18 crushing of their division rival Cleveland Browns, his tardiness was not excused. On the other hand, Bell stated how his tardiness was known by Tomlin and others, and was never refuted or punished by Tomlin.

“I had personal reasons,” Bell said. “Obviously, Coach T and everyone knew. Whoever made the report was trying to make me look bad to the public or whatever. Obviously, the coaches and everybody knew what was going on in my life at that moment. I showed up when I did and I came to work.”

Tomlin is not playing favorites here, nor is he showing double standards for the same infraction. The situations are not the same and he handled them differently. Tomlin should never excuse the breaking of team rules for any player under any circumstance when it is not excused, and should hand out the punishment he sees fit. It is up to Coach Tomlin to decide which situations are excused and which ones are not. Bell is doing a good enough job with making himself look bad in the Steelers fans eyes without fans comparing the two different circumstances.

Former Steelers backup QB Landry Jones signs with the Jaguars

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 10:35am

After tryouts with what has seemed liked every team in the NFL over the past few months, Landry Jones has finally found a new home.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers released backup quarterback Landry Jones before the start of the season in favor of Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph, countless “experts” among the team’s beat writing community went out of there way to criticize the Steelers’ management for the decision. However, despite all the ridiculous praise heaped on him by many in the local press on his way out of the door, it was clear the rest of the NFL did not appear to share their belief in the quarterback.

Since being released by Pittsburgh, Jones has seemingly had tryouts with most of the league to no avail, but finally a team has emerged desperate enough for his services after the Jacksonville Jaguars announced they had signed him to their 53-man roster on Wednesday.

We have signed QB @LandryJones12 to our 53-man roster. pic.twitter.com/zWKCIHHoX2

— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) October 31, 2018

With Blake Bortles arguably one of the few starters in the NFL that Landry Jones could legitimately contend that he is better than, landing in Jacksonville could be the perfect place for Jones to resurrect his career. While Bortles is reportedly dealing with a shoulder injury, it is expected he will still play when the team returns from their bye in Week 10, with the former Steelers’ backup has be added in insurance just in case.

Given the Jaguars already have Cody Kessler on the roster as the primary backup to Bortles, it may also be worth noting that Jacksonville faces Pittsburgh in Week 11. Signing a player who was previously on the roster of an upcoming opponent just to tap them for information is far from unheard of and it would not be a surprise to see Jones looking for another new home after the Jaguars have played the Steelers in a few weeks.

Steelers wave ‘bye bye’ to early season woes with post-bye victory over Browns

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 10:18am

The Steelers weren’t perfect in their post-bye match-up against the Browns at Heinz Field on Sunday. But unlike a few of their games before the bye, they were able to overcome their mistakes and walk away with a thorough victory.

In a lot of ways, the Steelers’ post-bye match-up against the Browns at Heinz Field on Sunday was a lot like many of their pre-bye match-ups with the Browns and a few other teams.

Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense spent the first quarter being anything but that, as it netted just seven yards on nine plays on its first three series. Then there was the defense that allowed Cleveland’s offense to look pretty decent on multiple first-quarter scoring drives.

Also, there was Stevan Ridley’s fumble early in the third quarter, followed by that ridiculous special teams gaffe on a post-safety free kick later in the period.

Oh yeah, and the Steelers also lost the turnover battle to the Browns, something not unfamiliar to them, as they’re now minus-three on the season in that very vital category.

But a funny thing happened on the way to another lackluster Steelers’ performance at Heinz Field: they were able to overcome their mistakes to the tune of a 33-18 victory.

Despite looking ridiculously awful on its first three series, the Steelers’ offense did more than enough to make up for that over its next eight possessions, netting 402 yards and 33 points on the way to a 33-12 advantage by the two-minute warning.

Sure, the offense had shown such potency pre-bye—the Steelers did come into Sunday averaging 28.5 points per game. However, unlike in previous games when Pittsburgh’s offense finally decided to wake up from its first-quarter slumbers, the team wasn’t down by two or three touchdowns. Instead, the deficit was only six, thanks to a suddenly capable-looking defense that held Baker Mayfield and Co. out of the end zone, while Ben Roethlisberger and Gang were working out the bugs.

Back to Ridley’s fumble, one that thwarted a potential scoring-drive shortly after halftime; it could have shifted momentum, but didn’t, as the Browns were unable to take advantage. What did seem to shift fortunes to the visitors’ side, however, was the failure to know what a free kick was following a safety that gave Pittsburgh a 16-6 lead and all the momentum it should have needed to put the game away.

But despite the Browns quickly turning that gift into a touchdown, Pittsburgh didn’t buckle. No, there would be no repeat of Week 1, when a late fumble by James Conner proved to be the catalyst to Cleveland’s come-from-behind tie. Instead, the Steelers merely waved the Browns’ momentum away like an annoying fly and reestablished control with 17-unanswered points.

Speaking of Conner, who totaled 195 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns against the Browns in Week 1, he bettered that performance by 17 yards on Sunday, while leaving that fumble in the rear-view mirror.

You might say the Steelers got away with their mistakes because of the team they were going up against.

Maybe, but the Steelers can’t control who they play, and that very same team that took advantage of similar mistakes seven weeks earlier, couldn’t on Sunday.

The Steelers aren’t perfect. The Steelers still have some work to do. But the Steelers appear to have turned a corner as the 2018 season approaches its midway point.

The Steelers are 4-2-1, in first place in the AFC North, and they still have yet to play their best football. What’s that all mean? It means the best could still be yet to come for the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers.

James Conner wins AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for game against Browns

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 9:10am

The Steelers running back won the first player of the week award of his career on Wednesday for his performance against the Cleveland Browns in Week 8.

A Pittsburgh Steelers player winning player of the week honors has become something of a biweekly affair in 2018 after James Conner was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday for his efforts against the Cleveland Browns in Week 8.

James Conner has been named AFC Offensive Player of the Week.

MORE: https://t.co/9s5OV1UNtm pic.twitter.com/pAQKI8S8sm

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 31, 2018

Conner rushed for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns from 24 carries on the day and added another 66 yards from 5 receptions. Not only was it his highest single game rushing total of the season, it was also his second best ever receiving total and the first time he recorded more than 200 scrimmage yards in a single game in his career.

Having scored two touchdowns in each of his last three games, Conner has set a new record in Pittsburgh, achieving a feat the great Steelers running backs like Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis never managed to do.

#Steelers RB James Conner (@JamesConner_) ranks in the NFL entering Week 9:

100-Yd Rush Games: 4 (T-1)
2+ Rushing TD Games: 4 (T-1)
Rushes of 20+ Yds: 7 (T-1)
Rushing TDs : 9 (2)
Rushes of 10+ Yds: 19 (2)
Rushing Yds: 599 (3)
Scrimmage Yds: 922 (4)
Rushes for 1st Downs: 30 (4) pic.twitter.com/7CcJGoPcbg

— Dom Rinelli (@drinelli) October 30, 2018

The Pittsburgh running back becomes the third Steelers player to win a weekly award in 2018. T.J. Watt has won defensive player of weeks honors twice this season, once in Week 1 and again in Week 5, while Ben Roethlisberger won the offensive award in Week 3. Much like they are for Watt, the Browns must already be Conner’s favorite team to play.

You could say @JamesConner_ has had some success vs. Cleveland this season. pic.twitter.com/pjqTbCKb4U

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 30, 2018

Currently third in the NFL in rushing with 599-yards, Conner only sits behind Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams (800) and Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys (619). He is also second in the league with nine rushing touchdowns behind Gurley (11). If he can maintain this pace throughout the remainder of the season, Conner would eclipse Le’Veon Bell’s career best rushing total with the Steelers of 1,361 yards.

The Steelers missed their chance to get better at the trade deadline

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 8:46am

With other contenders shipping away mid-round picks for immediate difference makers, one can’t help to think the Steelers missed a golden opportunity to goose their Super Bowl chances.

Here are a few notable NFL trades that happened before Tuesday’s deadline:

  • The Packers traded Ty Montgomery to the vile Baltimore Ravens for a seventh-round pick. Montgomery, who recently committed by far the year’s most hilarious blooper and is perhaps the only person on earth who Aaron Rodgers hates more than his own parents, is a decent enough offensive utility knife. He will help the Ravens.
  • The Lions traded Golden Tate to the despicable Philadelphia Eagles for a third-round pick. This season, Tate’s yardage and reception totals are similar to those of Antonio Brown. He’s amassed more than 180 receptions and 2,000 yards over the past two season. He will most certainly help the Eagles.
  • The Jaguars traded Dante Fowler, Jr. to the unbeatable Los Angeles Rams for a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick. Fowler, a 24-year-old pass-rushing specialist, had eight sacks last season and is a capable run defender. Adding him to a defensive line that already features Ndamukong Suh and Aaron frickin’ Donald is not fair.
  • The Broncos traded Demaryius Thomas to the...unassuming Houston Texans for a fourth-round pick. Thomas has been slowed by age, injury, and gruesome quarterback play, but he’s a 9,000-yard receiver with 60 career touchdowns; pairing him with all-world receiver DeAndre Hopkins and inserting him into an offense that features the best quarterback he’s seen in five years makes him a prime candidate for a career revival.

Probably, none of the aforementioned transactions represent paradigm-shifting developments; the Rams were gonna win 14 or more games regardless of whether or not Dante Fowler played defensive end for them, ya know? But it isn’t a stretch to say that these deals have tipped the scales in the favor of the teams who are receiving the commodities that provide immediate value. Like, even if Ty Montgomery is buried on the depth chart beneath Alex Collins and Buck Allen, the 40 or 50 touches he may get this season are 40 or 50 more touches than some current D-II running back will have for the Baltimore Ravens in 2018. NFL front offices have unapologetically apotheosized mid-round draft capital, and teams privy to winning right now have reaped the rewards.

Except, of course, for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are committed to winning right now unless winning right now challenges their steadfast insistence on adhering to the Steelers Way, or whatever. We previously broached this topic when All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson was ostensibly on the trading block—that was all just genuinely sanguine riffing. I don’t know if anyone anticipated—let alone expected—the Steelers to make a play for Peterson, even though doing so would have indisputably improved their secondary. It isn’t how they do things.

Now, this is the part where I’ll pause briefly to mention that NFL GMs tend to be shrewder than their virtualized Madden counterparts (with the notable exception of Jerry Jones, who is an oily old fool in every reality). It takes two to boogie, and no trades happen unless both parties are fully on board with the proceedings. It is very possible, then, that the Steelers did in fact contact the Arizona Cardinals to inquire about Peterson, but were quoted a price that was far beyond their budget and pulled the plug. It’s possible, too, the Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert made calls elsewhere. Perhaps they offered a fourth-round pick for Tate but were outbid by the Eagles.

This is all obviously rooted in conjecture (please don’t sue me, Steelers), but I’m guessing what actually happened was that Colbert, Tomlin, et al. entered the deadline phase without a tangible plan and kinda just played the whole thing by ear. They almost certainly spoke with other teams, just as probably ever team does at the trade deadline, but unlike Houston, Baltimore, Los Angeles, or Philadelphia (who, it should be noted, are all very much playoff contenders), they were not able to find a willing partner. As someone who would very much like to see the Steelers win the Super Bowl this season (and every season, but whatever; that’s neither here nor there for this exercise), this is frustrating! I am frustrated by this!

Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, the Steelers could’ve traded, say, a third-round pick (or multiple mid-round picks) for a decent cornerback who’s currently on a garbage team, such as, I don’t know, Gareon Conley (or a veteran like Chris Harris or Janoris Jenkins; the actual player matters less than what the player represents, which is an upgrade over Artie Burns and/or Coty Sensabaugh). Conley’s had a rough go in Oakland, certainly, but he’s young and promising, and John Gruden would send his own son to the chilliest Serbian gulag in exchange for draft capital. I’m willing to bet Conley could’ve been had if the Steelers reallllllly wanted him. (Not to undermine my entire argument, but Conley was previously accused of rape—he was not charged—which is a scandalous and serious thing that could rightfully scare potential suitors away, so maybe that prevented the Steelers from making any moves). I’m of the opinion that trading a third-round pick (or multiple mid-round picks) for a 23-year-old former first-round pick who’s evolved into a serviceable professional would be worth the risk. If you don’t buy that rationale, here’s a brief list of some recent third- and fourth-round picks made by the Steelers:

-Cameron Sutton (3rd round, 2017)

-Jerald Hawkins (4th round, 2016)

-Sammie Coates (3rd round, 2015)

-Doran Grant (4th round, 2015)

-Dri Archer (3rd round, 2014—my GOD)

-Markus Wheaton (3rd round, 2013)

-Shamarko Thomas (4th round, 2013)

-Landry Jones (4th round, 2013)

(2013 was a bad year, yikes)

-Alameda Ta’aum (3rd round, 2012)

-Curtis Brown (3rd round, 2011)

-Cortez Allen (4th round, 2011)

Since 2011, in the first four rounds of the NFL draft, the Steelers have selected Artie Burns, Cameron Sutton, Senquez Golson, Doran Grant, Curtis Brown, and Cortez Allen. Taking this grim record of stunning ineptitude into consideration, if you’re a Steelers fan, do you have ANY FAITH WHATSOEVER in the team’s ability to find a cornerback that’s even a fraction as talented as Conley in the draft? Trade the pick, man.

For every mid-to-late round steal, there a dozens if not hundreds of worthless trash picks. Yes, there exists the possibility in any draft that your favorite team will draft the next Antonio Brown in the sixth round, but the likeliest scenario is that your team uses their sixth-round pick on a preseason body and cut him unceremoniously before the season. Pittsburgh’s 2017 class, which included T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Conner was good then and it’s even better in retrospect, but classes of the caliber are shockingly infrequent.

Good players are pillars good teams, and many of the league’s best teams have cores that are largely homegrown, which I suppose is a roundabout way of saying that, duh, the draft is obviously very important and I’m certainly not advocating for flushing potentially valuable draft capital down the toilet. However, I am saying that, if you can ship away a mid-to-late round pick for an immediate difference-maker like Golden Tate, Dante Fowler, or Demaryius Thomas, you maybe ought to consider doing it, especially when you have a noticeable weak spot (for the Steelers, this is the cornerback and inside linebacker position) and are contending against conference foes (Kansas City and New England) who are built to torch teams with bad secondaries and shoddy linebacking corps.

The Steelers have rebounded nicely from a pretty horrific start and are currently leading the division. They look like the Steelers again, or at least some version of the Steelers that should be taken seriously as a title contender. I just think making a trade could’ve made them even better.

Analyzing the Steelers’ Week 8 win over the Browns, by the numbers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 7:34am

Multiple touchdowns by Brown and Conner helped them to rank among the league’s best.

10

The Steelers have now played 10 consecutive games coming out of the bye week where they did not score a touchdown in the first quarter. In those 10 seasons, the Steelers have scored a total of six points on two field goals in two separate games. It should also be noted that the Steelers went on to win seven out of those 10 games. Although they start slow, the Steelers still have a very solid record coming out to bye under Coach Tomlin, improving to 8-4 after the win against Cleveland.

81-47

Over the last 10 seasons, the Steelers outscored their opponents 81 –47 in the second quarter of each game coming off a bye during the regular season. So even though they have started slow, the Steelers, as a whole, have “picked it up” before the half following their bye week. Outscoring the Browns 14–0 in the second quarter on Sunday definitely helped to increase this total.

489

Of a possible 493 defensive snaps this season, Sean Davis has logged 489. Other than missing four snaps against the Bengals in Week 6, Davis has played every snap on defense in every other game. Against the Browns, Davis was the only player to play every snap on the defensive side of the ball. After him, Terrell Edmunds and Joe Hayden played 62/64 snaps. In all, 19 different players logged snaps this past Sunday on defense.

4-17

Jaylen Samuels was given his first regular-season rushing attempts of his career against the Browns. He logged 4 carries for 17 yards on seven plays. It is the first time since Week 2 (Stevan Ridley with 3 carries for 18 yards) where a Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back other than James Conner has hit double-digits yards this season.

8 and 9

By both James Conner and Antonio Brown finding the end zone twice on Sunday against the Browns, they extended their team lead for rushing and receiving TDs. After seven games, Antonio Brown is leading the Steelers in receiving touchdowns with eight, while James Conner has nine rushing scores. Brown’s total is currently leading the NFL in receiving touchdowns. Conner is second in rushing TDs only behind Todd Gurley with 11 (who has also played one more game).

21-37

On the Steelers current three-game win streak, one driving factor behind their victories has been their third down conversion rate. Over this time, the Steelers are 21 for 37 on third down giving them a 56.7% rate of conversion. This week against Cleveland, the Steelers’s also added a fourth down conversion for a touchdown.

175:44

For anyone keeping track, Chris Boswell has not missed a kick in almost 180 minutes of game play. Boswell was a perfect 4/4 on PAT‘s while adding a 42-yard field goal.

10 Things I Think I Thought after the Steelers demolished the Browns

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 6:41am

Mentally retracing my steps after the Steelers 33-18 win over the Browns...Hue Jackson’s last stand.

As is my habit, I had thoughts during the game, and keeping my thoughts to myself is not my strong suit. Here’s ten of them.

  1. My dear wife and I went all Johnny Cash to our local sports bar to watch the game. Black pants, black jerseys (she in Troy, I in Hines, both in script), black shoes. Though I don’t deserve it, she loves me like June loved Johnny.
  2. Remember when the Steelers donned t-shirts calling themselves 60 minute men? The idea was that as the game drew to a close they kept playing. Complete games, on both sides of the ball. But, the first minutes of the game are also part of those 60 minutes. Why must we begin each game as if the first quarter were the preseason? Come on Randy, light Ben’s fire.
  3. Speaking of slow, Bud Dupree is slowly falling behind in his bid to outscore Boswell this season. In today’s game alone it was 7-2. Still, I’m tickled to once again praise Bud rather than grumble about him. He really has turned his season around, on a dime no less, as, it seems, have the Steelers.
  4. Like Richard Nixon before him, it was good to see Terry Hanratty back in the game, looking tanned, rested and ready. Especially seeing him take the snap in victory formation.
  5. I’m investing every ounce of pull, influence, juice I have with the Rooneys to lobby for bringing back the block numbers permanently. Those jerseys somehow managed to look, at one and the same time, the same as the ones we always wear, and really cool.
  6. I get that safeties are unusual. But they are not unassisted triple play unusual. If you are a professional coach you need to have the players on your squad up on the rules. I’m old enough to remember Barry Foster letting a live ball on the opening kickoff just sit there behind him. I’m old enough to remember Eric Metcalf single-handedly giving the Browns a victory over the Steelers by returning not one, but two punts to the house. Heck, I’m old enough to remember Eric’s daddy Terry playing for the Saint Louis football Cardinals. And I have never been so embarrassed by our special teams.
  7. Just as with this list, I literally made it well into the second half of the game before Le’Veon Bell even popped into my mind. I suspect I’m not alone. On the other side of the coin I think there are many men out there more frightened of James Conner than Le’Veon Bell is. They are the defensive coordinators across the NFL. Watching Conner run is like watching Vance McDonald after a catch.
  8. It’s true the Browns had two rookies in their offensive backfield, but keep in mind they were both high draft picks. And the defense took care of business. As nice as it was to score 33 points, it was even more encouraging to see the defense play so well.
  9. Though it looked obvious to me, I thought at first we were surely going to lose the challenge of Ben’s fumble. Then I realized all turnovers are automatically reviewed, and this wasn’t the result of Coach Tomlin throwing his time-out on the ground. My confidence returned.
  10. It is just a pleasure to watch Joe Haden play football. That short pass to the sideline to Landry where Joe played it picture perfect? I just shook my head. That’s how you play football. Though of course it’s a different position, it was like watching Jack Ham play- unbeatable technique. Joe Haden will have a successful career as a coach one day.

Bonus Thought- Ask not for Hue the bell tolls. It tolls for (Hay)-ly.

Mike Tomlin confirms Artie Burns was indeed benched Sunday due to late arrival

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 5:34am

Tardiness to a Saturday walkthrough led to Coach Tomlin‘s decision to sit Burns for Week 8.

At his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Mike Tomlin was asked about why Artie Burns did not play a single defensive snap against the Cleveland Browns.

“He was late to a Saturday walkthrough and then it was my choice not to play him.”

Tomlin continued to describe Burns work ethic leading up to the game.

“We’ll keep working with Artie. He had a good week of practice last week. I don’t want to make more out of it than what it is. But he was late.”

Coach Tomlin went on to expound on why he felt the need to to hold Burns out for the entire game.

“We wanted to be focused with the guys that were wired in and appropriately where they needed to be in the hours leading up to kickoff. So he (Burns) suffered the consequences of that.”

As for how Tom and will handle Burns moving forward, he made it clear that Artie is still a part of the Steelers defensive plans.

“We’ll roll that ball back out and get on track with him and others this week.”

Coach Tomlin was asked if Coty Sensabaugh can’t go, if he feels confident with Burns.

“I’ll let you know after I watch this week’s preparation. Not only in regards to him, but Coty. We’ll let his availability be our guide in terms of whether or not he plays.”

Black and Gold Links: Mike Munchak reportedly being considered for Browns’ vacant coaching gig

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/31/2018 - 4:31am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won three straight games, and have finally started to “stack wins”. After their 33-18 win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 8, the team has to move on from the win quickly as they now prepare for the Baltimore Ravens, on the road, in Week 9.

Something I did last season and I’m going to start again is the Black-and-gold Links article.

This is an article where I take stories from quality news sources across the Internet and add them here for your viewing pleasure. I won’t be posting the entire articles, but I’ll link each story and author so that you can read the full article.

Today we talk about how reports are swirling of Mike Munchak being considered for the vacant Browns’ head coaching position. This isn’t the first time Munchak has been considered for another head coaching gig, he was considered a favorite to become the next coach of the Arizona Cardinals, but for whatever reason chose to stay.

I think I speak for all Steelers fans when I say, “Coach, you don’t want that job. Stay in Pittsburgh and continue producing talent for the black-and-gold!”

Let’s get to the news:

Steelers’ Mike Munchak mentioned as Browns coaching candidate

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

You heard right. Hue Jackson is out as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

Yes. Finally.

Todd Haley is also gone as the offensive coordinator.

Yes. Already.

Gregg Williams will take over as interim head coach.

No. Not for long.

So, who will be the next full-time head coach of the Browns after 2018 ends? On his “Move the Sticks” podcast, NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah says that Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak is worth a look (at 3:44). Jeremiah’s premise is that Munchak, from a personality standpoint, would mesh well with Cleveland general manager John Dorsey.

”I think Mike Munchak would actually fit with (Dorsey),” Jeremiah said Monday. “Munch has done a great job with that Steelers O-line. And that’s an area where the Browns are terrible. Their personnel has been better than (how) it is playing. He’ll toughen this team up.”

During his time in Pittsburgh, Munchak has refined Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro. He has improved Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster. And he turned Al Villanueva, Chris Hubbard, Will Feiler, and B.J. Finney from projects into productive players.

Mark Madden: For their own good, Steelers must keep Le’Veon Bell away

By: Mark Madden, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

James Conner is much better now than Le’Veon Bell was last year.

The latter sample size is small, the former even smaller.

But Conner is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and 10.4 yards per catch. He has nine touchdowns in seven games.

Last season, Bell averaged 4.0 yards per carry and 7.7 yards per catch. He had 11 TDs on the season.

Conner has had seven runs of 20 or more yards this season. Bell had three such carries all of last season.

Conner has had three straight games of 100 or more yards rushing and two touchdowns. That hadn’t been done in the NFL since 2009.

Sure, Bell’s performance last year was stunted because he missed training camp. He missed it again this year, don’t forget.

Even if Bell does report this season, it will take him weeks to catch up to Conner.

More likely, Bell won’t reach Conner’s level — or even Bell’s level from last year, which was mediocre — until next season when he’s with another team.

The Steelers must stick with Conner and keep Bell away.

The price is right: Bell would make $855,000 per game. Conner will make $578,000 this season.

The Steelers can’t rescind Bell’s franchise tag. They would lose the compensatory third-round pick and Bell might go someplace where he could hurt them, like New England.

But the Steelers shouldn’t want Bell’s toxicity and selfishness dropped into the middle of a locker room that has rallied to win three straight, doing so largely because of Conner’s performance.

If Bell shows, coach Mike Tomlin will start him sooner than he should, probably after a couple of weeks. Conner wouldn’t play much.

Tomlin doesn’t split the carries. When Bell was available, Tomlin gave quality backups like LeGarrette Blount and DeAngelo Williams an absolute minimum of touches.

Those who think both could play in the same backfield are nuts. That would require the offense to make gigantic midseason adjustments. Conner and Bell have different styles, so the blocking changes. If you put Bell in the slot, he’s Eli Rogers. Anyway, Bell wouldn’t want to do that.

Bell has moved on emotionally. The Steelers must do so literally.

The Steelers need to maintain a hard line on not paying Bell one penny while he is on the exempt list for two weeks, which would happen if/when he reports. That is reportedly what’s keeping Bell away right now.

That’s perfect. Make Bell keep himself in limbo.

Matt Feiler’s 2nd NFL start at right tackle resulted the same as his 1st: a Steelers win

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Characteristically quiet and never overly comfortable in the spotlight, Matt Feiler awkwardly searched for the polite words to relay to a reporter in evaluating his play during his second NFL start at right tackle.

“As the game went on, I felt more and more confident,” the Pittsburgh Steelers reserve swing lineman said the day after he played every offensive snap of a 33-18 win against Cleveland. “It felt pretty good.”

Five weeks earlier, Feiler had made his second NFL regular-season start but his first at right tackle and first in a meaningful game (he started the 2017 season finale at guard). The Steelers also won that game – 30-27 at Tampa Bay.

Feiler, who’s in his fourth season as part of the organization, earned rave reviews – including a game ball – after that one. He didn’t get the same treatment this time, but his play was similarly “above the line:” according to Pro Football Focus, Feiler allowed no sacks and two hurries/pressures in each.

“I think the Tampa game was something I could look back on,” Feiler said, “and kind of settle myself down, calm myself down and talk my way through certain things.”

Mike Tomlin confirms Ben Roethlisberger has a fractured index finger, Coty Sensabaugh considered ‘day-to-day’

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/30/2018 - 12:53pm

While he may be hampered in practice, the Steelers quarterback should be good to go on Sunday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have some notable injury concerns to worry about as they prepare to face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, with three key starters named among the walking wounded in Mike Tomlin’s weekly press conference on Tuesday.

Top of that list of names was Ben Roethlisberger, having suffered an injury to his non throwing hand in the first half of the game against the Cleveland Browns.

“Ben had a fracture index finger on his left hand. It didn't prohibit him from being effective in the second half of the game, but obviously, we’ll look at it in terms of his availability this week and how it might affect him in a practice setting and so forth. Not anticipating it being an issue for him in play, or in game.”

While it expected he will still be able to face the Ravens, it would not be a surprise if he rested for most of the week and will likely wear a protective glove on his left hand on game day.

With Coty Sensabaugh now the apparent starter at cornerback, his progress with an injury that forced him from the game early in Week 8 will be one to keep an eye on. However, after Tomlin confirmed that Artie Burns had been benched for being late to the team’s walk through on Saturday, there is always a chance he will be getting his job back this Sunday anyway.

As well as Matt Feiler played in his absence, the return of a healthy Marcus Gilbert would be a huge boost against Baltimore, but the Steelers’ coach had little to offer in the way of positive news about him or Sensabaugh beyond the platitudes he usually uses when discussing injured players.

“Coty Sensabaugh will be managed day-to-day with his toe and see what that means for his availability. Marcus Gilbert missed the last game with a knee, he’ll be given an opportunity to participate this week and see what that participation looks like in terms of his availability.”

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin recaps our win vs. Cleveland, and previews Week 9 vs. Baltimore. https://t.co/Ewiow7wEXd

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 30, 2018

NFL Trade Deadline Tracker: Checking in on the Steelers rumors, news and movement

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/30/2018 - 12:51pm

The NFL trade deadline is today at 4 p.m. ET. Here we talk about wants/needs and rumors which might circulate surrounding the black-and-gold.

The NFL trade deadline is quickly approaching, and it is unclear whether the Pittsburgh Steelers will make a move prior to the 4 p.m. ET deadline. Rumors have swirled surrounding the Steelers’ interest in several CB candidates, but nothing of significance has taken shape.

Here we outline potential needs/targets for the Steelers, share rumors and have plenty of discussion surrounding what could, and what likely won’t, happen on this Tuesday, October 30th.

Steelers Positional Needs:

CB
OLB
OT
ILB

Articles to read:

3 Trades that make sense for the Steelers

Will the trade deadline frenzy include Pittsburgh?

Steelers showing interest in several cornerbacks

News:

Moves are starting to be made across the league...here are a few:

Golden Tate to Philadelphia:

Detroit is trading WR Golden Tate to the Philadelphia Eagles for a third-round pick, per source.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 30, 2018

Demariyus Thomas to Houston:

The #Broncos traded WR Demaryius Thomas to the #Texans… and play the #Texans on Sunday. The revenge factor looms large (plus, DT can sleep in his own bed)

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 30, 2018

Le’Veon Bell staying put...or at least not being traded:

Not that there was much doubt, but Steelers' RB Le'Veon Bell won't be traded, because he can't be traded, because he still hasn't reported to the Steelers' and signed his franchise tender as of 1 pm. Without signing by 4 pm today, he can't be dealt. So no Bell trade this season.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 30, 2018

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