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Steelers Vertex: Examining the value of Ben Roethlisberger

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

With difficult personnel decisions coming for the Steelers, it’s time to break down if a player’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 to kick things off, we will leave it up to YOU, the readers, to help determine which player we will look at next. For now, it 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 Ben Roethlisberger and making a case for if the Steelers should 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 the 2020 season, Ben Roethlisberger came off of elbow surgery and led the Steelers to a franchise-best 11-game winning streak to start the season. While things were riding high for the Steelers, they were plenty of concerns even as the Steelers were winning games. Unfortunately, those concerns caught up with them as the season finished up.

Roethlisberger threw for 33 regular-season touchdowns in 2020 which was only one behind his career best of 34 in 2018. Appearing in one less game, Roethlisberger would have possibly hit a career high in this department had he played the final game of the regular season. Roethlisberger also had 10 interceptions on the season which was the fewest he had thrown since 2014 with the exception of his game and a half played in 2019. Roethlisberger did had six interceptions in a five-game stretch going from Week 11 to Week 15. The only game Roethlisberger did not have an interception since Week 10 was the Steelers victory in Week 16 over the Indianapolis Colts. Unfortunately, Roethlisberger added four interceptions in the Steelers Wild Card loss.

Ben Roethlisberger also finished with a 65.6 completion percentage during the regular season, which was more than 1% higher than his career average. The most concerning statistic from Roethlisberger this season was he eclipsed the 600 passing attempt mark for the third time in his career. With 608 attempts both in 2020 and in 2014, the only season in which Roethlisberger had more was in 2018 when he threw 675 passes. To put this number in perspective, Roethlisberger’s first NFL season in which he started all 16 games was in 2008 which was the last time the Steelers won the Super Bowl. In that season, Roethlisberger had 469 pass attempts, only 77% of what he had in 2020.

When it comes to Ben Roethlisberger’s salary, he is due to earn $19 million in 2021. The way it is broken down, Roethlisberger has a $4 million base salary and a $15 million roster bonus due on the third day of the 2021 league year. The biggest knock on Roethlisberger’s salary is the $22.25 million in dead money which will count towards the 2021 salary cap regardless. Combined with his salary, Roethlisberger is due to count $41.25 million against the Steelers 2021 salary cap.

The options when it comes to Roethlisberger is for him to either retire or be released which would save the the Steelers the $19 million in salary he is due. Should Roethlisberger retire, the Steelers could attempt to regain a portion of his signing bonus since he did not finish out his contract, but this would be something uncharacteristic of the Steelers organization.

One other option would be to give Roethlisberger an extension where the $19 million number could be cut down dramatically, or even renegotiated, and spread out over several years. Whether or not Roethlisberger would play however many years he would be extended would be beside the point.

So are Roethlisberger’s statistics and salary worth keeping him around for 2021? Let’s check out the film to break down what Roethlisberger brings to the table…

The Film Line:

Ben Roethlisberger isn’t the same quarterback the Steelers had under center, 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. He is approaching 40, and is clearly on the downturn of a Hall of Fame career. To evaluate him coming back we are going to look at three things: What he brings to the table, what he struggles with, and what he needs to succeed.

The Good

Before the 2020 season Ike Taylor told us the most valuable thing Ben Roethlisberger brings to the team is from the neck up. That held true throughout the 2020 season, and should Roethlisberger return for an 18th season in the black and gold, it’s what he will bring in 2021.

Week 5, 4th quarter, 3:04. Chase Claypool is the third receiver from the bottom of the screen.

This play sealed the Steelers 5th win of the season, and became even more famous after the game when it was revealed that Ben Roethlisberger gave Claypool an audible that he then had to explain, because it wasn’t something the rookie had learned. At that point in the season Roethlisberger had logged more playoff games than Claypool had NFL targets. Leading a young team with the ability to lean on his experience was an enormous positive.

Week 9, 4th quarter, 15:00. JuJu Smith-Schuster is the third receiver from the top.

This is a classic Ben Roethlisberger moment, he pump fakes to Eric Ebron (second from top) and it pulls defenders to Ebron, giving Smith-Schuster plenty of room in front of the safeties for the pass. Smith-Schuster does the rest, getting the ball into the end zone. At his age, Ben Roethlisberger still has a good arm and the tools to use it intelligently. Roethlisberger had some bad games later in the season, but even with those games he posted one of the lowest interception rates of his career, and he posted his best TD/INT ratio since 2012.

The Bad

Father time is undefeated, and the first thing to go with age is a players athleticism. That shows up clearly in Ben Roethlisberger’s 2020 film. A player once most known for his ability to evade pressure and break tackles is now one of the least elusive quarterbacks in the NFL.

Week 14, 3rd quarter, 10:01.

The Bills win the battle to the right side of the line, and you can see that Roethlisberger’s movement is largely just little steps and hops at this point. He backs away and braces for the hit. It isn’t just his inability to evade sacks either. Roethlisberger saw a good number of tipped passes as he doesn’t have the fluid movement inside of the pocket that he used to, and it allows defenders to interfere with his throwing motion and lanes more often.

Week 14, 3rd quarter, 5:40.

A step up and that throw is clean, but that isn’t Ben Roethlisberger at this stage of his career. We also saw that while many quarterbacks respond to getting pressure by leaving the pocket earlier, with Roethlisberger we see him start throwing quicker, throwing to his first target no matter if they are open or not, and lobbing prayers deep instead of waiting for someone to come open.

How to get the most out of Ben Roethlisberger in 2021

There’s no miracle serum that can bring back the 2010-2017 version of Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers can either cut ties with the best quarterback to ever play for the franchise, or they can do their best to set him up for success. Three key things need to happen to set Roethlisberger up for success in 2021.

1. Invest in the offensive line. A new line coach is already on the menu, but the Steelers will need to invest draft picks and money into the line to buy their quarterback more time to operate.

2. Better scheme and execution. We’ve talked a good bit about motion and play action this year, things Matt Canada was hired to bring to the offense, and I’ve talked about Ben Roethlisberger’s struggles using them.

Wild Card Game, 1st quarter, 10:53.

This play has motion and play-action. And then one deep route and the jet sweep motion man in the flat. Late in the play Benny Snell leaks awkwardly out of the pocket and Roethlisberger tries to get the ball to him as he is getting hit, and it’s the first of his four interceptions.

Look at this play, what is the right option here? Play design has to be better than this. Randy Fichtner is gone now and Matt Canada is expected to be the new offensive coordinator. This won’t be Matt Canada working with the run game, and then throwing motion into a few of Randy Fichtner’s plays. Here’s hoping he’s up to the challenge.

That brings us to the third thing that needs to happen.

3. A serious buy-in from Ben Roethlisberger. I’m not going to impugn Roethlisberger’s work ethic, he wasn’t able to throw for a good portion of the offseason, was on a limited throw count when he returned, and the 2020 offseason probably had the least practice time in NFL history. But for 2021? Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Canada need to be attached at the hip this offseason. The Steelers need Ben Roethlisberger to learn to read plays he hasn’t in the past.

Week 16, 2nd quarter, 6:35.

Motion again, and a near interception. Ben Roethlisberger sees the linebacker is going to get beat by Eric Ebron and throws the ball, completely missing the cornerback that is dropping and who ends up with a good shot at the ball.

Look late in the play at the jet motion man in the flat, and Benny Snell joining him. With the cornerback back that far, a pass to Ray-Ray McCloud has a great chance to gain good yards here with no one close to him and a lead blocker in Snell. This was on first and ten, in the first half and the Steelers are down 7. The quarterback has to understand the options and make the smart read. For Matt Canada’s offense to work, Ben Roethlisberger will need to get better at reading the field specifically for that offense. That will take time, and hopefully this offseason the Covid-19 situation will allow for that to happen.

The Point:

Ben Roethlisberger is not the quarterback he once was, but it does not mean that he can’t be the best option for the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 2021 season. The $41.25 million salary cap hit would be extremely difficult to overcome, but if the Steelers want Roethlisberger for only one season they might just have to go with it. The best bet for the Steelers would be to get their quarterback on board with their offensive scheme for next season, give him an improved offensive line, and reduce his 2021 salary cap as much as possible. If the organization can pull this off, Roethlisberger could still lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to a successful season in 2021.

If.

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

Steelers let 5 practice squad players contracts expire, including Devlin Hodges

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 6:01am
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are giving “Duck” Hodges, and others, a chance to catch on somewhere else.

The 2020 season was unique in a lot of ways. Whether it be the empty stadiums, games moves or delayed and players going on the Reserve/COVID-19 List almost weekly. It was different, but an aspect of the 2020 season which might get overlooked were the inflated practice squads for all 32 NFL teams.

When the NFL and NFLPA came to terms on a one year Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for 2020, they agreed to increase the practice squad size, as well as alter the rules for promoting these players to the active roster, to help accommodate players who will miss time due to the ongoing pandemic.

With the season over for all but four franchises, teams will begin to sign players to Reserve/Future contracts, and sometimes they allow players to go test the waters elsewhere. In many cases this is done in good faith, allowing players to get a better shot with another team.

With that said, the Steelers made some minor roster moves late Monday, but these moves were still significant in many ways. The first move they made was officially taking cornerback Joe Haden off the Reserve/COVID-19 List. On top of that move was letting the practice squad of five players expire.

This per Mark Kaboly of The Athletic:

The Steelers activated Joe Haden from the Covid-19 list and let the contracts of practice squad players Duck Hodges, Deon Cain, Wendell Smallwood, Matthew Wright and Charles Jones expire.

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) January 19, 2021

The five players who will be looking for a fresh start elsewhere are:

QB Devlin Hodges
WR Deon Cain
RB Wendell Smallwood
K Matthew Wright
TE Charles Jones

Some notable names on that list. Obviously, Devlin “Duck” Hodges was the big name everyone will remember when he filled in at quarterback as a rookie for injured Mason Rudolph, but fans shouldn’t forget the Steelers acquiring Cain from the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad midseason in 2019 to help their ailing wide receiver corps. Kicker Matthew Wright filled in admirably for Chris Boswell on three occasions during 2020, and will almost certainly earn himself a shot at legitimately starting for an NFL team in 2021.

Could these players still return to Pittsburgh? Absolutely. If they look around, and don’t find anything, the Steelers could always bring them back on a Reserve/Future contract and keep them in house for the 2021 offseason.

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 upcoming 2021 NFL Draft.

2021 Behind The Steel Curtain NFL Draft: Tidbits, Talking Points and Draft Etiquette

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 5:00am
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately as some fanbases continue to root their team on, we are heading into the 2021 draft

The 2020 Pittsburgh Steeler season ended in less than stellar fashion. We as fans went from talking about an undefeated season to one that many wondered if we would win another game. I’m not one to mourn about a past season for very long and this may not be to everyone’s liking but, we must move on. Unlike the real front office, we don’t get to make picks or sign and cut players, but we do get to talk about what we think is the best direction and a lot of that hinges on the draft each year.

Etiquette and Talking Points

I mentioned draft etiquette in the title and it is a simple courtesy. There will be a million mock drafts, either from the simulators or just personnel preference. I enjoy reading and debating them all, but I’m sure many here at BTSC don’t want the articles littered with them, especially when the article itself doesn’t pertain to the draft. There is a Fan Post section that everyone has access too, put them there. I follow that section closely, as do many of the fellow draft heads. One other thing is the manner in which we debate back and forth, and I will always refer back to Scott Pavelle, better known as Drop The Hammer, who was a master at getting a discussion started. I will do my best to bring that to BTSC during this time although I will fail in comparison. His Big Board will be sadly missed, but there are a few that are trying to do something a little different, but the plan as always is to provide information. Looking forward to that as well as trying my best to assist.

All-Star Games

Reese’s Senior Bowl

With the college football season coming to an end, we turn our attention to the all star circuit for our next dive into this years crop of prospects. This year’s game is set to be held on January 30th in Mobile Alabama. This link will take you to the home page for further details. Senior Bowl

I’ll also give times and dates of the practices that are scheduled, some of the drills during practices have been shown on NFL Network in the past. So bookmark this in order to check back in for information.

East West Shrine Game

Unfortunately this years game has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 virus

2021 NFL Scouting Combine

As of now the word is it will be different, unlike anything in the past due to the COVID-19 virus. Once a final plan is released I will pass it on.

List of Notable Prospects Returning to School

Trust me when I say the list is shorter for those returning. I will try and update this as more prospects announce their intentions.

Tyler Linderbaum C Iowa

Zion Johnson IOL Boston College

Draft Tidbits

Looking at the past few drafts a couple of things became noticeable. In 4 straight drafts the Steelers have chosen two prospects from the same school

2017 - Cameron Sutton and Joshua Dobbs - Tennessee

2018 - James Washington and Mason Rudolph - Oklahoma State

2019 - Devin Bush and Zach Gentry - Michigan

2020 - Anthony McFarland Jr and Antoine Brooks Jr - Maryland

What school will it be this year?

MAC Attack - Five of the past seven years the Steelers have drafted someone from that conference. Who is going to be this years pick?

As always Go Steelers and get your draft on!!

Podcast: Where do the Steelers go from here?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/19/2021 - 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 ended the 2020 season in a rough way. But with salary cap peril, a major change with the assistant coaching staff and Ben Roethlisberger returning...it’s up in the air what the Steelers do next. So, just where do they go from here? 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
  • What’s the 2021 plan for the Steelers?
  • 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.

Despite reports of his return, Steelers fans want to see Ben Roethlisberger retire

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 2:45pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Maybe it was the way the season ended, maybe it is just a hope for something new. Whatever the reason, the Steelers fan base would be okay if Ben Roethlisberger calls it a career.

The Pittsburgh Steelers fan base is hurting. After their Wild Card loss in the AFC Playoffs to the Cleveland Browns, and losing 5 of their last 6 games overall, fans want change. Many are calling for Mike Tomlin to be shown the door, while others were satiated with the dismissal of offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner.

But some want more.

Some want to see franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to hang it up for good.

To be completely honest here, there are multiple reasons for the fans to want to see Roethlisberger be done, compared to the alternative.

The obvious answer would be Roethlisberger’s play down the stretch, and especially in the playoff loss at Heinz Field. His 4 interception day resonates in the brain of every black and gold fan across the globe. Sure he threw for over 500 yards and 4 touchdowns, but those 4 picks were what turned the tide in the Browns’ favor.

The other reason fans wanting Roethlisberger to call it quits would be the salary cap hit he is due to receive in 2021. If he decides to play, and the Steelers want him back, Roethlisberger would count $41 million towards the 2021 salary cap. Let’s just say the cap drops to the floor set forth by the NFL and NFLPA this season, $175 million. In this situation, just look at the chuck of cap space Roethlisberger’s $41 million would take up in that scenario. If the Steelers were to cut ties with Roethlisberger, or he retires, the cap hit would be roughly $20 million. Quite the savings.

The final reason fans might want to move on from Roethlisberger is the fact the writing is on the wall the team is needing a change. Roethlisberger might not be the main problem, but for a team that is looking to reinvent themselves, you have to wonder when that could happen with Roethlisberger at the helm.

So, what does this all add up to? It adds up to the fact fans who participate in the SB Nation Fan Reacts surveys every week want Roethlisberger gone, and it wasn’t even close.

Just take a look at the graph below from fans who were polled prior to the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs:

Reports are already circulating stating Roethlisberger plans on returning for the final year of his current contract, and if these reports are true it would take a pretty big rift between Roethlisberger, the organization or Matt Canada, who is reportedly the new offensive coordinator, to derail his plans.

In other words, it looks like Roethlisberger will be back in 2021 barring something unforeseen. Will fans be happy about it? If he plays well in 2021 there won’t be any complaining, but right now fans want to see the organization move on from the Roethlisberger era.

What do you think? Would you be happy with Roethlisberger retiring? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the upcoming 2021 offseason.

If the Steelers want to improve their offense, it has to start with the offensive line

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 1:30pm
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Some Steelers fans are falling in love with a certain Alabama runner I felt it was necessary to highlight how much more valuable it would be if they invested in the offensive line.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have some glaring holes. There is no joking around about it, and it’s going to take more than one offseason to fix these issues. Two of the most obvious issues the Steelers have is with their aging offensive line and their below average play in the back field. Recently I've noticed a lot of Steelers fans pining for the team to draft a top running back, like Alabama’s Najee Harris or Clemson’s Travis Etienne.

But this thinking is flawed on the fundamental level. Let me explain.

A good running back alone doesn't equate to a good running game. You could have the most elusive, fastest, and strongest runner in the game, but if the offensive line isn't providing any sort of push it will be all for naught. A running game gets stopped in its tracks the second a single offensive lineman get pushed into his own backfield, and that was a problem the Steelers had with a number of its blockers in 2020.

Running lanes are created in a couple of ways, depending on what type of run is called. But in all of these schemes it still falls on the lineman to create some sort of positive displacement against the man in his zone, or the man he is assigned. No running back is so elusive that they can consistently gain yardage when his lineman are being driven into the offensive backfield. They just can't.

To take this one step further, I would go as far as saying Derrick Henry probably wouldn’t have rushed for 1,000 yards behind the Steelers’ offensive line and current running scheme. Derrick Henry had the eighth greatest rushing total in NFL history this past season with 2,027 yards. He ran behind a really good offensive line and the perfect scheme for him to be successful. His success would not be linear in Pittsburgh. If you want some proof about the Steelers run game failures. Look no further than Pro Football Focus, who graded the Steelers as the 31st ranked run blocking team in the league.

Running back is also the least durable position in football. Look at Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Todd Gurley, Le’veon Bell, etc. etc. At best, you typically only get five good seasons out of them before their bodies can no longer handle the grueling nature of the position. Teams take a big risk when they give a back a second contract. Recent history shows those deals almost immediately blow up in a team’s face. Look at Gurley and Bell as prime examples.

There are also more benefits of drafting offensive lineman than just opening holes for running backs. Most obviously, they protect the quarterback. And for a team that throws the ball 45 times per game, we know Ben Roethlisberger needs the protection. Take the Cincinnati Bengals for example. They drafted their future franchise quarterback, Joe Burrow, first overall a year ago. But they opted not to improve one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Burrow, non-coincidentally tore nearly every ligament in his knee when one of his offensive lineman broke a cardinal rule of the position by throwing a defender toward his quarterback’s knees. Joe Burrow is lucky to already be walking, but he may never be the same player.

The benefits in drafting offensive linemen, early and often, far out weigh the benefits of drafting a running back in the first round. I personally guarantee you that if the Steelers take two offensive lineman within their first three picks, and then draft a running back in the fourth round, that running back would have a more successful career than if they draft a runner in the first round and try to fix the line after.

Teams can win the Super Bowl with undrafted running backs. A team will never win a Super Bowl with an offensive line built with undrafted/late round players. I know it can be frustrating to draft a guy that can't physically appear on the stat sheet, but an offense’s success is built upon the back of its line. It is time for the Steelers to build a great line once again.

But what do you think? Do you still think the Steelers should draft a running back in the first round? Explain you reasoning down in the comments below.

Steelers place 2 defenders on the PFWA All-NFL team

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 12:36pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

T.J Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick earn honors from the Pro Football Writers of America.

The Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) All-NFL Team was announced on Monday and two Steelers’ defenders were selected. Linebacker T.J. Watt and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick both earned All-NFL and All-AFC honors.

PFWA 2020 All-NFL, All-AFC and All-NFC teams announced #PFWAAwards https://t.co/nvYSwVOrOe

— Pro Football Writers (@PFWAwriters) January 18, 2021

The PFWA is made up of accredited writers who cover the 32 NFL teams on a daily basis. They are made up of sports writers from various sources such as The Athletic, ESPN.com, profootballtalk.com, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and Newsday.

T.J. Watt turned in another impressive performance during the 2020 season. Resting in Week 16 as the Steelers prepared for the postseason, Watt had a career high 15.0 sacks while playing in one less game from the previous year. Watt led the NFL in sacks as well as 23 tackles for loss. Other items to add to his résumé were 41 quarterback hits which was another career high, along with 53 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 7 passes defensed, and an interception.

Watt was joined by the Chicago Bears’ Khalil Mack as the other choice at outside linebacker for the All-NFL team.

Making a case for being selected the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Watt will have to wait until the NFL Honors Ceremony the night before the Super Bowl on Saturday, February 6.

Joining T.J. Watt on the All-NFL team for a second straight season is safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Starting all 16 regular season games for the Steelers, Fitzpatrick only missed four snaps on the season in the Steelers blow-out win against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Fitzpatrick had 79 tackles in 2020 along with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and 4 interceptions one of which was returned for a touchdown.

Fitzpatrick was joined by the Kansas City Chiefs’ Tyrann Mathieu as the other selection at safety.

When it came to the All-AFC honors given by the Pro Football Writers of America, Watt and Fitzpatrick were the only Steelers recognized.

Congratulations to both T.J. Watt and Mikah Fitzpatrick on their recognition of an outstanding 2020 season.

This might be the least depressed I’ve ever been following a Steelers playoff loss

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 11:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I know I should have been depressed following the Steelers 48-37 loss to the Browns in the wildcard round last Sunday evening at Heinz Field, but I just wasn’t.

You know how it is when the Steelers are about to head into the playoffs. Whether they’re 12-4 or 9-7, you have Super Bowl fantasies dancing around in your head.

Oh, sure, you might put out a negative vibe as a means to insulate yourself from a possible let down, but deep down, you’re an eternal optimist. If you aren’t an eternal optimist with hopes and dreams of a championship finish, what’s the point of following the Steelers or any team in any sport?

Do you know how you can tell that you’re an eternal optimist? It’s that feeling of finality that comes over you the second Pittsburgh’s football season officially comes to an end and you must deal with thoughts of free agency, the draft and an entire offseason of “what ifs” and “what could have beens.”

As a BTSC writer for over a decade, I can tell you that the feeling of finality really hits me hard the second I log onto the editing page to write an end of season article and I see someone already working on a mock draft.

Ouch!

Having said all of that, however, I must say that I simply didn’t have those thoughts and feelings in the days after the Steelers’ 48-37 loss at the hands of the Browns in the wildcard round last Sunday evening at Heinz Field.

I should have been ready for a bridge the second the Steelers fell behind by four touchdowns before the first quarter was even in the books, but I wasn’t. I should have been jumping up and down and waving my Terrible Towel while my heart filled with hope right after Pittsburgh cut the deficit to 35-23 late in the third quarter, but none of that occurred. Don’t get me wrong, I was mildly excited about the possibility of a historic comeback but only mildly excited.

At the end of the game, when it became apparent that a miracle wasn’t about to take place, I searched for the nearest pillow to lay my head and called it a night.

I woke up the next morning and went to work as if the Steelers had just lost a regular-season game to their nearest rivals.

I really can’t explain this feeling. When I look back at just about every other playoff exit since I started following the Steelers, that feeling of disappointment returns. The only one that didn’t hit me that hard, believe it or not, was Pittsburgh’s defeat at the hands of the juggernaut Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX following the 1995 season. However, that had more to do with witnessing my favorite team reach a level of success I grew up thinking I’d never get to see—a trip to the Super Bowl.

Anyway, if I had to list a reason for my blah feeling about the Steelers’ quick playoff exit, I guess I could point to the pandemic and the lack of full stadiums all throughout the NFL during the 2020 regular season. I know I said it felt pretty normal, early on, but as it turns out, watching professional football during a COVID comprised season never quite felt comfortable to me.

This might sound strange coming from someone who thought the NFL did the right thing by limiting fans amid the pandemic, but just because I thought it was the correct move doesn’t mean it didn’t affect my mood and intensity as I witnessed the regular season unfold.

Oh well, I guess there’s a first time for everything. Here’s to a return to normal in 2021, complete with me totally losing my bleep at even the thought of the Steelers exiting the playoffs without winning a Super Bowl.

Steelers Podcast: Steelers Divisional Delights and Disasters

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 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.

With the 2020 season over for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the off-season starts at BTSC with our off-season schedule. Therefore, Tales from 2 AM is back. So for the first show of 2021, Mr. 2 AM is going to take a look at Steelers news of the day and divisional round 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 in the BTSC 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 he Tales from 2 AM returns with memories of the fun side of Steelers fandom.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Steelers stories
  • 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

Point-Counterpoint: Now is the time for the Steelers to move on from Ben Roethlisberger

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Should the Pittsburgh Steelers move on from Ben Roethlisberger? We debate in this edition of point-counterpoint.

Welcome to the point-counterpoint, where two BTSC writers will take a topic and debate which side is right. Today, the debate is between K.T. Smith (CHISAP) and Geoffrey Benedict on whether the Steelers should move on from Ben Roethlisberger, or not.

“My heart’s for my family, Joe. My brains are for business. This is business.” — Jimmy Johnston, “Cinderella Man”

The above quote, delivered impeccably by the actor Bruce McGill as boxing promoter Jimmy Johnston in the 2005 film “Cinderella Man,” adequately summarizes my feelings about Ben Roethlisberger’s status in Pittsburgh. As a lifelong Steelers fan who endured the 25-year title drought from 1980-2004, I will always be grateful to Roethlisberger for bringing us those fifth and sixth Lombardi trophies. He is a first-ballot Hall of Famer once he is eligible for Canton and, with apologies to Terry Bradshaw, the best quarterback ever to don the black-and-gold.

But, as we contemplate the 2021 season, this is no time for sentimentality. Roethlisberger has one year remaining on a contract that will cost the Steelers $41 million against the salary cap. That’s the biggest cap hit of any quarterback in the league. The Steelers are projected to be $21 million over the cap with just 35 players under contract. Roethlisberger’s salary will count as 40% of their total. At age 39, he has limited mobility, diminished deep-ball capability and a lukewarm (at best) willingness to embrace new concepts or ideas in the offense. While he can still play the position, he is nowhere near the quarterback he once was. He is also 0-3 in his last three playoff contests, including this season’s embarrassment against Cleveland. All of this makes it difficult to justify the Steelers investing that much trying to squeeze from him whatever juice remains. They should put sentimentality aside and bid adieu, as graciously as possible, to their franchise QB.

For the record, I don’t expect them to do so. I think they will bring Roethlisberger back for one last title-chase. I also think this is a mistake. Granted, they can’t simply part ways with Roethlisberger and save $41 million. A slew of contract restructures have pushed over $20 million of his salary and bonuses off until next season. So, no matter what, they are on the hook for that money. Bringing him back at the full $41 million, however, will make things worse. It will be almost impossible to re-sign any of their impending free agents, including Juju Smith-Schuster, Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, James Conner and Alejandro Villanueva. They may also have to cut or trade veterans like Joe Haden and David DeCastro just to become cap-compliant. Under those circumstances, is it worth retaining an expensive 39 year-old for one last hurrah?

The $20 million-and-change they would save by moving on from Roethlisberger could be used to extend T.J. Watt, sign one of their own free agents or perhaps lure an impact player from another franchise (an offensive tackle would be nice). The Steelers need as much money as possible to secure the roster. Absent that $20+ million, they are facing a total gut-job.

Of course, releasing Roethlisberger means the Steelers would need a new starting quarterback. I have not been a huge fan of Mason Rudolph but what I saw from him in the season finale at Cleveland made me reconsider. I am not opposed to giving Rudolph an opportunity next season to win the long-term starting job. With Rudolph entering the final year of his rookie contract, the Steelers would get to evaluate him on the cheap in 2021 before having to make a decision. If he plays well, they can extend him. If he fails, things will likely have gone south as a whole, in which case they can use their high draft pick to select Roethlisberger’s successor.

No matter who plays quarterback, the Steelers must make other changes on offense as well. The line needs an impact player or two, which hopefully they can find in the draft. They need to upgrade the running back position, as neither James Conner nor Benny Snell Jr. have proven they can be a feature-back. They also need to overhaul the scheme. The recent news that they will move on from offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner is welcome in that regard. Fichtner’s failure to invest in the run game while structuring the scheme almost entirely around Roethisberger’s ability to throw quick passes out of static sets was too simple on opposing defenses. Whomever becomes the new OC as nothing has been made offical, putting defenses in conflict by using more pre-snap movement, being more multiple, stretching the field and developing a play-action passing game are all imperatives.

With Fichtner gone, it’s a perfect opportunity to switch quarterbacks. Roethlisberger has demonstrated a stubbornness in adapting to change. How do the Steelers evolve, then, with him still on board? The last thing a new OC would want is to fight for control of the offense with a set-in-his-ways veteran playing out the final year of his contract. Who is the better QB to pair with a new coordinator — Rudolph or Roethlisberger? The answer is clear. And it saves the franchise $20 million in the process.

With or without Roethlisberger, 2021 sets up as a transition year for the Steelers. They will lose many of their core players to free agency while their opponents in the division, Baltimore, Cleveland and Cincinnati, are all improving. The defense could carry the Steelers to eight or nine wins, maybe even ten. But a championship? Unlikely. Is that worth the $20+ million they will spend to keep Roethlisberger? Is it worth the missed opportunity to properly evaluate Rudolph before having to sign him to an extension or let him walk? Is it worth another year of the 2020 offense?

Mike Tomlin likes to say the Steelers don’t live in their fears. Running it back with Ben Roethlisberger in 2021 rather than taking the bold step to cut ties, secure valuable assets and start over with someone else would be a betrayal of that credo. If Tomlin trusts his own ability as a coach, and the organization trusts the “Steeler Way,” they will have faith they can rebuild without him. Respectfully, they should move on now. It’s not the easy choice. But it’s the right one.

- K.T. Smith

The Steelers have had great players before, Ben Roethlisberger isn’t the first. He’s the best quarterback in franchise history, and that says a lot with Terry Bradshaw to compete with. He’s also on the short list of the best players in franchise history.

When we look at those players, and we look at their last few seasons, and then after they leave, it’s pretty clear that the decision to move on from an all-time great who has lost a step isn’t an easy one to make.

Stoudt, Malone, Brister, O’Donnell, Tomczak, Stewart, Maddox. You know the names, the quarterback that led the Steelers in passing from 1983 to 2003, 21 years between Bradshaw and Roethlisberger. You don’t just replace a true franchise quarterback. That doesn’t mean a team can’t have success, Every single one of those names had a season where they led the team in passing and the Steelers made the playoffs. So if you are looking for a trip to the Wild Card, or even a nice playoff win, they can get you there, if the rest of the team is in place, they can get you a playoff win.

Kevin is right, 19 million is a lot of money, that’s the amount the Steelers can save if Ben Roethlisberger walks away. It doesn’t matter if his cap hit is 41 million, the difference between having or not having Ben Roethlisberger is 19 million. What quarterbacks are valued around that 19 million mark in the NFL today?

Alex Smith: 23.5 million a year
Teddy Bridgewater: 21 million a year
Taysom Hill: 16 million a year
Jacoby Brissett: 15 million a year

Anyone think Ben Roethlisberger is worth more than those guys right now? Does he bring more value than Teddy Bridgewater or Taysom Hill? I think so.

If the Steelers get rid of Ben Roethlisberger, they can’t turn around and bring in a free agent, that would be dumb as you’d spend the same money for a worse player. That leaves the Steelers with 2 options, play someone you have right now, or draft a quarterback.

With the 24th pick in the draft there will be options for the Steelers, but what are the odds that young man with great film and numbers shooting up the draft boards is actually a good, not great, just good NFL Quarterback? You know the answer, it isn’t great.

The Steelers had a former top 10 pick lose to Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs and Devlin Hodges this past offseason. Dwayne Haskins was a mid-first round pick, just like Paxton Lynch was. Jordan Love (26th pick) was QB1 for a lot of draft gurus, he fell to 26 and looked awful in the training camp. The best quarterbacks in the last five years of drafts went right around the 10th spot, where the Steelers drafted Roethlisberger in 2004. The Steelers aren’t picking there. They would have to trade up.

And that brings us to the real issue. Money isn’t the only resource, drat capital matters as well. Right now the Steelers have some key needs, especially on the offensive line. Drafting a brand new quarterback and asking him to either read NFL defenses and throw the ball in 2.4 seconds or take a lot of hits is far from ideal, just look at Joe Burrow. That’s how you get a quarterback with bad habits and low confidence.

The Steelers need to invest in their offensive line, and they need to add pieces at other positions too. The Steelers are going to be losing important pieces in the next few years, and some players toward the end of their prime will be dropping off, restarting now means a rebuild.

I know we are all worried about the salary cap, but the Steelers are always in this situation, and they always make it through. They will make it through again. The best bet for the Steelers is to invest in their line, add another weapon to the offense and see if one of the young wide receivers turns into something more than they were this season.

You play out Ben Roethlisberger’s contract, giving him one last shot to lead this team to a Super Bowl, and you start fresh the year after that, with the full $41 Million off the books, and key pieces in place to help a new quarterback succeed. That 19 million dollars buys you a lot less than people think it will. T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick don’t require new deals this season, and the team has a pretty good amount of young players, the Steelers can sign a few decent free agents to fill holes, draft for some key spots and be in position to start a meaningful rebuild in 2022.

- Geoffrey Benedict

What do you think? Should the Steelers move on from Roethlisberger, or should they go for one more season in the sun before he hangs it up? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they head into a crazy offseason.

Mock Draft Monday: The Steelers look to add an edge rusher with their top pick

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 8:30am
Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

In the latest mock draft, the Steelers add another outside linebacker into the mix

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. As for the NFL combine and player pro days being in limbo as well as the opportunity for players to return to college who opted out of the 2020 college football season, 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 NBCSports, they have the Steelers addressing the edge rusher position before anything else. With the Steelers already having one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL in T.J. Watt, drafting this position would be a bit of a luxury with rookie Alex Highsmith coming onto the scene after the season-ending injury of Bud Dupree. 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 | Jaelan Phillips | EDGE | Miami | JR |

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 Phillips according to thedraftnetwork.com:

A consensus 5-star recruit, Miami EDGE Jaelan Phillips played his first two seasons at UCLA before transferring to Miami where everything came together in 2020. Phillips was flashy at UCLA but played a modest amount of snaps across 11 games in two seasons. Ankle, wrist, and concussion issues limited his time on the field for UCLA before his move to Miami. Phillips’ performance in 2020 was exactly what the Bruins thought they were getting in the former prized recruit. A balanced defender, Phillips is a playmaker against the run and pass, where his exciting blend of size, length, power, technique, and athleticism make him a challenge for offenses to neutralize. Phillips is a versatile player that has experience playing with his hand in the dirt on the edge, rushing from interior alignments, and playing in space in a standup role—which makes him a fit for all teams in the NFL. The areas of concern for Phillips entering the NFL are playing with better pad level, developing consistency with his hand technique, and becoming more consistent reducing his surface area while establishing a half-man relationship with his opponents as a pass rusher. Phillips has all the makings of an impact defender at the next level, although a large sample size of high-level production in college would have been preferred.

Ideal Role: Starting 4-3 DE/3-4 OLB.

Scheme Fit: Phillips is scheme-versatile with equal appeal to even and odd front teams.

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 Phillips 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 do not think this position is one the Steelers need to address with their top selection, even if they lose Bud Dupree, unless an unreal talent falls into their lap. 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.

Report Card: Final grades of the Steelers 2020 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The staff at BTSC gives grades for the Steelers upon the completion of the 2020 season.

The staff at BTSC are throwing their grades on the Steelers offense, defense, special teams, and coaches as well as their overall performance. After giving grade after every four games, this time it will be for the entirety of the 2020 season

Let’s see if BTSC judges the Steelers performance to date the same way…

Offense

Dave Schofield: C
(previous: A-, B+, C+)
The Steelers showed they only had so many ideas for the season and they showed them all early. When one part of your game is ineffective, there’s only so much you can do.

K.T. Smith: D
(previous: A, B, D+)
It was an epic collapse for the offense. From a unit that looked dominant at times early on to one that was often hapless at the end, this was a stunning decline. I don’t care how well you throw the ball - if you finish last in the NFL in rushing things are not going to end well.

Geoffrey Benedict: D-
(previous: B-, C+, D-)
The 2019 Steelers offense, through week 15, scored on 30.7% of their drives. in the second half of 2020, the Steelers offense scored on 31.3% of drives. They were healthy for the end of the year and they were terrible. The last quarter they earned an F, they get a D- for the season because how you end the season matters more than how you start.

Jeff Hartman: C
(previous: B, B+, D)
For as bad as it was at times, if I am giving a final grade it can’t be worse than a C considering some of the early season success they had. The offense faltered down the stretch, but that can’t nullify the good this group did at one point this season.

Big Bro Scho: C
(previous: B+, B, C+)
As great as the offense started out this season, the way they fizzled at the end it was obvious they were no more than an average offensive unit. Not being able to run the ball as the season went on really hurt.

Shannon White: C-
(previous: B, B-, C)
As you can see from my previous grades, the Steelers offense trended in the wrong direction as the season progressed. The previous year's offense without Ben Roethlisberger was putrid, but his relatively healthy return only achieved in making them one dimensional. As we have learned in the playoffs thus far, all quarterbacks need a running game. For the Pittsburgh Steelers that begins and ends with improvement on the offensive line.

Bryan Anthony Davis: (C-)
(previous: A, A-, C)
If I’m looking at the season in it’s entirety, I would be remiss to ignore how potent the Steelers were on offense until December. But team’s figured them out down the stretch and they were mostly impotent at the end. What’s pushing the grade down, though, is the lack of a running game. You can blame the guys carrying the ball, the blockers or the scheme. it’s your choice. But the rushing game being ranked 32 out of 32 is what killed the Super Bowl dreams of this team.

Anthony Defeo: C
(previous: B+, B, C-)
The offense started out unstoppable, averaging 30 points a game at one point. Unfortunately, it went from that to unbearable by the end of the season.

Defense

Dave Schofield: B
(previous: B+, B+, A)
Perhaps I’m weighing the playoff game too heavily, but it was the most important game of the season. It has to bring the grade down.

K.T. Smith: B
(previous: A-, A-, A)
The defense was great at times but suffered from the loss of Devin Bush and Bud Dupree. They played soft in the playoff loss to Cleveland. That’s unacceptable.

Geoffrey Benedict: A-
(previous: A, A-, A+)
The defense played hard to the end of the regular season, weathered multiple major injuries and remained a top 5 unit. But it wasn’t just Devin Bush, Bud Dupree and Joe Haden being out that hurt them in the playoffs, they looked lost and un-focused. That hurts their grade a lot, but they still get a lot of credit for this season, they carried this team.

Jeff Hartman: B
(previous: B+, B+, A)
Just like the Steelers’ offense not being graded on how they finished the season, neither should the defense. The playoff loss was a resounding dud, but they had a tremendous season. You are left wondering what could have been if Devin Bush and Bud Dupree didn’t get hurt, and that is a sinking feeling.

Big Bro Scho: B+
(previous: B+, B+, A)
Overall I feel the defense did its job throughout the year, minus the dud they showed us in the playoffs. They did a good job overcoming major injuries, and continued to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

Shannon White: B
(previous: B-, B, B+)
The Steelers defense never reached their full potential due to devastating injuries and games missed due to COVID protocol. This apparently caused the unit to wear down when the struggling offense needed them the most. Big changes and huge personnel decisions lie ahead for what amounted to a top three defense this season.

Bryan Anthony Davis: B+
(previous: C, A-, A)
This unit did their job and played their hearts out, even when they weren’t healthy. Losing Bush and Bud was too hard to swallow, but this was a strong unit in 2020.

Anthony Defeo: B
(previous: B, B-, A)
It’s hard to be too critical of the defense, given the list of injuries it endured as a unit. However, there was certainly a drop off after the combined losses of Devin Bush, Bud Dupree and Robert Spillane.

Special Teams

Dave Schofield: B
(previous: A-, B+, B)
They didn’t do anything spectacular down the stretch, but also didn’t become a liability.

K.T. Smith: B+
(previous: B+, A-, B)
This was the most solid special teams unit, top to bottom, we’ve had in years.

Geoffrey Benedict: B
(previous: B, B, B)
Steady and reliable this season, There was a lot of turnover, and they had a great season. Danny Smith gets a good grade for once.

Jeff Hartman: C
(previous: A, B, B)
Chris Boswell got hurt down the stretch, but Matthew Wright filled in nicely. Jordan Berry is Jordan Berry, nothing will change in that regard. What might be the most disappointing was how these units had no splash plays this year. No touchdowns, no blocks...nothing.

Big Bro Scho: B
(previous: A, A-, B)
I feel that the special teams units were solid this year but did have some areas they could improve. Coverages that started out spectacular came back to Earth as the season went on. Kicking was solid but nothing outstanding. I kept hoping for a return touchdown that never came.

Shannon White: B
(previous: A, B+, B)
Coach Danny Smith produced a solid showing from a continuously changing group. Boswell was excellent when healthy, which was a struggle. Wright filled in admirably, although with extremely limited range. Jordan Berry's return waved a white flag. Coverage was solid throughout, but blocking penalties on returns increased as the season wore on, probably due to all the new faces. Ray-Ray McCloud's effectiveness faded also.

Bryan Anthony Davis: B
(previous: B+, B-, B)
This was probably the best year had by a black-and-gold special teams unit in eons. They weren’t amazing, but never a liability.

Anthony Defeo: A
(previous: A, A, A)
Overall, I thought it was a good year for special teams.

Coaching

Dave Schofield: C-
(previous: B-, B-, B-)
Too little creativity on offense as the season pressed on and too much living in your fears in the postseason. You’ve got to stay ahead of the coaching curve once you put things on tape.

K.T. Smith: C+
(previous: A, A+, A-)
The Steelers went south in December and, except for a stellar second half against Indy, never recovered. That’s on the coaching staff. It’s their job to find a way to turn it around.

Geoffrey Benedict: B
(previous: A, A++++, A)
Can’t drop them too far. The Defense lost too many key parts. The offense tried to innovate, but was limited by the quarterback’s reliance on a specific scheme. The embarrassing play at the end of the season hurts the grade a lot here, but coaches don’t snap or tackle, and they can’t focus for the players.

Jeff Hartman: B
(previous: A, A+, A)
The Steelers’ coaching staff had a great season, but at what point do you consider these late season collapses to be troubling trends?

Big Bro Scho: C+
(previous: B+, B+, B+)
The drop in grade is really about the last several games of the season, followed by a complete flop in the playoffs. you can put a lot on the players but at some point coaching has to come into play.

Shannon White: C
(previous: A, A-, B)
The Steelers have already made multiple coaching decisions and changes since the season ended so disappointingly, yet again. For a franchise renowned for their stability and aversion to unnecessary changes, their actions thus far speaks volumes.

Bryan Anthony Davis: B-
(previous: A+, A+, A)
I’m fine with Mike Tomlin as the head man in Steel City, but the debacle that was the last quarter of the season can not be excused. The offensive game plan was bland and it just seemed like the offensive coordinator was never held accountable to make adjustments,

Anthony Defeo: C
(previous: A+, A+, A)
After a fourth-straight collapse to close out the season, it’s hard to argue with those who want head coach Mike Tomlin to get the ax. He won’t and he shouldn’t, but when three assistant coaches are given their walking papers, that says a lot.

Overall

Dave Schofield: B-
(previous: A, A, A)
After great grades early in the season helped bring up the average from the completely failing grade from the late-season collapse.

K.T. Smith: C+
(previous: A+, A+, A)
It’s tough to grade this without being jaded by the ending. When you start 11-0, you expect to win a playoff game. A+ for the start, F for the finish. Feels like a C+ overall.

Geoffrey Benedict:
(previous: A+, A+, A+) D
I know this is a grade for the entire season, but those first 16 games only exist to get you game #17. The Steelers get some points for winning the division, but to absolutely embarrass themselves in the playoffs wrecks the entire season.

Jeff Hartman: C+
(previous: A, A, A)
This entire season wasn’t a wash, but the way it ended, losing 5 of 6, was the epitome of falling flat on their faces. It seems like ages ago this team was 11-0 and riding high. What a joke.

Big Bro Scho: B-
(previous: B+, A, A-)
The start to the season was exciting, but the ending of the season was disheartening. I cannot ignore the great start, but at the same time I have to account for the horrible finish. There were a lot of ups and some downs as well.

Shannon White: B
(previous: A+, A+, A)
A 12-4 overall record, champions of the tough AFC North division that placed three teams in the big dance, and the first playoff berth in three years deserves nothing less in my book.

Bryan Anthony Davis: C+
(previous: A, A, A)
Unfortunately the 2020 season was a movie that started out great and left you disappointed at the end. They made the playoffs, but did we really think that they would be anything but one-and-done?

Anthony Defeo: C
(previous: A, A, A)
When a team starts out 11-0, you expect more than a 1-4 finish and one and done in the playoffs.

So what do you think? Who at BTSC got it right? What grades do you give to Steelers for each category? Hopefully you answered each poll, but feel free to leave your comments below.

Steelers Super Bowl Anniversary Flashback: Super Bowl X vs. the Dallas Cowboys

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 6:00am

On the 45th Anniversary of Super Bowl X, BTSC looks back at the first “Battle with the Boys” in Miami

I once (actually many times) heard Huey Lewis croon, “So take me away, I don’t mind. But you better promise me, I’ll be back in time. Gotta get back in time.” Never wanting to disappoint one of my musical heroes, let’s fire up the Delorean and get back to January 18, 1976.

As we arrive, I have no bars on my phone. Wonder why? So I pick up a newspaper and see where full diplomatic relations were established between Bangladesh and Pakistan...five years after the Bangladesh Liberation War, Future President Jimmy Carter was a day away from winning the Iowa Caucus, Barry Manilow (like the year before) was top of the charts as “I Write The Songs” was Number One on the radio and Jack Nicholson and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was tops with movie goers.

Meanwhile in the world of sports, the football world was converging on Miami for the tenth edition of the best of the best facing off for football supremacy. Welcome to Super Bowl X between the Cowboys of Dallas and the defending crown winners, your Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s get down to the field.

The excitement and hope of a repeat performance waned a bit immediately when the ball was kicked off. Former Steeler Preston Pearson fielded the ball and immediately handed it off to to the infamous antagonist of the Steelers, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson for a 52 yard return. Gerela saved the touchdown with a tackle inside Steeler territory that would haunt the Steelers the entire game after the kicker badly bruised his ribs on the play. Facing a strong wind, Vietnam Vet Roger Staubach went to the air to no avail. On the next play, L.C. Greenwood sacked the Cowboys quarterback thus forcing a fumble in which the Center, John Fitzgerald, recovered for Dallas. The NFC representative was forced to punt away.

Maybe because the mobile Terry Bradshaw had a taped knee, the Steelers came out working their ground game with their first opportunity on offense. They too could not muster a first down and Bobby Walden came on to boot it away. However, No. 39 (odd digits for a punter) mishandled the snap and Dallas swarmed to the football With Walden jumping on it. Walden, who was partly responsible for the Vikings only points a year before in Super Bowl IX, may be the most beleaguered player in Steeler SB history. Taking advantage of the mishap, Staubach immediately found Drew Pearson (Yes...the recent Hall of Fame-snubbed Drew Pearson) for 29 yards and the score. Dallas led the game 7-0 and it was mentioned by CBS broadcasters that the first offensive touchdown in all nine of the previous Super Bowls was scored by the winning team. It was also the only first quarter TD the vaunted Steel Curtain Defense allowed all season. Steeler fans globally became nervous as a piñata at a birthday party.

Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images

Bradshaw and Pittsburgh would answer on the next series though. After four straight running plays, Lynn Swann had his first acrobatic/tight rope grab of the game with a majestic play of 32 yards over DB Mark Washington to the Cowboys 16. On third-and-one on the Cowboys 7, the Steelers employed a two-tight end set that usually signals a run. Instead, Bradshaw and Guard Gerry “Moon”Mullins crossed up Tom Landry’s team and Randy Grossman caught a pass in the end zone to nod the score at 7.

The Cowboys would counter as well with a time-churning drive (6:12) that extend into the second quarter. The possession featured mostly runs with Robert Newhouse getting 30 of the 51 yards on the ground on five carries. It was inconceivable to see the Steelers run-on in such a manner. At the 19, Ernie Holmes ferociously rushed Staubach forcing him to hurry a throw. The pass was nearly intercepted for what very well could have been a pick-six by Steeler Team MVP Glen Edwards. Instead Toni Fritsch nailed a kick from 36 yards and the Cowboys retook the lead by a score of 10-7.

The broadcast team of Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier noted that the two contestants aren’t early-scoring teams, but maybe they would break records. The Steelers on the next possession looked to continue the streak of scoring with a heavy dose of runs by Bleier, Harris and Bradshaw combined with a leaping grab by John Stallworth, but Cliff Harris broke up a completion from No. 12 to Franco Harris on a fourth-and-one at the Dallas 36. If completed, it looked like Franco would have possibly have taken it to the house. But Dallas took over on downs instead. From there the scoring spree stalled as both defenses played all out with reckless abandon.

After both teams traded punts again, the Cowboys were poised to score again after starting at their own 48 and getting the ball down to the Pittsburgh 20. But the Steelers defense transformed into a steel trap and gobbled up the Dallas opportunity like a promiscuous cougar would a carafe of Chardonnay. L.C. dropped Staubach for a loss of 11 and Dwight white did the same on the very next play for another loss of 11 to force a punt. It was the second and third sack of the day for the vaunted Steeler defense.

The Steelers were driving again towards the end of the first half with 3:47 to play in the half and pinned back deep at the six yard line. On a third and six from their own 10, Bradshaw dropped back and unleashed a pass that would go down as one of the greatest in Super Bowl lore. It was the Lynn Swann circus catch where he famously leapt in blanket coverage by Mark Washington, tipped the ball in the air and hauled it in while falling to the Orange Bowl turf. The play covered 53 yards. A few plays later, Bradshaw was being harassed by the legendary Ed “Too Tall” Jones. No. 12’s spinning pirouette to avoid a sack was a beautiful sight as “The Blonde Bomber” completed a pass to TE Larry Brown. However, the Dallas defense stiffened and the Steelers were not able to score when the badly-bruised Gerela missed his first field goal attempt of the afternoon with :22 remaining in the half. At the break, the “Boys” led the defending champs 10-7 and the world enjoyed the melodic sounds of “Up With People” at intermission.

To start the final 30:00, the Steelers went three-and-out and Walden barely got his punt off and the Cowboys started again in great field position. On the Steelers’ radio broadcast, Jack Fleming stated the need for the Pittsburgh defense to force a turnover. After two running plays, Fleming got his wish when J.T. Thomas snagged a Jolly Roger pass at the 40 and raced 35 yards to the Dallas 25. The Steelers achieved a first down, but couldn’t get in the end zone. So on came the maligned Gerela again to try to tie the game, but he was again not well enough to convert the 33-yard attempt. But in failure came a crucial turning point. In a move that inspired the pen name of one BTSC’s finest, Cliff Harris Is Still A Punk, the (Hall of Fame) safety patted Gerela on the head like a teacher would their dumbest (but lovable) student and then thanked him for the help. This display of gratitude netted attitude and actually changed the game’s latitude. Jack Lambert, who took great exception to the act, threw Harris to the turf and admonished the punk safety. Lambert, would surely have been ejected in today’s NFL, but was not shown the gate in 1976. An angry linebacker got even nastier at that moment and his fellow defensemen did as well.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

After that, Lambert started playing even more like a man possessed and forced a quick three-and-out. The Steelers ended up having to punt the ball away as well after another non-call of interference in favor of the Cowboys.

To start the fourth quarter, Mitch Hoops punted the orb away and Dave Brown had trouble reeling it in, but luckily J.T. Thomas was present to fall on it at the 17. On the next play, a scrambling Bradshaw found Franco Harris streaking down the sideline. It had appeared that the inspiration for the Italian Army would break off free for an 83-yard score, but he was deemed out of bounds at the 43. After a devastating 18-yard loss on a Randy White sack, the Steelers had to punt the ball away once more. Then the Steelers sacked Staubach again and America’s Team had to punt as well. With Hoops standing on the Dallas 1, Noll sent ten men after Hoops and Reggie “Boobie” Harrison blocked the ball through the end zone for a safety and the Cowboys only led by the score of 10-9 with 11:28 left to go in the game.

After Mike Collier (who I see often in my town) fielded the free kick and bolted 25-yards to the Dallas 45, the Steelers charged towards pay dirt and got as far as the 19 through effective runs, but they had to settle for a Gerela field goal (finally!) of 36 yards and their first lead of Super Bowl X. It was now 12-10 with 8:41 left.

Dallas’ attempt to storm back on the next possession was not to be. After surviving Preston Pearson’s fumble of the kickoff, the effort was quickly thwarted when Mike Wagner intercepted the white-clad No. 12 at the 24 and scurried all the way to the Dallas 7-yard line. In the Steelers’ booth, Myron declared that the Steelers wouldn’t settle for a field goal and that they needed the touchdown to put the game away. However Franco fumbled and recovered it inches from the end zone and the Steelers, not listening to Cope, took the three from Gerela’s toe. The score was now 15-10 in Pittsburgh’s favor.

After another Steeler sack, the Cowboys punted the leather back to the Steelers with 4:25 left in the contest. On third and four, Bradshaw dropped back to pass and unleashed a gorgeous bomb of 64 yards to Lynn Swann for a touchdown straight down the middles the field. On the play, No. 88 beat Mark Washington once more. While Swanny celebrated in the end zone, Bradshaw never got to join in on the hoopla due to getting obliterated by a Larry Cole shot to the head. Out with a concussion, TB12 didn’t learn about his heroics and good fortunes until he was in the locker room. Gerela, in true fashion, hooked the extra point off the left upright. It was now 21-10 with 3:02 left.

But Dallas wasn’t ready to hang up their silver helmets just yet. Despite a sixth Steeler sack, Staubach needed only five plays and 1:14 to score a touchdown. The Dallas QB found Percy Howard for a 34-yard score to cut the Steeler lead to four. The catch by Howard, over Mel Blount, would end up being the only one ever in the player’s career.

With 1:48 left, all seemed lost for Dallas as Moon Mullins pulled in the onside kick. But Terry Hanratty and the Steelers couldn’t move the chains after starting on the Dallas 42. Using their timeouts, Dallas was expecting to get the ball back via a punt. However, remembering his team’s kicking woes all game, Chuck Noll didn’t want to risk the kick and the Steelers turned the ball over on downs. After only taking :26 seconds off of the clock, the Steelers decided to rely on their dynamic defense one more time. But the Steelers held. With :03 remaining, Staubach (much like in the NFC Championship) threw up a Hail Mary into the Touchdown Zone, but Edwards intercepted the ball and the Steelers realized victory for the second-straight Super Bowl.

Steeler fans rejoiced and were getting used to the euphoria of winning. The MVP Award went to Lynn Swann for is four-catch and 161-yard performance. The honor could have gone to Jack Lambert with his 14 tackles and his standing up for Gerela to turn the momentum needle towards the Steelers. Another who was dominant was L.C. Greenwood and his four sacks of Staubach on the afternoon. The Steelers were back-to-back victors and the players were known as heroes in their adopted city.

As for me, I was a young lad of four. But I remembered the hoopla surrounding the game as we went to my grandparent’s house for a party. I’ve seen pictures of me decked out in black-and-gold and was starting to realize that a special sentiment was brewing in the Steel City for football and the men who played it.

Potential changes to the NFL Scouting Combine could completely change the event

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 5:00am
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

One of the biggest pre-draft events might look drastically different in 2021.

The 2020-2021 NFL season has been different. No fans in seats, players missing games due to testing positive or COVID-19 and games being moved/postponed due to outbreaks. Well, it seems one of the most celebrated pre-NFL Draft event could be looking drastically different in 2021 too.

I am talking about the NFL Scouting Combine.

With protocols still being in place both for collegiate and professional sports, the flock of prospects which usually overtakes Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis will still be there, but not the way fans have come to enjoy the event in past years.

According to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, here are some of the changes which might happen for the even this season:

  • Concepts centered on regionalized medical checks, with teams allowed to send one or two people (either doctors or trainers) each to attend. Teams made clear to the NFL that the gathering of medical information was the one piece of the combine that was most vital and hardest for them to replicate independently. The likelihood now is the NFL will have the checks at hospitals in places where large numbers of players are doing combine prep—like Florida, California, Arizona and Texas (85 percent of prospects are working out in those four states)—to cut down on players’ travel. Also worth noting: many team docs traveling to those sites will have been vaccinated.
  • The NFL Physicians Society and the Pro Football Athletic Trainers Society have been working on the safest format for performing the four phases of medical evaluation: Interview and history gathering; the internal medical exam; the orthopedic exam; and lab and x-ray work. The first two phases could be pulled off virtually via Teleheath.
  • More formalized pro days to replace the lost workouts. This would mean either team or league officials conducting drills and testing on campus, with everything standardized and information dispersed as it would be at the combine.
  • Zoom interviews. This shouldn’t be too much of an adjustment—starting in mid-March of last year and going all the way up to the 2020 NFL draft, this is how business was done. So much as teams might lose in face-to-face interactions, it’s not something that’s foreign to them.
  • Another contingency discussed has been just moving the combine to April (the NCAA tournament bubble takes much of March Madness off the table). But that would likely necessitate moving the draft back, and the league has shown no appetite for doing that.

The NFL having this event is key to teams getting a feel for the prospects who could become part of their organization when the draft rolls around. It just might look different. Either way, it is an near certainty the NFL will both publicize, and air, the events regardless when, or where, they are being held.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for the upcoming offseason with NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.

Podcast: The Steelers’ offseason got even more complicated this weekend

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/18/2021 - 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 have made major changes already in the offseason, with the biggest being the promotion of Matt Canada to offensive coordinator after not renewing Randy Fichtner’s deal. With Ben Roethlisberger also announcing his return in 2021, the offseason gets even more complicated. 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 off-season for the Steelers may be uneventful and disappointing to fans
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Divisional Round Sunday Open Thread: Keep tabs on all the playoff action

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 01/17/2021 - 5:30pm
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Steelers are done, but that doesn’t mean fans won’t be watching football. Why not spend it with fellow Steelers fans?

It is hard to believe, and some might still struggle with it, but NFL football is in the postseason!

It wasn’t always certain there would be a return of America’s favorite game, but here we are, preparing for an awesome slate of games in the NFL’s Divisional Round weekend. Yes, it’s the playoffs so the NFL season is now in the home stretch.

Here is the schedule for the day:

Buccaneers at Saints — 6:40 p.m. ET

This obviously isn’t the first NFL Sunday of the 2020 season, but our new commenting system remains an issue for some. While improvements have been made, and they aren’t done with those improvements, just wanted to put a message here from NFL Manager Jeanna Thomas about the system:

Here are a few features that you might want to include in game day thread articles, to help your community enjoy the game day threads more:

If you change the ‘Sort By’ option to “Oldest,” you can read all the comments in chronological order, and the comment box moves to the bottom. If you leave it as “Newest”, the latest comments will appear at the top.

If you’re using a computer, you can move down the comments using C, and move back up using shift-C by clicking once inside the comments area. This can also be used to ‘load more’ comments.

Under the ‘My Profile’ tab, you can keep track of replies to your comments, and also sign up for email notifications of replies

If you want to auto-show all images/GIFs/Tweets, you can opt into this under My Profile - Preferences

As always, we’re continuing to improve the system, and will be watching how everyone is using it on game days – and if you or your community have suggestions on how we can further improve the game day thread experience, we’d love for you/them to join our commenting feedback group: https://forms.gle/2FTSCHRgnggxH6SR6 or you can email support@coralproject.net.

For those wondering, you can enjoy some lively commentary with the best Steelers fans across the globe in the open thread for all BTSC members in the comment section below. Let’s remember to keep it clean, respect everyone’s thoughts and ideas, and ultimately remember we’re all here for the same reason—to root for the Steelers!

If you don’t want to listen to the talking heads during games, you can always watch the games on mute and listen to some of our great Steelers podcasts. Check out the playlist below:

So enjoy the games and be sure to follow BTSC for all the latest news surrounding the team throughout the game and afterwards!

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

Divisional Round Sunday Open Thread: Keep tabs on all the playoff action

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 01/17/2021 - 1:55pm
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Steelers are done, but that doesn’t mean fans won’t be watching football. Why not spend it with fellow Steelers fans?

It is hard to believe, and some might still struggle with it, but NFL football is in the postseason!

It wasn’t always certain there would be a return of America’s favorite game, but here we are, preparing for an awesome slate of games in the NFL’s Divisional Round weekend. Yes, it’s the playoffs so the NFL season is now in the home stretch.

Here is the schedule for the day:

Browns at Chiefs — 3:05 p.m. ET
Buccaneers at Saints — 6:40 p.m. ET

This obviously isn’t the first NFL Sunday of the 2020 season, but our new commenting system remains an issue for some. While improvements have been made, and they aren’t done with those improvements, just wanted to put a message here from NFL Manager Jeanna Thomas about the system:

Here are a few features that you might want to include in game day thread articles, to help your community enjoy the game day threads more:

If you change the ‘Sort By’ option to “Oldest,” you can read all the comments in chronological order, and the comment box moves to the bottom. If you leave it as “Newest”, the latest comments will appear at the top.

If you’re using a computer, you can move down the comments using C, and move back up using shift-C by clicking once inside the comments area. This can also be used to ‘load more’ comments.

Under the ‘My Profile’ tab, you can keep track of replies to your comments, and also sign up for email notifications of replies

If you want to auto-show all images/GIFs/Tweets, you can opt into this under My Profile - Preferences

As always, we’re continuing to improve the system, and will be watching how everyone is using it on game days – and if you or your community have suggestions on how we can further improve the game day thread experience, we’d love for you/them to join our commenting feedback group: https://forms.gle/2FTSCHRgnggxH6SR6 or you can email support@coralproject.net.

For those wondering, you can enjoy some lively commentary with the best Steelers fans across the globe in the open thread for all BTSC members in the comment section below. Let’s remember to keep it clean, respect everyone’s thoughts and ideas, and ultimately remember we’re all here for the same reason—to root for the Steelers!

If you don’t want to listen to the talking heads during games, you can always watch the games on mute and listen to some of our great Steelers podcasts. Check out the playlist below:

So enjoy the games and be sure to follow BTSC for all the latest news surrounding the team throughout the game and afterwards!

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

Steelers fan confidence hits season low after playoff dud vs. the Browns

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 01/17/2021 - 12:45pm
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

You thought the Steelers fan base was down on the team earlier this season? Think again...

The Pittsburgh Steelers fan base can be a fickle bunch. Even when their favorite team was 6-0, there was skepticism among the black and gold following. Even after their win over the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans, many fans called the Steelers “lucky” to escape with a 27-24 win.

To those fans, the end result doesn’t matter.

However, after two straight games where they were forced to come from behind, Week 8 vs. the Baltimore Ravens and Week 9 vs. the Dallas Cowboys, fans are anything but certain about their favorite NFL franchise.

What would it take to raise the fan confidence? A dominant performance, and that is exactly what the Steelers delivered in Week 10 with a 36-10 win over the division rival Cincinnati Bengals. Combine that with another dominant defensive performance vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11, and the fans are feeling right.

But it was at this juncture in the season when things started to go off the rails. COVID-19 changed up the plans with the Steelers and Ravens in Week 12, and the Washington Football Team dealt the team their first loss of the season in Week 13. How did the Steelers finish off their third game in twelve days? A Sunday night loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 14. Week 15 had the Steelers staring at a “get right” game vs. the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football, but what they got was a third straight loss as they were embarrassed on national television for the second straight week.

Week 16 saw the Steelers host the red-hot Indianapolis Colts, and when all seemed lost, the Steelers had a tremendous come from behind win to pull off the upset, snap their losing streak and clinch the AFC North division title since 2017. The next week, with the division locked up, the Steelers backups played valiantly, but lost to the Browns heading into the playoffs.

In the playoffs, the first such game for the Steelers since that 2017 season, the Steelers had another forgettable game. The 28-0 first quarter deficit was too much to overcome, and the season ended in embarrassing fashion.

How were the fans feeling about the team moving forward? Well, you can guess how they probably felt.

Here at SB Nation we poll fans every week in our SB Nation “Reacts” polls, and one of the questions asked is whether you have confidence in your team moving forward. As you can see, the confidence took another hard nose dive heading into the offseason.

If you want to know just how the fan confidence has changed since the end of the 2019 season, you can see the percentages below:

End of 2019: 59%
Pre NFL Free Agency: 72%
Post 2020 NFL Draft: 81%
Heading into Week 1: 90%
Heading into Week 2: 94%
Heading into Week 3: 87%
Heading into Week 4: 90%
Heading into Week 5: 83%
Heading into Week 6: 82%
Heading into Week 7: 97%
Heading into Week 8: 94%
Heading into Week 9: 98%
Heading into Week 10: 88%
Heading into Week 11: 95%
Heading into Week 12: 96%
Heading into Week 13: 97%
Heading into Week 14: 52%
Heading into Week 15: 24%
Heading into Week 16: 17%
Heading into Week 17: 56%
Heading into the Wild Card Round: 76%
Heading into the offseason: 14%

With the Steelers now entering an offseason where Ben Roethlisberger is rumored to be returning, Matt Canada is reportedly taking over at offensive coordinator and the team will be the epitome of cash strapped as fans down.

And rightfully so.

Have we seen the best of the Steelers under Mike Tomlin? Are darker days ahead? Only time will tell, but fans enter this uneasy offseason without much confidence.

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

The Steelers decisions regarding their offensive coordinator leave more questions than answers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 01/17/2021 - 11:30am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

How are the Steelers recent decisions regarding their offensive philosophy affected by their aging quarterback?

In his final press conference of the 2020 NFL season, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin stated there would be changes made within the organization. Using a form of the quote of “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” it appeared the Steelers would be making some hard decisions in the coming weeks. Surprisingly, it was only the next day when three coach’s contracts were not renewed for the 2021 season along with one coach retiring. Most notably was the Steelers parting ways with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner after just three seasons in that particular role.

One thing we must remember is although we can look at how things appear based on peoples words and body language, there is often an awful lot going on behind the scenes which Steelers fans are unable to judge. Sometimes it’s after the fact that we find out the team’s top player is an absolute nightmare to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Other times, one thing which appears to be the problem might not be the cause of issues after all.

One presumption Steelers fans operated under for the last three seasons was Randy Fichtner was hand-picked to be the Steelers offensive coordinator by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. His quarterback coach since 2010, when Steelers moved on from Todd Haley as the coordinator, it took no time to promote Fichtner to the job.

It appeared Ben Roethlisberger had the person he wanted to work with to lead the Steelers offense to greatness. Unfortunately, the 2019 season was thrown out after Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2. But in three seasons, the Steelers offense struggled at times, even during their 11-game win streak to begin the 2020 season. Once certain things were figured out by opposing defenses, it appeared the Steelers didn’t have much to offer in the form of adjustments other than “just let Ben be Ben.”

The Steelers moving on from Fichtner posed several questions when it came to the future of the organization. Here are just a sample:

Did the relationship between Fichtner and Roethlisberger sour?

It was during the 2019 season where comments by Coach Fichtner and quarterback Mason Rudolph began to set off a red flag among some. It seems many times when the Steelers’ offense was sputtering, which was quite often in 2019, Coach Fichtner did not hesitate to throw his young quarterback under the bus. On the flip side, some of the comments made by Rudolph about things Coach Fichtner was pounding into his brain could give some pause in thinking Rudolph was suffering from “paralysis through analysis.”

If listening to Fichtner’s comments and press conferences in 2020, it appeared there were times when the Steelers offense did work, it was not Ben Roethlisberger drawing plays in the dirt according to Fichtner. But when the Steelers offense had an issue, it seemed as if Fichtner was going out of his way to point out it was Rothlisberger who was calling the plays. Perhaps the Steelers coordinator taking credit when there was credit to be given but passing blame when it came time for responsibility did not sit well with the Steelers’ future Hall of Fame quarterback.

Does moving on from Fichtner show the Steelers are willing to move on from Roethlisberger?

Another question would be if the Steelers are willing to make wholesale changes to the offense, especially when it comes to philosophy and scheme, is this something Ben Roethlisberger is interested in doing this late in his career? If Roethlisberger really intends to play one or more additional seasons with the Steelers, is a change in offensive system something he wants to do at this point in his career?

Perhaps this is something the Steelers discussed with Roethlisberger before making the decision. Perhaps it is not. If the Steelers are willing to make this change regardless of Roethlisberger‘s opinion, knowing he could choose to hang it up had to be something they were willing to live with.

Was there more to the Randy Fichtner situation than meets the eye?

As was mentioned in the first question of the section, Randy Fichtner seemed to often want to say face when it came to the success and failures of the Steelers offense. The fact the Steelers brought in a quarterbacks coach for the 2020 season, a position which had been held by 10 years by Fichtner even when he was the offensive coordinator, was the writing on the wall that the Steelers were going to make a change of coordinator really brought forward last offseason? Were the Steelers merely waiting until Fichtner’s contract expired to move on? Was Coach Fichtner really in charge of the offense this season, or was he gradually having his responsibilities removed? Was there a turning point in the season where the Steelers knew Fichtneer wasn’t able to handle the responsibility?

Knowing how the Pittsburgh Steelers operate, unless Randy Fichtner goes out of his way to make his side of the case known, don’t look for the Steelers to throw him under the bus and expose his shortcomings (much like he liked to do). That’s just not the way they do business.

Only 48 hours later, reports surfaced that the Steelers are planning to promote quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to the offensive coordinator role. Nothing has been officially offered, and any interviews the Steelers may have conducted yet have not been reported. The Steelers cannot simply promote Canada without conducting interviews as coordinator positions now also fall under the Rooney Rule. But with Coach Canada interviewing for the coordinators job in Miami, the report of the Steelers intentions appears to be a deliberate move in order to not lose their front runner.

The hiring of Canada raises additional questions as well. Once again, here is just a sample:

How much say did Canada have in the Steelers 2020 offense?

Some do not like an inside hire for the Steelers coordinator job. But how much of an insider was Canada in 2020? Did he have much say in the Steelers offense, or was he merely just there to throw out ideas and help to develop Mason Rudolph? While these are interesting questions, there is a chance some of this may be answered leading up to the 2021 season.

Was 2020 merely the Steelers getting to know Canada better for a position they knew they wanted to offer him?

Upon his arrival, much of Steelers’ Nation was saying Canada was coming in now to be in line for the Steelers offensive coordinator position once the opportunity presented itself. Did the Steelers know they were moving on from Fichtner after 2020 barring a major change? Was Canada there to “light the fire” or to but Fichtner on notice? Were the Steelers bringing in Canada simply to audition for the job and show what he could do in the NFL level before actually taking over?

Is Ben Roethlisberger willing to run Matt Canada‘s offense, or will Canada have to adapt to Roethlisberger should he stay?

As outlined here at BTSC on several occasions, there often appeared to be a disconnect between some of the philosophies the Steelers were implementing from a Matt Canada system and the ability of Ben Roethlisberger to run these concepts. A good outline of the situation can be seen here thanks to our own Geoffrey Benedict:

If Canada is the Steelers offensive coordinator next season as has been reported, does this mean the Steelers are moving on from Ben Roethlisberger? If Roethlisberger returns as was reported, will Roethlisberger adapt to Canada system, or will it be the other way around? Will Canada be handcuffed with what he really wants to do based on the Steelers aging quarterback?

It’s hard to say if and when these questions will be given definitive answers, but during the offseason these are the type of things Steelers’ fans often discuss. It’s hard to say how long it will be until there is an official announcement in regard to Ben Roethlisberger for the 2021 season, but reports are the Steelers want to move into next season with their Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

So what are your thoughts on the Fichtner-Roethlisberger-Canada triangle? Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Podcast: Why 2020 was the Steelers’ stolen season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 01/17/2021 - 11:00am

Check out our latest weekly venture with an international flavor. Put another shrimp on the barbie and check out Steelers Touchdown Under with two blokes from Australia, Matty Peverell and Mark Davison.

The Steelers didn’t turn up to play last week, so instead of previewing a game against the Bills this week, we’re staring straight into countless questions of being knocked out in Week 1 of the playoffs. Was 2020 a ‘stolen’ season for the Steelers, their players and of course - fans? Join the two Aussie blokes, two mates, Matty Peverell & Mark Davison from Steelers Nation Australia - and the future - as they bring an international perspective to the Steelers 2020 season and what needs to be done to steady the ship, to set the team up for a successful 2021 chase for that seventh Lombardi. This is just some what will be discussed on the latest episode of Touchdown Under, the Australian sensation from the BTSC family of podcasts that’s now moved over to its live YouTube home.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Overall reactions, grievances and upset to last week’s loss and the Steelers 2020 season
  • Reactions to the first week of the Steelers’ offseason.
  • ‘Slingin’ the Slang’
  • Punts of the Week

and MUCH MUCH MORE!

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out the YouTube clip here, and be sure to subscribe to our channel by clicking HERE:

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:

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