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Film Room: Bud Dupree excels in coverage, inconsistent in pass rush

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/24/2018 - 11:20am

Bud Dupree is better than many think, and has an impact on the field, it just often is not in the pass rush.

Ever since he was picked in the first round of 2015 NFL Draft by the Steelers, Dupree has been one of the most polarizing players for Steelers fans. Some truly view him as a liability as a whole, while others view him as having a pretty big impact on the whole defense and how it works.

The answer is somewhat between those two. I would call Dupree average, but I do believe that he has merit while he is on the field. He is not as easily replaceable as people view him to be, but it certainly is not because of his pass rushing ability.

As for a breakdown of what I see on film, it is that Dupree is a very inconsistent pass rusher, who when faced with top level tackles, is stonewalled, but when faced with sub-par tackles, dominates them. I will say that he is an average-to-above average run defender, while being exceptionally good in pass coverage, so that is where his merit comes into play. He is not a pass rusher, he is more of a coverage and run-defense specialist. How you view that is up to you. For some showing of his pass rush inconsistencies, Kyle Murphy and David Bakhtiari give a very good glimpse of what I just described.

Dupree's athleticism at least allows him to push back a bit, but again he plays too tall, has no bend around the edge, and has below average hand usage that allows Bahktiari to lock him up before the guard comes over to help. He has to play lower and get more active hands. pic.twitter.com/qQhnzhZqPj

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 22, 2018

Bud Dupree gets locked up here due to leverage mainly. He plays far too upright and gets locked up by Bahktiari because of it. No speed to power conversion, hands aren't very active, and once he got locked up he had almost no defense against it because he loses the leverage. pic.twitter.com/XFm9ScbHja

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 22, 2018

On both of these plays, Dupree has a few problems that both present themselves.

The first would be leverage. I can not stress how important leverage is in football. If you have the leverage, you win on the line. Dupree plays far too high, far too often, and it leads to him being stonewalled. On both clips, Bakhtiari is lower than Dupree by a lot, and Dupree gets locked up easily due to it. Due to his lackluster leverage, Dupree has no ability to convert his explosive athletic ability into power. In addition, he can get no bend because of how high he plays because of how tall he is, he never has any room to bend. Once he gets locked up, his hand usage is really lackluster and they almost seem to die out. If you lose leverage, you at least have to try to gain it back, Dupree’s hands seem to just flare out in terms of that once he loses leverage. That is the key reason as to why he has not blossomed into a good pass rusher, because he always loses his leverage and his hands are not very active. However, good news for Dupree, because he is an absolute athletic freak. What this means is against tackles who are not very good, Dupree is able to be a source of pressure and can cause havoc. We saw this a number of times against the Packers when Kyle Murphy was out there.

This is what he needs to be doing more often. He uses his explosiveness and gets bend around the edge. Bad pass set by the tackle, but still, Dupree got low and bent around the edge. It might be against a bad tackle, but he can do it when he gets it all right. pic.twitter.com/xVf2zZiGw6

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 22, 2018

Here's the sack. Not too impressive, Murphy really was slow to get it of his stance and it was a terrible pass set by him. Bad footwork and opened up the edge and Dupree won by pure athleticism. pic.twitter.com/XV8cN82woY

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 22, 2018

Murphy has two terrible pass sets here. His footwork is terrible simple due to the false step he takes for no reason, which allows the edge for athletic edge rushers, or anyone with bend. He also gets into his set slowly, so we can see just how sub-par he is as a whole.

Yet, Dupree still wins both of these reps and shows a bit of bend on the first of them. Murphy somehow plays taller than Dupree and he gets the leverage as well, so when he does use his athleticism and gets the leverage that allows him to bend, he can actually bend. That is a key note, because not everyone has the natural ability to bend, but it seems Dupree at least has a semblance of it. That will be key if he ever fixes the leverage issue.

So, I do not expect much of a jump in production from Dupree this season. Simply due to his athleticism, he will get pressures, but he will not convert that many into sacks, and at times he will be completely stonewalled. He had forty pressures last season, so we know he can already do that, the only question is if he can makes his hands more active and get better leverage. The other way to make Dupree more productive is to scheme him with pressures up the middle. They did this a few times last year and it worked well, but it also showed some effectiveness against the Packers.

A thought might be to scheme Dupree with pass rushes up the middle. If he does this, I see no reason why not to keep trying, he forced Hundley out of the pocket not just because of good scheming, but because he means leverage and gets by Montgomery. Good rep. pic.twitter.com/MOOnhOuo5h

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 22, 2018

Dupree’s athleticism is a useful tool in these types of situations because even if the running back cuts him off like he does here, Dupree will at least disrupt the pocket and force the quarterback to move. This could be a useful tool versus players who are less mobile, like say Tom Brady. The Steelers at the very least should explore this option more to see if they can find some success against less mobile quarterbacks with this tactic.

However, where Dupree’s real value comes in his coverage ability. Dupree has excellent coverage skills for a linebacker, and coupled with T.J. Watt’s ability to do the same on the other side, they, at the very least, combine to be a very solid coverage duo at inside linebacker. If there is one thing that Joey Porter has done well with the outside linebackers, it is that he has taught them to cover well, because Keion Adams and Ola Adeniyi have both improved in that aspect from their college tape, and Dupree is much of the same.

This is a really nice job by Dupree. The whole play is in zone coverage, but Dupree follows his man to out on his flat and stays very disciplined in his zone. Rodgers ends up taking off for a scramble, but it was because Dupree had a good rep on his main read. pic.twitter.com/4kZFPFs4lF

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 22, 2018

Dupree has fantastic zone discipline. He knows how to let his guys go and has great awareness of where his help is on all plays. Solid shift from the man who ran the corner to the underneath route, this is good zone coverage. pic.twitter.com/ET29ac4a9O

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 22, 2018

Dupree has exceptional zone discipline and awareness. Notice how in the second clip he rides the corner route up until he has help up top and then immediately works back down to cover the curl. If he is not great in coverage, that never happens and one of the two routes would have been a reception, but instead Dupree plays his zone absolutely perfectly. You will also notice that off the line, Dupree never lets anyone to the outside or inside, that is because he does a great of mirroring every step that the receivers are taking in the routes. This has been a very underrated aspect of Dupree’s game for far too long and Dupree should get credit for being a great coverage linebacker at the least, because very often nothing happens in coverage near him.

Overall, Bud Dupree is a very inconsistent player as a whole. His pass rush has a lot of refinement that still needs to go into it for him to be anywhere near effective against good tackles, but his coverage skills make up somewhat for his lackluster impact in the pass-rush. Dupree is not a simply bad or good player, it depends more so on the day, but if there is one thing for sure, Dupree is not a liability.

Recent history suggests Steelers will be open to adding players released in the final round of cuts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/24/2018 - 9:58am

There’s a good chance the Steelers’ final 53-man roster to open the season will include one or two names currently with another team.

Through two preseason games, the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be struggling to find answers to problems at a number of key positions. The free-agent market has been picked clean and there are few names currently available who would represent upgrades over the options the Steelers already have on their roster. But come September 1, this circumstance is all set to change with the release of 1,184 names across the league.

Most of the players let go in the final round of cuts will be undrafted rookies and fringe NFL talent but, traditionally, there always have been a handful of veterans released who can still offer some value to the right team. While there once was a time when it would have seemed ridiculous to suggest Pittsburgh might be seeking players in this last-minute free agency, the Steelers have been one of the more active teams in the league at this point in the year over the past three seasons.

Teams with more highly regarded players on their rosters which they intend to release will first see if those players have any trade value in the days before the deadline for making cuts. Pittsburgh has not been averse to giving up future draft picks if necessary to acquire a player they believe could improve their roster.

Just days before the start of the 2017 regular season, the front office agreed to trade with the San Francisco 49ers for the rights to Vance McDonald and also with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for J.J. Wilcox. Sandwiched in between those two trades was the signing of Joe Haden after he was cut by the Cleveland Browns. McDonald and Haden were signed to be starters, while Wilcox was expected to be a significant contributor as a backup safety and special teams player.

Quarterback Zach Mettenberger and cornerback Justin Gilbert were the last minute additions in 2016, with Mettenberger signed off of waivers from the Tennessee Titans and Justin Gilbert acquired via trade with the Browns. Cornerback Ross Cockrell and running back Jordan Todman joined the Steelers well after their fifth preseason game of 2015, and a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars for Josh Scobee was completed only days before their final preseason game of that year.

Although it’s hard to predict which names might be on the chopping block in the coming weeks, players like New Orleans Saints linebacker Manti Teo and Houston Texans linebacker John Simon are potential roster-bubble candidates with their respective clubs who could add some value as depth signings. If the team is looking to add another tight end to the roster, there’s a chance that options such as Maxx Williams of the Baltimore Ravens or Nick O’Leary of the Buffalo Bills could become available in the next few weeks.

Several close battles at punter are also being fought out across the league, so there might be value for the Steelers in examining the potential of those who fail to win their respective contests. The Cleveland Browns have an interesting fight going on between Britt Colquitt and Justin Vogel, while the Houston Texans appear still undecided between the veteran Shane Lechler and the talented, undrafted rookie free agent Trevor Daniel — each of whom might represent an upgrade over Jordan Berry.

The Steelers’ big splash in this cut-down free agency period last year was made possible by a significant amount of cap room at the time, and it’s worth noting that Pittsburgh has far less salary cap space to play with in 2018. With just under $4 million currently available, funds are tight, but there’s always the option of restructuring one or two existing contracts to create the required space.

Long before Vince Williams signed a multi-million-dollar contract with Steelers, he was the star of ‘Hallway linebacker’

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/24/2018 - 7:56am

He may be be a star linebacker in the NFL now, but Vince Williams was once the acting star of his own video in high school.

After signing the third and most lucrative contract of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, Vince Williams has come a long way for a player selected in the sixth round of the NFL draft. But if football hadn’t worked out as it did for Williams, it’s not hard to imagine another career in which he might have excelled.

One of the more outgoing personalities on the team, the former Florida State product might have been equally suitable for a career in front of the camera. Williams gave a more than reasonable impression of WWE wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin when he arrived at training camp a few weeks ago, and it would appear that’s not the only acting role he ever has attempted to pull off over the years.

With the re-emergence of a video on YouTube that Williams probably believed had been forgotten, many fans recently had the chance to watch a relatively unknown film starring the team’s starting inside linebacker. For those who haven’t seen it yet, here’s your opportunity.

Appearing as “Vince Williams - Hallway linebacker,” his version of a series of popular Reebok TV commercials first shown in 2003 featuring “Terry Tate - Office linebacker,” Williams attempts to take on the role made famous by Lester Speight. Handing out his own version of football justice to rule-breakers around Ridge Community High School where he was a student in 2007 when the film was shot, Williams shows a lot of the character that has endeared him to Steelers Nation.

Financially, it was probably a good thing that playing football worked out for Williams in the end, as it’s doubtful anyone would have been willing to pay him $20 million for his acting talent based on his early work. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him working in the media side of football when his playing days are over.

For those who’ve never seen the original videos Williams was trying to replicate, they’re well worth watching.

Mike Tomlin lays out the Steelers’ plan for quarterbacks vs. the Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/24/2018 - 6:35am

Will the Steelers play all four quarterbacks vs. the Titans in Week 3? Mike Tomlin isn’t so sure.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their Week-3 preseason preparations seriously. Not because the outcome of the game means anything, but mainly because they’re simulating an actual regular-season week of preparation.

For the Steelers’ final dress rehearsal, Tomlin outlined how the team plans on deploying his quarterbacks during his weekly press conference.

Ben Roethlisberger will start, followed by Landry Jones. How much will Roethlisberger play? It depends on the quality of the product on the field when the starters are playing.

Knowing who will be the first and second quarterbacks to play, then how will they utilize Joshua Dobbs and Mason Rudolph? If Tomlin knows, he isn’t saying. But if you were to guess, there’s a good chance it will look something like this:

Roethlisberger: 2-3 series
Jones: Remainder of 1st quarter and possibly 2nd quarter
Dobbs/Rudolph: 3rd and 4th quarter separately

The order in which they play Rudolph and Dobbs shouldn’t be over-analyzed, yet likely will still be grist for the comment mill, particularly if Rudolph gets first crack at the Titans before Dobbs in the second half. After a very poor Week-2 quarterback performance, the hope is that all four quarterbacks play well at home and thereby calm some of the fans’ concerns regarding depth at the position.

Stay tuned to BTSC as more information on the playing time of the Steelers’ signal callers comes to light.

Podcast: Are the Steelers done making moves before the regular season?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/24/2018 - 5:34am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers are just weeks away from starting the 2018 season. With a surge of Steelers news, it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

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

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Talking Vince Williams and Chris Boswell new contracts
  • Training Camp True or False!
  • Khalil Mack for Le’Veon Bell straight up?
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out all episodes on our BlogTalkRadio page. If you’re old-school and just want the audio, you can listen to it in the player below. Be sure to follow us on iTunes by searching The Standard is the Standard.

The show is sponsored by Frank Walker Law, the top criminal defense firm to call in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia and home to one of the nation’s top-100 ranked trial attorneys in Frank Walker. For his PA office, call 412-212-3878 or to reach his WV office call 304-712-2089. You should also check out his website frankwalkerlaw.com to see how he can help you in your time of need. Frank Walker Law: Real Talk, Real Experience, Real Results.

Steelers rule out 4 players for Week 3 Preseason game vs. the Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/23/2018 - 3:09pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have most of their starters on the football field this Saturday for the first time this preseason.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the third preseason game of the 2018 preseason, or what has now become known as the final dress rehearsal for the team to prepare for Week 1 of the regular season. In other words, this is the one and only time you will most of the Steelers’ starters before the games really count.

Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference Thursday, and updated who will, and won’t, be in the lineup when the Tennessee Titans come to Heinz Field this Saturday.

Per Tomlin, if players are deemed healthy, they will be playing, in some form or fashion, vs. Tennessee, but don’t expect to see several players on the field due to injury. Here is a list of players who won’t be in uniform Saturday:

Ramon Foster (hyperextended knee)
Xavier Grimble (surgery on hand/wrist)
Mike Hilton
Vance McDonald (foot)

With those players out, here is a list of players who Tomlin said he would “leave the light on” for, meaning they are essentially questionable for the team’s first home preseason game:

Antonio Brown (quad)
Morgan Burnett
Daniel McCullers
T.J. Watt (hamstring)

For those reading this who are frustrated with the lack of participation by Vance McDonald, Tomlin did respond to a question regarding the health of his foot by saying McDonald is close to being a partial participant in practice. If he continues this progression it isn’t out of the realm of possibility he is ready for Week 1 when the Steelers travel to Cleveland to play the Browns in Week 1.

Tomlin did add the starters, including players like Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward and Joe Haden will all see playing time, but how much has yet to be determined.

Stay tuned to BTSC as more information on who is in, and out, vs. the Titans becomes known.

Steelers sign LB Vince Williams to a new 4-year contract

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/23/2018 - 2:12pm

The popular Steelers linebacker agreed to a new deal on Thursday that will keep him in Pittsburgh through the 2021 season

It would appear that kicker Chris Boswell was not the only player with news to celebrate on Thursday after the Pittsburgh Steelers announced another new contract signing. Taking to Twitter once again to officially confirm the news, the Steelers revealed that linebacker Vince Williams had also agreed to a new four year deal.

We have signed LB Vince Williams to a new four-year deal through the 2021 season.

MORE: https://t.co/N0caUSG9G0 pic.twitter.com/AW7eZ1CnS4

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 23, 2018

Originally set to become a free agent after the 2018 season before the extension, Williams is now under contract with Pittsburgh through 2021.

Congrats to client Vince Williams (@VinnyVidiVici98) on signing a 3-Year Extension with the @steelers #TeamISE pic.twitter.com/BQbaas8hFC

— ISE Football (@ISEFootball) August 23, 2018

While terms of the deal have yet to be released, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette is reporting that the contract is worth $20.6 million over four years.

Vince Williams gets $20.6 M over 4 years on new Steelers deal

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) August 23, 2018

Something a fan favorite much like Boswell, the popular linebacker seems pleased to be staying with a fanbase he has so much love for. His desire to remain with the team that drafted him beyond this season was clear earlier in the year when Williams told reporters “I want to die a Pittsburgh Steeler”.

I love y’all ❤️

— Vince Williams (@VinnyVidiVici98) August 23, 2018

Selected by Pittsburgh in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL draft out of Florida State, Williams had something of a breakout season in 2017 after leading all inside linebackers in the league with eight sacks. A model of reliability, Williams has never missed an NFL game due to injury in five years.

Kicker Chris Boswell signs a new 5-year deal with Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/23/2018 - 1:17pm

Chris Boswell signed a contract extension on Thursday that will keep him in Pittsburgh through the 2020 season

The Pittsburgh Steelers might not have been able to reach an agreement with Le’Veon Bell on a new contract this offseason, but it appears they have been able to strike a deal with one of their other unofficial Killer B’s. With an announcement on Twitter, the team officially confirmed an extension for Chris Boswell that will keep him in Pittsburgh through the 2020 season.

We have signed K Chris Boswell to a new five-year deal through the 2022 season.

MORE: https://t.co/IScpM7NVH2 pic.twitter.com/2N95Yi7avr

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 23, 2018

While terms of the contract have yet to be released, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette is reporting the deal is worth as much as $19.72 million over the next five years.

K Chris Boswell signs new 5-year deal with Steelers for $19.72 M, through 2022. He was set to play as RFA for $2.9 million in 2018.

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) August 23, 2018

Originally set set earn $2.914 million in 2018, this new contract will replace the one year deal Boswell signed earlier in the year as a restricted free agent and is effectively a four year extension.

5 more years. #InBozWeTrust pic.twitter.com/RWTTwVzhSG

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 23, 2018

First signed by Pittsburgh in October of the 2015 season, Boswell has become one of the league most dependable kickers since arriving in Pittsburgh. Only 10 of his 95 field attempts for the Steelers have been missed over the past three seasons and he was voted to his first Pro Bowl in 2017.

Predicting another great season for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/23/2018 - 10:28am

When it comes down it, I predict another great season for the black-and-gold, but how it ends is anyone’s guess.

11-5. That’s my prediction for this regular season. Which doesn’t surprise anyone who has known me over the years. It’s my prediction every season. I’ve been doing it for decades. Truth be told, I’m rarely far off. No one, I suspect, predicted 15-1 heading into Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie campaign. Since that time, over the past 13 seasons I’ve been off more than one game just five times.

As Steeler fans we’ve grown accustomed to winning. Since Big Ben’s arrival the Steelers have had exactly zero losing seasons. Of the four seasons that Pittsburgh didn’t make the playoffs, two of them the Steelers were in the running in Week 17. All of which may explain why every year the anticipation of the start of the new season is so intense.

Imagine you were born and raised in Cleveland. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath. It’s just imagination. How excited would you be about a new season? What if this year’s goal was not a Lombardi, not making the playoffs, not a winning season, but winning a game? It’s tough to get all wound up when you are confident you’re going to be let down. Especially when said confidence is grounded in history.

Every off-season I find myself counting down the weeks until the season begins. I’m grateful for the combine, the draft, even OTAs, like the smell of something cooking that’s not quite done. But just like the standard is the standard, the season is the season. We all have entered each one in our memories, going back to 1972, with at least a shot at making the playoffs, if not being a serious Super Bowl contender.

I’ve read, and I get the complaints. We’re consistently not quite the best. Since the glory days multiple teams have more championships than we do. The Patriots. But I don’t buy it. It is a great thing to know, year in and year out, that we are just playing for show, but are playing for The Show.

11-5 will likely put us in the middle of the pack come the playoffs. A little better and we have a shot at a bye and home field. A little worse and we’ll have to march through the playoffs like we did the 2005 season. It’s going to be a good season. It may be one of the all-time greats. It’s a good thing to expect excellence. It’s a bad thing to take it for granted. I’m grateful to have been born in what I believe is the greatest city in the world. I’m grateful to be a part of the greatest team in the world. Coming soon- another memorable season.

T.J. Watt feels he’s ‘healing really nicely’ and looking forward to his return

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/23/2018 - 8:38am

The former first-round draft pick is trying to make sure he doesn’t suffer a setback as he comes back from a hamstring injury.

While fans have seen very little of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top draft pick from 2017 lately after he injured his hamstring just five days into camp, they might not have to wait too much longer to see T.J. Watt back in action.

Speaking to the media after practice on Wednesday, Watt seemed confident he was close to a full return to practice and he appeared pleased with the pace of his recovery. As he told reporters:

“I think I’m ready to go whenever. I feel like my body is coming together really well, I feel like I’m healing really nicely. It’s just a matter of being smart right now, with me and the trainers bouncing ideas off each other and I feel like once I’m ready to go, there won’t be a beat skipped.”

Watt: "I'm healing really nicely." pic.twitter.com/8uxe3o9Zpd

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 22, 2018

Given the nature of his injury, it’s understandable that the coaching staff has been cautious about rushing Watt back onto the practice field, and the young linebacker is more than aware of the dangers of trying to return too soon.

“I think you look at the hamstring injuries that a lot of guys have, and those linger on. When you have that injury, it tends to re-aggravate if you don’t treat it the right way early on. So I think, although it sucks, it’s the best time of year for it to happen just so I can get this fixed and out of the way and just be really smart so it doesn't re-aggravate throughout the season.”

Despite having switched sides to accommodate Bud Dupree, Watt seemed unconcerned about the amount of practice time he missed this offseason. Citing his experiences playing on the other side in college, and his progress on the left early in camp, Watt dismissed any suggestion that missing three weeks of practice was a big deal.

“No, no, not at all. I started off camp doing fine on that side, so I’m not worried about it at all.”

Chris Adamski of TribLive reported that Watt was a more active participant in practice on Wednesday after he was seen in pads doing individual drills. However, he was still held out of team drills later in the session.

It seems highly unlikely that Watt will be joining his teammates to face the Tennessee Titans on Saturday afternoon, but fans should keep their fingers crossed that he might yet be cleared to play against the Carolina Panthers the following Friday.

Throwback Thursday: Victory and mutiny in the Music City

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/23/2018 - 6:32am

BTSC remembers a past tangle with the Tennessee Titans.

It’s time again to climb into the BTSC Delorean to revisit a Steelers’ game from yesteryear. I’m gathering that less plutonium will be necessary this time around as we won’t be stretching the space-time continuum as far back as usual. With the Steelers playing a preseason game against Tennessee this weekend, let’s venture back to a time when chocolate makers were warning of an upcoming shortage, President Obama was dealing with criticism of his Obamacare, Dumb and Dumber 2 (for some odd reason) was No. 1 at the box office, and music listeners weren’t turning off Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. Meanwhile, the Steelers were 6-4 and coming off of a debilitating loss to Michael Vick and the Jets. But in the two previous weeks, Ben had twelve TD passes vs zero interceptions. Fighting for a playoff berth, the trip to take on the 2-8 Titans was still crucial for a team that had suffered some letdowns against lesser teams.

On the Steelers’ initial drive, Le’Veon Bell did all of the heavy lifting. The second-year back had 35 yards on six carries. But the series stalled on the 31, leading to a Shaun Suisham kick from 48 yards. After the touchback, a play by two future Steelers resulted in more Pittsburgh points. Rookie Zach Mettenberger and second-year man Justin Hunter (selected before Bell the year before) tried to team up for a completion on first down. But William Gay (tied all-time for Pittsburgh pick-sixes) thieved the eight-yard attempt and sauntered into the enemy end zone for the TD. Just like that, it was 10-0 in favor of the Steelers.

Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Mettenberger and the Titans would regroup right away. In only five plays, WR Kendall Wright, RB Bishop Sankey and Brice McCain’s face-mask penalty combined for all of the yards prior to Sankey’s TD from nine-yards away. The Steelers’ lead was cut to three at 10-7.

The scoring continued on the next two drives. Behind the running of Bell and passes from Ben Roethlisberger to Martavis Bryant, Heath Miller and Antonio Brown...the Steelers reached the Titans’ 5-yard line before settling for a short Suisham field goal of 23 yards. Whisenhunt’s Titans countered with Shon Greene, Dexter McCluster and Wright to get them into position to take the lead, but Will Allen and Mike Mitchell stopped Sankey on the two. Tennessee settled for a Ryan Succop 20-yard boot. With 11:13 left in the second quarter and no punts, the score was 13-10 in Pittsburgh’s favor.

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

After both teams went 3-and-out, Roethlisberger took his team on a long drive that spanned nearly seven minutes. From the Titans’ 19-yard line, Ben looked for AB across the middle. But instead of a TD to make the score 20-10 at the half, Jason McCourty picked off the pass for a touchback. On the very next play, with :35 left in the half, Mettenberger found former Steeler Nate Washington for 80 yards and a score. Gay was burned badly on the play. Tennessee led at halftime, 17-13.

To start the third quarter, both teams punted the ball away. On the second drive of the half, the Music City club scored again after an 11-play drive concluding with a Mettenberger scoring strike to TE Chase Coffman. With the tally 24-13, Mike Tomlin’s club looked to be in trouble. But they answered the Titans when they got the ball back. Bell ran for 52 yards on a drive that included a 5-yard TD romp that Whisenhunt challenged and lost. Juice’s score made it 24-20 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Steelers defense rose up behind Vince Williams, James Harrison, Will Allen and Cam Heyward to force a 3-and-out. The Killer B’s then took over as Bell went wild on the ground and also with help from passes by Big Ben. With 9:01 left in the contest, No. 7 found AB for a twelve-yard score and a 27-24 lead.

Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Even though the clock hadn’t quite surpassed 12 o’clock, it struck midnight and the Titans’ glass slipper was smashed into tiny pieces when Mike Mitchell and Jason Worilds combined for a tackle of Darian Hagan on third down. Tennessee could only amass 16 yards in 2:02 and was forced to punt again. The Steelers took over with 6:58 left in the Nashville night.

Behind 50 yards by Bell on the drive, Pittsburgh ran out the clock and escaped with the win. Bell ended the night with 204 yards on the ground, while Brown (nine catches for 91 yards) and Heath Miller (five catches for 71 yards) led the receiving corps. But the following day, another key stat line dominated the headlines.

LeGarrette Blount’s zero yards on zero attempts enraged the Steelers’ running back, so much that he stormed off of the field in protest before the game concluded. No. 27 had celebrated with Bell earlier on a mock selfie, but when his team was draining the clock...he was angry about being called to rush only once.

As for me, I was puzzled by Blount’s exclusion from the game plan, but I agreed with the team for releasing him the next day for insubordination, mostly because his teammates were fed up with his increasingly negative presence in the locker room. Some had been calling for his dismissal weeks before as well. Looking back, though, I’ve slightly changed my tune regarding Blount. While I still disagree with the negative attitude and his insubordination, I feel like my team mismanaged the carries load for most of that season and others. Blount’s departure helped win a Super Bowl for New England and crippled the Steelers when Bell went down.

The win did help propel the Steelers into the playoffs and I felt jubilation. But the Blount news also made me feel that the night in Nashville might be the downfall of that season as well.

CBS announces its broadcast pairings for calling Steelers’ Week 1-4 games

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/23/2018 - 5:37am

Check out who Pittsburgh Steelers fans will hear on the network telecasts during the first quarter of the 2018 regular season.

If you’re like me, you care about who is doing the play-by-play and color commentary for the Pittsburgh Steelers games. As someone who lives outside the Pittsburgh area, I don’t have the luxury of muting the TV and switching to Bill Hillgrove and Tunch Ilkin on the radio side.

This has caused me to have genuine concern and interest in who’s going to call the Steelers’ games every week. When you get the ‘D’ or ‘F’ squad, you can bet it’s going to be a rough day.

CBS, the home network for AFC games, has announced its broadcast pairings for the 2018 regular season, and also announced who will be calling which game the first quarter of the regular season.

Here are the broadcast pairings:

Jim Nantz/Tony Romo/Tracy Wolfson
Ian Eagle/Dan Fouts//Evan Washburn
Greg Gumbel/Trent Green/Bruce Arians//Melanie Collins
Kevin Harlan/Rich Gannon//Steve Tasker
Andrew Catalon/James Lofton
Spero Dedes/Adam Archuleta
Tom McCarthy/Steve Beuerlein
Beth Mowins/Jay Feely

As for the Steelers, here is who will be covering their games early in the regular season:

Week 1: Pittsburgh at Cleveland

Announcers: Greg Gumbel/Trent Green/Bruce Arians//Melanie Collins

Week 2: Kansas City at Pittsburgh

Announcers: Ian Eagle/Dan Fouts//Evan Washburn

Week 3: Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay

Monday Night Football

Week 4: Baltimore at Pittsburgh

Sunday Night Football

So, Week 1 will have the return of Bruce Arians, Steelers’ former offensive coordinator, as Pittsburgh goes against the Browns and Todd Haley, former offensive coordinator, while Randy Fichtner, current offensive coordinator, tries to win his first game as a play-caller at the professional level.

If they can get all three together for a chat prior to the game, there might be some good story-telling going on — or it could just be extremely awkward.

Other than that, it’s noteworthy the Steelers don’t get the Nantz/Romo team in the early portion of the season, something that some fans cherish, while others despise.

Where do you stand on the announcers? Do you care, or do you have a preference? Let us know in the comment section below!

Predicting the Steelers 53-man roster and 11-man practice squad

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/22/2018 - 9:27pm

Who will make the final cut and who else will get the opportunity to stay with the team for potential call-up?

The start of the regular season is less than three weeks away for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Just as prior to the NFL draft, experts and the bloggers alike are churning out their projections for the players making the Steelers’ final 53-man roster. Most, though, don’t tackle the in-depth aspect, nor the 10 or 11-man practice squad — but this article will.

The only cut-down day for the NFL follows the last preseason game — it’s quickly approaching and less than two weeks away. While many current Steelers are stone-cold locks, others are sitting atop the roster bubble. Ninety players are currently on the roster, but 30 of them never were viewed as having a legit shot at making the final roster in the first place. These players were mainly hoping to impress enough that they’d be viewed as development-worthy and thereby land on the practice squad. In my opinion, a minimum of 50 players have locked down their roster spots, and another handful are locks to make the practice squad.

Every season there’s a surprise player who makes the roster — typically a player who also draws the ire of armchair Steelers’ GMs. Let’s look at how the projected, final roster and practice squad shake out:

Quarterbacks (3/53)

Ben Roethlisberger: Steelers fans are keeping their collective fingers crossed that he can stay healthy in the next preseason game.

Landry Jones: The Jones detractors will wait another year for his departure from the Steelers. Given the struggles of the other two quarterbacks, Jones was the only realistic choice to back up Big Ben.

Mason Rudolph: If Rudolph was a sixth-rounder would he make the team? Game-day inactive.

Tight Ends (6/53)

Vance McDonald: McDonald has had a myriad of injuries throughout his career but he can be a game-changer when he gets onto the field.

Jesse James: James is everything that McDonald is not. Slow, a mediocre blocker, great hands and not a health risk.

Bucky Hodges: The injury to Xavier Grimble opens the door for the athletic move tight end. Pittsburgh could stash Grimble on injured reserve which would pave the way for Hodges.

Running Backs / Fullbacks (10/53)

Le’Veon Bell: Bell is currently participating in his own training camp away from the team. The 2018 season will be his farewell tour — will it be a successful one?

James Conner: Conner has shown improvement in his pass-catching game and he’s busting arm tackles left and right. He looks to be shaping up as a competent backup. His poor pass-blocking skills will limit his time on the field and the coaches’ trust.

Fitzgerald Toussaint: Rookie Jaylen Samuels has shown next to nothing so far this preseason while Toussaint has shown his versatility on offense and special teams.

Roosevelt Nix: Will he see more than 181 snaps on offense?

Wide Receivers (16/53)

Antonio Brown: Will take the field looking to claim a sixth straight Pro Bowl selection.

JuJu Smith-Schuster: JuJu outperformed everyone’s expectations last season and has shined again this preseason. The main question is how deep into the season it’ll be before he tops the 1000-yard mark.

James Washington: Washington has made one fantastic catch after another this preseason. What will his role be and how often will he see the field?

Darrius Heyward-Bey: DHB continues his Steelers career as a special-teams ace (can you believe this is his fifth season?).

Damoun Patterson: Patterson has to continue his ascent up the depth chart. He’s just depth for the time being and he’ll be a game-day inactive.

Marcus Tucker: Solid special-teams value while serving as the backup slot wideout.

Offensive Line (25/53)

Alejandro Villanueva: AV will never be confused to with a top-notch LT in the NFL, but neither is he a liability.

Ramon Foster: 2018 might well be his last season with the Steelers. Keep your fingers crossed that he stays healthy and doesn’t continue his poor 2017 form.

Maurkice Pouncey: One of the top-5 consistent and versatile centers in the league.

David DeCastro: Arguably the top right tackle in the NFL.

Marcus Gilbert: Has something to prove this year after serving a suspension last season and then dealing with injuries afterwards.

B.J. Finney: The top interior backup lineman for Pittsburgh is scheduled to become a free agent in 2018. Will he prove enough in 2018 to earn an extension and compete for a starting role?

Chukwuma Okorafor: The 2018 rookie has looked better than expected so far, but has that been enough to warrant being promoted to Swing Tackle?

Matt Feiler: Many BTSC fans thought, heading into training camp, he’d compete for Swing Tackle duties, but this hasn’t been the case. Game-day inactive.

To be determined: Okorafor has been OK, but not solid enough to be handed the Swing Tackle position in 2018. Pitt ends up trading for or signing a final-cut offensive tackle to man the Swing Tackle position.

Specialists (28/53)

Chris Boswell: The only question about Boswell is whether he’ll land a long-term extension before the start of the season.

Kameron Canaday: Yup, he’s a long snapper.

Jordan Berry: Berry is on shaky ground with his poor performance against the Green Bay Packers — but his competition is worse. There’s a reason why journeyman Matt Wile has 12 punts in his 3-year NFL career (is Wile a punter or a kicker?).

Cornerbacks (34/53)

Joe Haden: Haden hasn’t been, nor resembled a Pro Bowler, since his arrival — will he be able to return to that form?

Artie Burns: Training camp reports have the oft-maligned Burns with a solid offseason after grading out as Pro Football Focus’ forty-sixth overall cornerback (above average) in the NFL in 2017. But can he cut down on the number of big plays he gave up last season which attracts the ire of fans?

Mike Hilton: Hilton has found a home with the Steelers and he’s blown fans’ minds with his solid play in 2017. That brand of play has continued during the 2018 preseason games.

Cameron Sutton: Sutton has appeared to have moved to the backup slot-cornerback role. The fact that he’s been getting looks at safety might be intended to showcase his versatility, or perhaps might indicate a lack faith by the coaches in his capability to man the cornerback position.

Coty Sensabaugh: He was terrible in 2017 but he’s done enough so far in training camp and preseason to deserve a spot.

Brian Allen: He hasn’t embarrassed himself so far this preseason and deserves a spot on the 53-man roster. Game-day inactive.

Outside Linebackers (39/53)

Bud Dupree: The upcoming year will be make-or-break for Dupree. Switching sides with Watt seems to be helping productivity, but will it continue?

T.J. Watt: The BTSC faithful are predicting 10-plus sacks in 2018. But will his hamstring injury stunt his growth from his productive 2017 campaign?

Anthony Chickillo: Chick has NFL starting experience — that goes a long way in keeping his roster spot, even with his poor preseason showing so far.

Olasunkanmi Adeniyi: The undrafted rookie has made as many good plays as mistakes, but the potential is there. He’ll have to produce on special teams to remain active on game days.

Keion Adams: The only reason Adams makes the 53-man roster is because no one else has jumped up and taken his spot away. Game-day inactive.

Inside Linebackers (43/53)

Vince Williams: VW is a 2-down thumper who will have his snap totals reduced from 75% in 2017. His liability in coverage will keep him rushing the passer where he was effective, generating eight sacks.

Jon Bostic: Bostic has flashed his run-stopping ability but has been criticized for blowing coverage assignments. Will he show why he was a former second-round pick, or perhaps why he’s on his fourth team in five years? At least he’s nailed down one of the starting ILB positions — for now.

Tyler Matakevich: Does he deserve a spot on the 53-man roster? No — but there just isn’t any other viable option.

Matthew Thomas: PFF graded Thomas (86.7) as the second highest Steelers’ defender against the Packers in the last preseason game. His biggest impact will come on special teams.

Safeties (47/53)

Sean Davis: The former second-round pick will enter a crucial season, and not an easy one, as he’ll switch positions at safety. Davis’ tackling issues will be scrutinized, as he’ll often be the last line of defense between offensive players and touchdowns.

Morgan Burnett: The first-year free agent has made his presence known with his box play so far in preseason. But the question will be how much of an upgrade he’ll be over Mike Mitchell, and that question will need to be answered early in the season.

Terrell Edmunds: There had been hopes that Edmunds would push Davis for playing time, but cold water was tossed on this chatter after Edmunds gave up two relatively easy touchdowns to Green Bay’s tight ends. Will Edmunds only see snaps in dime packages or in the event of injuries?

Nat Behre: BTSC fans are critical of Behre for getting turned around on an 82-yard touchdown during the Packers game — and rightfully so. Fans need to realize that the Steelers didn’t bring him in because of his play-making ability at safety but, rather, his special-teams prowess.

Defensive Line (53/53)

Cameron Heyward: Heyward’s double-digit sack total last season was the first of his career and most of any Steeler in 2017. Only injury or double teams could hinder him from repeating.

Stephon Tuitt: Tuitt has recovered from a 2017 Week-1 torn bicep that sapped his effectiveness throughout the season. The pressure will be on him to live up to the $60 million extension he signed in 2017.

Javon Hargrave: “Gravedigger” isn’t a flashy player — a nose tackle being noticed is a bad thing. He does need to do a better job of holding the point of attack better against the run in 2018.

Tyson Alualu: Alualu is one player that Steelers fans would like to see on the field more. His four sacks in 434 snaps were a pleasant surprise.

L.T. Walton: Even though Walton started four games in 2016, he returned to a distant backup role in 2017. That role will not change in 2018.

Daniel McCullers: “Shade Tree” is having a solid camp and he’s primed to stay with the team for another season. Steelers fans want to see an upgrade from him, but based on his preseason play, this won’t be the year. Game-day inactive.

11-man practice squad

OT Jake Rodgers

OG Oni Omoile

WR Justin Thomas

WR Trey Griffey

RB Jaylen Samuels

TE Christian Scotland-Williamson (International Practice Squad Program)

NT Joshua Frazier

LB Matt Galumbus

LB Farrington Huguenin

CB Jamar Summers

S Marcus Allen

Will any of those end-of-roster players you’ve been cheering on for months make it? Or will they be looking to start their next profession? Steelers fans will find out the answer no later than 4 PM EST on September 1.

NFL Competition Committee decides to keep ‘Helmet Rule’ in place

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/22/2018 - 3:59pm

The NFL had a chance to change the rule, but decided to keep it in place for the 2018 season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are not the only team, or fan base, scratching their heads regarding the new NFL ‘Helmet Rule’. Throughout the first two weeks of the preseason, there have been more than enough instances where flags were thrown.

Some were justifiable, and others, like Coty Sensabaugh’s penalty vs. the Packers in Week 2, had fans and player infuriated.

And these games don’t even count.

The Competition Committee met Wednesday via conference call and had a chance to change the rule, or alter it, and decided to keep it as is.

Here is the official released from the NFL:

Statement from @NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations @TroyVincent23 pic.twitter.com/mSIUb8C26p

— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) August 22, 2018

So, the league decided instant replay should not be used regarding an illegal hit infraction, but did add any inadvertent or incidental contact with the helmet and/or facemask is not a foul.

There is a strong chance the league is throwing a lot of flags in the preseason, in an attempt to curtail that style of hit, while they will be much more reserved in the regular season. Nonetheless, with the “inadvertent” and “incidental” verbiage used, how would two officials who see the same play, yet view it differently, decide on what should be called?

Buckle up folks, this rule isn’t going anywhere, and just wait until there is a flag at a critical moment in a big game dealing with this rule...there will be fireworks.

Ben Roethlisberger responds to Jalen Ramsey’s comments

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/22/2018 - 1:29pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback took the high road when referring to Jalen Ramsey’s controversial comments recently.

The Jacksonville Jaguars defense is good, there is no denying that, and cornerback Jalen Ramsey is a large part of that unit.

He is as arrogant as he is good, and with talent like that you can afford to say some things others players might be crucified for. So, when Ramsey did an interview with GQ magazine ripping NFL quarterbacks to pieces, it made waves.

No one was safe from Ramsey’s comments, including two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger. Ramsey said the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback was “decent at best” and was unimpressed when the Jaguars beat the Steelers twice, both at Heinz Field, in 2017.

During his media session Wednesday, Roethlisberger was asked what he thought about Ramsey’s comments. See what he said, while taking the high road:

Ben Roethlisberger calls Jalen Ramsey a "fantastic player" who "has the right to say whatever he wants." pic.twitter.com/ImpqMNkniX

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) August 21, 2018

Roethlisberger might say all the right things to the media, but if you’ve followed his career you know the last portion of his statement is what matters most.

“I think we play them at some point...”

Come on. I would venture to say even without Ramsey’s comments, Roethlisberger and the rest of his teammates have had the Sunday Night Week 11 meeting in Jacksonville circled on their calendars for a long time.

Again, Roethlisberger says the right things, but deep down he is likely itching to get a shot at Ramsey and the Jaguars’ defense. Luckily for football fans, this game in 2018 will be on national television, and in prime time, for all to see.

Let’s just hope Roethlisberger and the Steelers are the ones with the last laugh.

This could be Keith Butler’s final attempt to right the Steelers’ defensive ship

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/22/2018 - 11:33am

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Keith Butler have displayed impressive loyalty to each other during Butler’s tenure, and the time has come for that investment to pay off.

Many of life’s decisions are like tearing off a Band-aid — you know it’s going to hurt, so better do it quickly and get it over with than draw out the pain. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been faced with a couple of these decisions over the past few seasons but, so far, have shown an inability to commit to meaningful change.

The Steelers’ organization has famously been resistant to change, and I’m not referring to the form of currency jingling around in your pocket. How else do you explain only three head coaches in nearly fifty years? They’ve sustained a culture of excellence during the last half-century by adhering to an unwavering set of values and ideals. No knee-jerk reactions for this franchise. First they try to identify the problem, then attempt to address it accordingly.

But the Steelers need to realize that not all change is bad. It isn’t a sign of weakness or surrender. The unavoidable truth is that change often is a necessity for improvement. The Steelers’ quest this season for a 7th Lombardi Trophy will hinge on decisions made recently concerning coordinators on both sides of the ball. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and defensive coordinator Keith Butler were both promoted from within the organization in an effort to achieve continuity, but that’s where the similarities end. While Fichtner’s promotion feels like a natural progression in the offense’s continued evolution, Butler’s ascension still feels more like the team trying to fulfill an obligation.

The offense never reached its prolific potential last season, which made the Steelers’ decision to part ways with former OC Todd Haley an easy one after his contract ran out at season’s end. Fichtner had already developed a strong relationship with Big Ben from his time as quarterbacks coach, and the Steelers were only aiming to tweak the offense — not needing any general overhaul.

So far, so good with this decision. The offense has looked sharp throughout training camp and during the majority of both preseason games. Steelers Nation is understandably psyched out of their minds to see Ben Roethlisberger at the helm of an offense tailored to his liking and under his control. With a little luck and relatively good health, this offense should be a championship-caliber unit. No major changes on offense are expected but, truthfully, none is warranted.

The defensive side of the ball is another matter entirely. First let me say that the Steelers’ loyalty to Keith Butler is mutual and admirable. Butler has been a valuable contributor to the coaching staff going on 15 years. The first 11 years as linebackers coach, then the last three as defensive coordinator after replacing the legendary Dick LeBeau. Butler was considered the heir-apparent to replace LeBeau for years and the Steelers seemed committed to promoting Butler whenever the ageless wonder LeBeau decided to hang up the whistle and clipboard.

The problem was that LeBeau didn’t get the memo — he wasn’t going anywhere. To his credit, Butler remained patient and loyal to LeBeau and the Steelers. The Steelers value this type of integrity in their employees.

After a 2014 season during which the defense was labeled as ‘old and slow,’ many thought the game had bypassed LeBeau. He was accused of being too loyal to his veteran players and too slow in developing young talent. Lebeau resigned after the season and Butler was finally promoted to coordinator as promised. The only problem for Lebeau’s longtime protege was that he inherited an aging defense in dire need of an overhaul.

The Steelers were definitely aware of this situation, but what were they supposed to do? Their hands were tied. When they committed to Butler they did so with the mindset that he would seamlessly continue the trend of superior Steelers defenses as a LeBeau disciple. But they also had to be questioning if they even wanted to implement the same defensive concepts. Maybe it would be better to bring in a fresh face with new ideas, but they didn’t have that option. Not without betraying core values they hold dear.

The results have been a mixed bag of good and bad. Last season, the defense led the league with 56 sacks, a Steelers’ record. They have gotten younger overall and have improved defensive team speed. They’re no longer considered old and slow. But that’s about the extent of the good news.

Quite honestly, this group struggles with run-defense because they can’t tackle. This trait also results in a variety of big plays being given up in the passing game. We keep hearing that it’s a “want-to” issue, but if it’s not rectified soon, it might actually prove to be a talent problem.

To be fair, the defensive inadequacies aren't entirely Butler's fault. There have been multiple misses on high-round defensive draft picks, plus, of course, the devastating injury to Shazier. While not all of the defense's struggles are Butler's fault, they are his responsibilities.

So instead of relieving Coach Butler of his position this offseason, which many felt was warranted after the horrendous post-season performance against Jacksonville, the team brought in a couple of new position coaches and focused on improving the talent level, mainly at the safety position.

Results thus far have been unimpressive to say the least, but we’ve yet to see the complete squad in action, nor have we witnessed a game plan being installed or any new coverage schemes implemented. You don't show your hand during the preseason — you wait until the games really matter.

But the defense still appears to have a glaring hole in the middle and it appears Butler might be forced to pull a rabbit out of his hat to fill it. Hopefully, the Steelers will add a talented player or two after final roster cuts. Good luck and no pressure — just the entire Steelers Nation watching and counting on you to succeed.

Film Room: Jon Bostic leaves much to be desired in coverage

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/22/2018 - 9:50am

Jon Bostic is a solid run-defender, but his coverage leaves much to be desired.

When Jon Bostic signed with the Steelers in the offseason, we knew they were getting a solid defender who offered the run-support they needed up the middle. Bostic showed off those instincts in the first preseason game vs. the Eagles when he made lots of plays on ball carriers, but he had little or no impact in the pass game. Bostic has now had two rather sub-par games in coverage and that was somewhat expected from him.

He had a very up-and-down game against the Eagles, with good and bad moments. Against the Packers, he didn’t do much defending the run and had some terrible gaffes in pass defense. We knew pass coverage was his weak spot — it always has been — and it’s partly the reason why the Colts let him walk, what with their scheme change looming ahead. Much of that profile has remained constant during his short game experience with the Steelers. We see his instincts as a run-stopper, while also seeing his lack of coverage instincts. His awareness in coverage is very questionable and his depth is a big issue. Vince Williams is at least aware in coverage, but he fails to understand coverage depth.

First, I want to outline a common theme you see with Bostic throughout both preseason games in run-defense. You’ll see him avoid blockers all the time, but he’ll often wash himself out of the play. So he’s got the instincts to avoid blockers, but his field-vision and awareness are lacking.

I said Bostic gets washed out of run plays a few times. He really does. Sometimes it's because of himself. He knows how to avoid blockers but he takes himself straight out of the play. He does this far too often, he has to get better in his awareness of where the ball carrier is. pic.twitter.com/qgAN1v07Ge

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 18, 2018

You can see him avoid the second-level blocker with a really nice dip and rip through, which, if he was near the ball carrier, would be great. But doing that in the position where he was washed him straight out of the play. This is exactly what you don’t want to do as a linebacker. Bostic has to do this while maintaining the proper field-vision, and you saw him do that on his explosive tackles for losses against the Eagles. But it would be nice if he could do this much more consistently. What he needs to learn is to engage the blocker, drag the blocker with him towards the ball carrier, and then disengage to make the tackle. That technique will ensure he makes more stops for minimal gain in the run-defense.

In coverage, though, Bostic was lost.

Bostic is lost on this play. He just looks lost on the whole play. He's gotta cut otf Goedert in the back there, instead he comes down. Bostic doesn't have great awareness in coverage at all, he needs to fix his coverage issues because they're big. pic.twitter.com/h1wz90aQH8

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 18, 2018

Bostic needs to cut off the adjustment Goedert makes, not allowing him to get so open. But instead, he comes down with no support behind him for the coverage. Edmunds has to keep to the sideline for both the running back and the possibility of the modified route to the corner. Bostic thus needs to keep his depth and take away Goedert as an option until he gets support behind him — then he needs to take the launch towards Sudfeld. The lack of awareness of depth and responsibility in coverage is partially why Bostic worries me so much when he’s thrown into coverage. He has to learn his responsibility on these plays to avoid being a complete liability in coverage. Bostic looks lost on this play and he also did a few times against the Green Bay Packers. It includes both his lack of awareness of depth plus the lack of seeing the field as a whole for his assignment.

Can someone tell me what in the world Jon Bostic is doing here? Completely lost in coverage as he takes the seam for no reason and leaves that out wide open. pic.twitter.com/458gwT81d3

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 17, 2018

This look, by coverage standards would be called cover 2 man. That means that in the Steelers’ scheme, the two deep safeties are going to be using a coverage concept known as “palms”. That simply means they give safety support on both deep portions of the field. That is one of the concepts Keith Butler has kept from the Dick LeBeau days. Underneath the play is all man coverage, Bostic here is responsible for Ty Montogomery. Once he sees the motion out, Bostic should immediately start to slightly move towards that side to get to the potential out quicker. Instead of doing this, he takes the seam for no reason. It could have been miscommunication, but his job is never to take the seam. The reason he slightly should have moved over to cover that potential out, was so he would not potentially get tangled and can make a line to the receiver. Obviously, he either missed his assignment or gets tangled up in the routes, regardless both are inexcusable. Bostic can not be this lost in coverage.

Bostic and VW both guilty. Bostic has no reason to be so far off the checkdown. VW doesn't get enough depth on the seam and allows it to become open, can't play spots. pic.twitter.com/QErBqwEpgn

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 17, 2018

This is a zone-coverage look by the Steelers. Aside from the depth gaffe by Vince Williams, who should have trailed the seam much further up, Bostic also has a depth issue. He has the middle of the field and must account for both the check-down and slot receiver to the left on the screen. But he seemingly falls way too far back into the zone for the slot man and he would have given up a much bigger gain on that check-down than what should happen. Depth discipline and awareness of your zone are keys to being a good coverage linebacker, and Bostic struggles on both accounts. To truly be the undisputed, best option next to Vince Williams, Bostic must improve in these areas if he aims to show why he should be the starter come Week 1.

Predicting the Pittsburgh Steelers 53-man roster 3.0

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/22/2018 - 8:11am

The Steelers are heading into their third preseason game, and it’s time to make our latest prediction for the team’s 53-man roster.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are done with training camp and are headed into Week 3 of the preseason. It’s time to take a look at our third prediction on who will make the team’s 53-man roster when the preseason has concluded.

For those who follow the website closely, this third prediction will still show changes made at positions. If you see a player’s name crossed out, it means they were on a previous prediction and were replaced/cut. Often a new player could replace another player.

This is the third of four predictions, one per week, and you can feel free to let us know what you think about this, and all our predictions, in the comment section below!

53-man Roster Prediction 3.0

Quarterbacks (3/53)

Ben Roethlisberger
Landry Jones
Joshua Dobbs
Mason Rudolph

Tight Ends (6/53)

Jesse James
Vance McDonald
Xavier Grimble

Running Backs / Fullbacks (11/53)

Le’Veon Bell
James Conner
Jaylen Samuels
Fitzgerald Toussaint
Roosevelt Nix

Wide Receivers (16/53)

Antonio Brown
JuJu Smith-Schuster
James Washington
Darrius Heyward-Bey
Justin Hunter
Damoun Patterson
Marcus Tucker

Offensive Line (24/53)

Alejandro Villanueva
Ramon Foster
Maurkice Pouncey
David DeCastro
Marcus Gilbert
B.J. Finney
Chukwuma Okorafor
Matt Feiler

Specialists (27/53)

Chris Boswell
Cameron Kanaday
Jordan Berry

Cornerbacks (33/53)

Joe Haden
Artie Burns
Mike Hilton
Cameron Sutton
Brian Allen
Deshaun Phillips
Coty Sensabaugh

Outside Linebackers (38/53)

Bud Dupree
T.J. Watt
Anthony Chickillo
Keion Adams
Olasunkanmi Adeniyi

Inside Linebackers (43/53)

Vince Williams
Jon Bostic
Tyler Matakevich
Matthew Thomas
L.J. Fort

Safeties (47/53)

Sean Davis
Morgan Burnett
Terrell Edmunds
Marcus Allen

Defensive Line (53/53)

Cameron Heyward
Stephon Tuitt
Javon Hargrave
Tyson Alualu
L.T. Walton
Daniel McCullers
Joshua Frazier

Why Roethlisberger’s seemingly slow start in 2017 may have been overstated

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/22/2018 - 6:35am

Ben Roethlisberger didn’t get off to the best start in 2017, but Football Outsiders explains why this point of view might have been mistaken.

When Pittsburgh Steelers fans think back to the beginning of the 2017 regular season, several thoughts likely go through their heads. Le’Veon Bell’s late arrival and slow start might top the list, but Ben Roethlisberger’s struggles in the early going might also be a talking point.

In Weeks 1-4, Roethlisberger didn’t sniff the 300-yard passing plateau, and overall just didn’t seem to find his groove. This was capped off with the dreadful Jacksonville Jaguars game in Week 5 when Roethlisberger did eclipse the 300-yard mark, but had to throw the ball 55 times to do so.

Oh, and he also threw five interceptions in the process.

Steelers fans across the globe were hitting the panic button with force and regularity, so when I had the opportunity to ask Bryan Knowles of Football Outsiders some Black-and-gold questions, I had to ask him about Roethlisberger’s early season struggles last year.

Here is what he said:

His “rough start” was somewhat overblown, to be honest with you. Roethlisberger’s DVOA from Weeks 1-4 (so, right up until the Jaguars game) was 21.9%. His DVOA from Weeks 6-17 (so, right after the Jaguars game) was 27.7% -- better, but not exactly a gigantic improvement. His two worst games of the year came in the first five weeks – Jacksonville and Chicago – but his most efficient game of the year by DVOA was Week 2 against Minnesota; while 23-for-35 for 243 yards and a couple touchdowns doesn’t jump off the page at you, it’s the most efficient performance anyone had against the stingy Vikings defense in the regular season. Basically, the Jaguars implosion and Roethlisberger’s post-game “maybe I don’t have it” comments makes his first month or so seem worse than it was.

His DVOA during that Jaguars game was -21.3%, which ranked ninth out of the 16 quarterbacks who started against the Jaguars last year. Jacksonville made a lot of people look foolish last year, though, admittedly, the list of the quarterbacks Big Ben did better than isn’t exactly a who’s-who of great quarterbacks (Joe Flacco, anyone? DeShone Kizer? T.J. Yates?).

That doesn’t mean there aren’t splits we can notice here. In Weeks 1-5, Roethlisberger was throwing deeper and his receivers were getting less yards after the catch than in Weeks 6-17. Some of that is the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster as he replaced Martavis Bryant as the second target. Play selection improved as well – for instance, the Steelers threw 15 wide receiver screens in Weeks 1-5, and just 16 in Weeks 6-16. The Steelers’ three worst routes last season were running back screens, receiver screens and dig routes, and they used each less later in the season.

In my opinion, this explanation and statistical analysis, not only of Roethlisberger’s start, but also of why the offense might not have been up to snuff early in the season is tremendous. While the perception of Roethlisberger having a slow start might have been a bit overblown, it’s great to put some statistical context behind the narrative.

Updated odds make Colts the new favorites to sign Le’Veon Bell in 2019

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/22/2018 - 5:28am

If you think you know where Le’Veon Bell will be playing his football next year, the bookmakers are prepared to let you put your money where you mouth is

With Le’Veon Bell seemingly quite likely to be playing football for a team not named the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019, it’s no surprise to discover the oddsmakers are already taking bets on where he’ll end up next year. The New York Jets were installed as the initial favorites when the market opened earlier in the offseason, but it would appear we now have a new favorite just halfway through the 2018 preseason.

Odds for which team Le'Veon Bell will be on for Week 1 of the 2019 regular season (@BovadaOfficial):

Colts +375
Jets +400
Steelers +400
Lions +550
Browns +500
Texans +600
Raiders +1000
Cardinals +1200
Bills +1500

— OddsShark (@OddsShark) August 19, 2018

Based on the odds from Bovada.lv, the Indianapolis Colts are the new favorites to sign Bell next season, while pushing the Jets down to second favorites along with Pittsburgh. The Steelers’ price hasn’t changed from their initial offering.

The Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns have also seen their odds shorten from an early line of +600, as have the Houston Texans who were previously listed at +700 and the Oakland Raiders who were originally at +900. The Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills are the only two teams on the list to have drifted in the betting from +1100 and +1200 respectively.

There can be little dispute that Bell would represent an upgrade at running back for all of the teams named among the favorites, although it would be fair to question the value for the Bills and the Cardinals, given the talents they’ve already got at the position.

Pairing Bell with T.Y. Hilton and a healthy Andrew Luck would give the Colts an impressive trio on offense, and they certainly appear to have the funds to afford him — projected to have more $62 million in available salary cap space in 2019 according to OverTheCap.com. However, Indianapolis doesn’t seem like a big enough market for the football player/rapper, so signing with a team like the New York Jets is probably more likely for Bell next year.

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