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The real villain in the Steelers’ 2020 late season collapse

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 02/19/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

If you want a scape goat, the stats are here to hand you one.

First off, I want to be clear that J.C. Hassenauer is not the reason the Steelers were bad down the stretch. I’m not going after him personally. He’s a hard working young man who has earned his spot in the NFL.

He was a top high school center and a big recruit to Alabama, but there he was overshadowed by all the other talent on their line and was a backup his whole career. He stepped in as a replacement starter in his senior year and won SEC offensive lineman of the week for his work. He played key games down the stretch including the bowl win over Clemson to reach the championship game, and the championship win over Georgia. He went undrafted in 2018, got cut from the Falcons, played in the AAF and turned that into a roster spot with the Steelers.

If his career track to this point says anything about the 25 year old interior lineman, this season will not define his career.

So why is his picture featured on a post citing the real villain of the Steelers collapse? Because the stats paint a picture that is too clear to ignore.

No one correlates to the Steelers offensive failures like J.C. Hassenauer does. Hassenauer played 25% or more of offensive snaps in 5 of the Steelers 17 games this past season. In those 5 games the Steelers offense scored a combined 90 points. That’s 18 points a game when Hassenauer played. In the other 12 games the Steelers scored 363 points, just over 30 points a game.

The Steelers defense gave up 30+ points exactly once in 2020, the awful Wild Card loss to the Browns. That’s also the only game the Steelers lost when Hassenauer didn’t play. The Steelers were 1-4, beating the injury riddled Baltimore Ravens 19-14 with Hassenauer starting for Maurkice Pouncey. Without Hassenauer the Steelers were 11-1, losing 37-48 to the Cleveland Browns after a nightmare start and down far too many of their defensive playmakers.

The Steelers went from the Todd Haley dream of averaging 30 points a game, to the 2019 horror of not being able to score 20 points based on their offensive line depth.

And that’s the real villain of the 2020 season, offensive line injuries. Hassenauer was the Steelers #3 center entering the 2020 season. A young man who had worked hard to make the NFL and shown enough to get that coveted spot on the team, but not someone the Steelers anticipated ever playing.

But then Stefan Wisniewski struggled mightily and was injured, and then Maurkice Pouncey missed games and in week 15, both Matt Feiler and Kevin Dotson were unavailable and Hassenauer started at guard, giving way to practice squad tackle Derwin Gray for a significant portion of the game because of his struggles. Hassenauer is unlikely to ever be an NFL caliber guard.

All those injuries forced Hassenauer into taking the place of Maurkice Pouncey, who contrary to popular opinion, was actually one of the better players on the line this year, and was doing a lot to keep the line functioning with the injuries around him.

If you take the Steelers start of season line, Hassenauer would be 9th on that list. He made the top 5 for 4 games because the Steelers didn’t have other options. He earned praise from Head Coach Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger for coming in to start on very short notice and knowing his responsibilities on every play and not messing up any assignments or snaps, but while he was in the right place at the right time, you still need to win those battles, and the Steelers offensive line wasn’t.

On film the change is easy to see. With the center going from a strength to a weakness teams collapsed the middle of the pocket and Ben Roethlisberger went from his quick release to forcing the ball out even quicker, whether the play had developed or not.

In week 16, with Pouncey, DeCastro and Dotson all playing, the Steelers made a big comeback to win after Roethlisberger gained comfort in the pocket and took more time, pushing the ball downfield more effectively.

Ben Roethlisberger’s stats show the difference very clearly, based on whether Hassenauer (#60) was playing.

The biggest difference? From an over 5-1 TD-INT ratio to nearly 1-1. That’s what you get when the quarterback is forcing throws because the offensive line is too banged up to protect him.

It also shows up huge in one of my favorite stats: Scoring minus turnover percentage. Here’s a quick overview if you aren’t familiar:

Scoring percentage minus turnover percentage is simply the percentage of drives that end with a score minus the percentage of drives that end with a turnover. Drives started by turnovers have much higher scoring rates than drives following a punt or kickoff, scoring points is really good, turnovers are really bad. A punt is roughly equal to a kickoff in what happens on the following drive, so punts are basically neutral.

The Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger and without Hassenauer scored on 42.1% of their drives, which ranked 15th in the NFL. They only committed turnovers on 7.1% of drives, the third lowest mark in the NFL. When you subtract the turnover percentage from the scoring percentage you get 35%, the 9th best mark in the NFL, on par with the Buffalo Bills and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

When Hassenauer was forced into the lineup with Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers scoring percentage dropped to 22.6%, 2nd worst in the NFL, and their turnover percentage rose to 11.3%, 19th lowest in the NFL. That led to the Steelers posting the second worst Scoring minus turnover percentage mark in the NFL at 11.3%, only outdone by the amazingly bad Jacksonville Jaguars in those four games.

The Steelers had an offense that was one of the ten most efficient in the NFL, and on par with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when the line was only a little banged up. When the Steelers defense was healthy it was better than the Tampa Bay defense.

The Steelers were Super Bowl contenders in 2020, until their offensive line was too hurt to function, and then in the playoffs, their defense was too banged up to even be good, let alone the greatness they had shown when healthier.

When people make the argument that the Steelers can compete for a Super Bowl next season with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback if they build their offensive line and keep the defense rolling, the statistics back that up.

J.C. Hassenauer wasn’t the problem, he was just the guy in over his head called on to try and hold together a banged up and struggling offensive line, and that causes him to correlate to the Steelers collapse much more than anyone else.

Will playing a 17th game increase players’ salary cap hit?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 02/19/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

If the NFL adds another game, the players will get an extra check. If the players get an extra check, how does it affect the salary cap?

I am the kind of person when a question comes into my mind I’m not satisfied until I do everything I can to answer it. I was thinking about the NFL doing all they can to increase the salary cap for the 2021 year season and how the added revenue from a 17th regular-season game is the biggest factor moving forward in getting the 2021 salary cap as high as possible.

But what about the players salaries for the 17th game? Will this mean all the numbers we have been calculating for players counting towards the salary cap will increase?

I started to dive into the question, and quickly realized it was not an easy answer. One thing I knew for sure was players were going to be paid for playing an extra regular-season game.

In an article published right after the two sides agreed on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement last March, ESPN’s Dan Graziano published the following:

What about existing contracts that run into seasons that could expand to 17 games? Will those be adjusted?

Yes. Any player who is under contract when the new CBA is signed and remains on that contract in a year in which the league plays 17 games will receive a bonus of 1/17th of his salary if he’s on the roster on the date of that 17th game.

So, to make it simple: If your current contract says you’re scheduled to earn $17 million in 2021, and the league expands to 17 games that season, you get an extra $1 million as long as you’re on the roster on the date of that 17th game.

Alright. So players are obviously being paid for the extra game if the NFL goes to a 17-game season this fall. But I found myself asking more questions. Will the pay increase be based on their combined cash payout for the year, or simply their base salary?

Using Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as an example, he is set to have a roster bonus of $15 million on the third day of the new league year and have a $4 million base salary. Would his extra paycheck be based on the $19 million or the $4 million? And will this new money count towards the salary cap this season?

Of course, I used Roethlisberger as an example because chances are this is not the salary he’s earning this year. The Steelers have already said things are going to be re-worked or the two may decide to part ways. I just wanted to make sure I threw that in there before people started to flip out about anymore money going Roethlisberger‘s way.

In order to answer this question, I dove into the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in 2020. Yes, I did my best to read through page after page in order to find out what was going on when it came to salaries and adding an extra game.

In order to help gain some knowledge with the interpretation, I sent a message to the staff at BTSC asking if anyone else interpreted things the way I did. The other person who is crazy as I am and willing to dive into these kind of questions is Geoffrey Benedict. Together, we did our best to piece together different parts of the CBA in order to answer the question to the best of our knowledge.

First off, it appears the players who are on a league-minimum salary will not be gaining an extra paycheck when the NFL goes to a 17th game. Here is the exact section referencing the situation in the newest CBA:

Beginning in the 2021 League Year, for the duration of this Agreement only, in any League Year in which seventeen regular season games are played, any player whose NFL Player Contract specifies a Paragraph 5 Salary that exceeds the Minimum Salary for a player on the Club’s Active/Inactive List with such player’s own number of Credited Seasons, as defined in Section 2 of this Article, shall be eligible to receive an Additional Game Check

So if these are the players who are eligible to receive an extra check, those playing at the league minimum are not. Why would the NFL and the Players Association agree to this? From what we understand, it’s because they decided to raise the league minimum contract numbers in order to compensate for the 17th game.

So what about all the other players? Does the extra amount they’re going to be paid for the additional game now increase the salary cap for every player who it applies? Is this going to make teams have bigger issues with the salary cap?

We were actually surprised when we found what we believe to be the answer. The way the NFL has it set up for the payers to be paid for the extra game comes from funds that do not count towards team’s salary caps. The money to pay for the additional game check will start off coming from the Performance-Based Pool set up by the NFL. Beyond that, it will be taken from other places. Here is how it is explained:

In the 2021 League Year, if the $48 million taken from the Performance-Based Pool is insufficient to fund the League-wide Cost of the Additional Game Check, the shortfall shall be funded by the 2021 Rookie Redistribution Fund, as provided in Article 7, Section 9, up to the total amount of the Fund for that League Year (i.e., up to $64 million). If the combined amount taken from the 2021 Performance-Based Pool and the 2021 Rookie Redistribution Fund (i.e., $112 million) is insufficient to fund the League-wide cost of the Additional Game Check, the shortfall shall be funded as a new Player Benefit that will be treated in the same manner as any other Player Benefit Cost. In the 2022-30 League Years, the League-wide Cost of the Additional Game Check shall be funded by the Rookie Redistribution Fund for the applicable League Year. If the Rookie Redistribution Fund for the applicable League Year is insufficient to fund the total cost of the Additional Game Check in that League Year, the shortfall shall be funded as a new Player Benefit that will be treated in the same manner as any other Player Benefit Cost.

So it appears any player playing in the 2021 NFL season who signed their contract before the new CBA was ratified will have an additional game check coming to them which will not count towards the salary cap. As for other players who signed their deal since the new CBA was ratified, such as Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, the stipulations for their salary came with an understanding of adding a 17th game and was written into the contract.

Not having the extra game checks count towards the salary cap is a very fair idea since not everyone will receive one. Having teams with a different number of players under contract pre-2020 CBA versus those post-2020 CBA should not benefit or be penalized based on that ratio.

Another interesting aspect of the 17th game and how it comes to salaries and the salary cap has to do with player restructures. If a player restructuring their contract is going to shift their base salary to a signing bonus in order to benefit the team, they could be losing out on money which would have been coming to them in a 17th game.

Using Stephon Tuitt as an example, his base salary for 2021 is $9 million. So he would get a little over an extra $540k as is. If he restructures to a minimum base salary and takes the signing bonus, he’s set to lose that money as he would not be eligible for the additional game pay. So the first thing the player may want to do is have a base salary slightly higher than the league minimum. Additionally, they would probably have to pay Tuitt the difference he would be set to lose in the signing bonus to make up what he would have been paid had he not done a restructure. Also, that difference, if added to the signing bonus, would now count toward the salary cap. So if the Steelers are going to do a restructure of a player playing on a contract signed before the new CBA, it needs to be worth it.

It should be noted that a restructure of a player like Cam Heyward whose contract was signed since the new CBA would not create an issue at all. Additionally, any player who would be signing an extension would now be operating with a new contract signed under the new CBA.

Wow. This was an awful lot to unfold just to answer simple questions. But after diving in and getting help from Geoffrey Benedict, we came to the conclusion that the numbers for players towards the salary cap prior to the NFL adding the 17th game will stay the same even though they will be paid more money.

As for the question of if a player like Ben Roethlisberger would have their 17th game check be based on $19 million cash to be paid or $4 million base salary, since it doesn’t affect the salary cap we really don’t care.

Is J.J. Watt any less washed up than Ben Roethlisberger?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 02/19/2021 - 7:15am
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone is high on J.J. Watt, and down on Ben Roethlisberger, but should they be?

The Steelers should definitely sign J.J. Watt. Why? Oh, I don’t know, because it would be sexy, I guess.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are ways he can help Pittsburgh’s defense in 2021 without limiting the snap counts of Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and even Alex Highsmith, but the eldest Watt brother coming to town would just be exciting, wouldn’t it?

Let’s face it, Steelers fans and Pittsburgh sports fans just need something to get excited about. We need a “win.” We’re still in the middle of this pandemic. The Steelers really screwed the pooch down the stretch of the 2020 season by taking that 11-0 start and turning it into nothing. The Pirates are even more Piraty than ever. Heck, even the Penguins recently saw their general manager, Jim Rutherford, resign for reasons that didn’t have to do with his age—in other words, he was sick of working for the Penguins.

Watt would simply be delicious. Primanti Bros. would apparently change its name to Watt Bros. T.J. Watt and Derek Watt would have their older brother around to play with and to offer emotional support. J.J., being the philanthropist that he is, would get Pittsburgh to fall in love with him at first sight.

I get all of that, but what I don’t get is how J.J. Watt is any less washed up than quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the guy two out of every three Steelers fans are ready to see get on with his life’s work—if you believe in social media polls. All I ever read about is how poorly Roethlisberger performed over the latter portion of the 2020 campaign, his MVP-like play during the first 10 games or so being such a distant memory, it might as well have never happened.

The Steelers simply need to rid themselves of Roethlisberger and his $19 million salary cap hindrance and begin their future.

OK, but how would Old Man Watt factor into Pittsburgh’s future? He’s 31 and has had three of his past five seasons severely hampered by injuries. Yes, he did bounce back in 2018 and recorded 16 sacks for the Texans, but he’s posted a combined nine sacks over his last two seasons, including just five in 2020 while starting all 16 games.

So, really, what’s so appealing about J.J. Watt other than his name at his point?

At least with Roethlisberger, the Steelers could actually contend if he regains the form he played most of his bounce-back 2020 campaign with.

Would Watt be less expensive than Roethlisberger? Sure, but would he bring the Steelers great value for the price they would have to pay him? Furthermore, do they even need him? They have one hell of a front seven, even without Bud Dupree returning for another season. Watt would add to that, but would the difference be so great that we wouldn’t notice the deficiencies at quarterback?

I certainly don’t think so.

If the Steelers really move on from Roethlisberger, they certainly don’t need to bring in an aging Watt brother to contribute to a defense that would have to repeat its 2019 dominance just to sniff .500.

But J.J. Watt would probably get his own weekly TV show hosted by Bob Pompeani and Charlie Batch, so why not go for it?

2020 Replay, Week 6: Cameron Heyward and Bud Dupree destroy the Browns

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 02/19/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The six year teammates have dominated together for years.

Cameron Heyward was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 31st pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and played 4 seasons in Dick LeBeau’s defense. His last season with Dick LeBeau Heyward led the Steelers in sacks. In 2015 LeBeau was out, Keith Butler was in and the Steelers drafted Bud Dupree. Since that 2015 season, when the scheme was changed to let the defensive lineman attack more and 2-gap significantly less, the Steelers are #1 in the NFL in sacks, the only team to average 3+ sacks a game for the last 6 seasons.

In 2018 the Steelers swapped Bud Dupree to the right side of the defense, playing him next to Cameron Heyward. The results have been continued dominance in pass rush, but most of that has come from other places, especially the other side of the line, where Stephon Tuitt and T.J. Watt combined for 26 sacks this past season.

The combination of Heyward and Dupree is a special one, and they carry a lot of weight in the Steelers defense, often dominating without putting up a lot of stats. Let’s look at one of the games they put up more stats, in week 6 when they dominated the Cleveland Browns, and see what that pair has brought to the Steelers defense these last three years.

Stuffing the run

If you’ve been watching my film rooms or listening to the podcast I am on with Michael Beck you probably know that I am a huge fan of Bud Dupree, especially his run defense film. If you want some highlights from 2019, check out the film room below. It’s fun.

This game didn’t have a lot of those highlights from Dupree, and we’ll get into that later, but there was plenty from Cameron Heyward to look at.

1st quarter, 8:58. Cameron Heyward (#97) is second from the right side of the screen on the line of scrimmage

Cameron Heyward is powerful, smart and incredibly sound in his technique, here he gets his hands in the chest of the tackle, keeping him from getting in front of Heyward, and Heyward drives him backwards while catching the run play from behind and making the tackle. If you watch the play side, the Browns are winning this play, and the running back has a crack and could break free if it isn’t for Heyward.

3rd quarter, 7:05. Cameron Heyward is lined up over the Center, Bud Dupree is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

This play is set up for the Blitz from Mike Hilton. The big gap between Heyward and Dupree has the lineman in that gap thinking second level blocks, and Hilton slips through, but fails to make the tackle. Fortunately, even while getting driven to the left Cameron Heyward clogs up the play to that side, forcing a cutback into open space where Dupree is able to run down the back.

The offense won a lot of this play. Heyward is driven to the outside, Hilton misses the tackle, and for a second it looks like Kareem Hunt has only Steven Nelson between him and a big gain. Heyward’s intelligence and understanding of flow is big here, blocking up any run to the to the offensive right, and Dupree’s athleticism ends the play with only 1 yard gained.

3rd quarter, 14:56. Cameron Heyward is the edge defender to the left side of the screen.

This is a 4-3 look from the Steelers. The Steelers counter the two tight ends to the strong side by swapping Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt, putting Watt into an off the ball linebacker-esque role. Heyward destroys the tight end, sealing the edge from any outside runs and making the tackle when Hunt cuts his way. Formations like this stress the defense because the Browns have numbers to the strong side and that makes weak side runs dangerous if the Steelers match those numbers. Instead the Steelers swap Heyward over the tight ends, using his power to negate the numbers advantage and that gives the Steelers numbers and speed to the weak side even if they are short on power to that side.

It’s a really nice adjustment.

4th quarter, 6:58, Cameron Heyward is the defensive tackle to the right side of the screen, lined up across from #74.

The Steelers are in dime on this play, but it’s a 3-2 dime, with Vince Williams lining up where a defensive tackle normally would.

The Browns respond with a run, but Cameron Heyward absolutely destroys it. In the Vertex about Stephon Tuitt from earlier this week I showed Tuitt’s power on his bull rush, how he drives blockers back with big initial contact. Here you can see the difference with Heyward. Heyward walks his blocker backwards with his head up, Heyward was a very good 2-gapping lineman, he’s even better when he’s free to attack, but you can see that 2-gapping skill here. Cameron Heyward can do pretty much anything on the defensive line at a high level.

3rd quarter, 5:59. Cameron Heyward is the edge defender to the left side of the screen.

First off, this play is slowed down a good bit., I want you to see just how dominant the Steelers were on this 4th and 1 run. Start with Cameron Heyward, he is double teamed by two tight ends (the line in unbalanced, three OL to the right side of the screen, 1 and 2 TEs to the left). Heyward not only drives the double team backwards, he throws the outside tight end to the ground while doing it. You cannot block Cameron Heyward with tight ends. Stephon Tuitt does a great job of driving forward under his own double team, and that, along with Tyson Alualu keep T.J. Watt clean, and he drives the back straight to Heyward. For his part Bud Dupree destroys any cutback, making sure he got his right arm outside the tackle’s arm so he could control the backside of the play while driving his blocker into the cutback lane.

One thing you probably noticed is that three of the five run defense clips involve Cameron Heyward on the opposite side of the line from Bud Dupree, and not a single run trying to attack Bud Dupree’s side of the field. That’s because teams didn’t run to that side in 2020. After a 2019 season full of run defense highlights from Bud Dupree and Cameron Heyward, the Steelers faced the fewest runs to the offense’s left side of any team in the NFL through the first 11 games, and in this game the Browns ran two of their 17 runs to the left before the game turned to 38-7 and the Steelers started playing subs. That was it.

After Bud Dupree was injured in week 12, the Steelers went from the fewest runs to his side of the field to the 7th most. Teams avoided running at Bud Dupree, enough that the Steelers started moving Cameron Heyward to the opposite side to get more out of his run defense.

In the Wild Card game, the Browns ran 20 of their 31 rushes to their left, from 11.7% with Dupree playing to 64.5% without him. It is important to note that Chris Hubbard was filling in for Wyatt Teller in week 6, but on the right side. The Browns didn’t have their best run blocker on the right side and still ran that way rather than run at Bud Dupree.

So while Dupree doesn’t have the run defense highlights he had in previous seasons this year, it was because teams had learned their lesson, and they just stopped running at him.

Pass rush

The Steelers pass rush is heavily skewed to Stephon Tuitt and T.J. Watt in sacks and pressures, and that shows up on film, but with good reason. Watt and Tuitt are the more explosive rushers, but Heyward and Dupree have their own value, and fit really well in Keith Butler’s scheme in any number of different roles.

1st quarter, 8:12. Mike Hilton is in motion to the bottom of the screen to start the play.

This is week 6, both Mike HIlton and Devin Bush leave this game with injuries. But before that happened, the defense was really coming into its own. The Browns use motion to get Mike Hilton one on one with Odell Beckham Jr., but at no point in his route is Bekham Jr. open. Hilton shuts him down. Needed to show that before looking at the rest of the play.

Cameron Heyward is the defensive tackle to the left side of the screen, Bud Dupree is the edge rusher outside him.

Devin Bush does a great job occupying the running back and spying the quarterback at the same time here, and because of that, Bud Dupree and Cameron Heyward both have 1v1 matchups. Dupree gets the sack on this play when Mayfield sees Bush guarding his escape route and hesitates, but watch Heyward. As soon as Heyward sees Dupree making progress he stops and cuts inside, rushing with contain. That’s key to Keith Butler’s defense, especially when the other side of the line is attacking with near-reckless abandon.

2nd quarter, 7:50. Cameron Heyward is the defensive tackle to the left side of the screen, Bud Dupree is the edge rusher outside him.

This play shows really well the value of Dupree and Heyward’s focus on containing the quarterback. You can see both Heyward and Dupree pas sup chances to chase the sack to make sure Baker Mayfield is trapped in the pocket, and it ends with in interception. Contrast their play to T.J. Watt crashing the pocket and going all out to get to the quarterback.

I’ve said it before, Dupree isn’t rushing the same way Watt is, and the Steelers are smart to do it that way, send Dupree at the quarterback all game and you aren’t getting the impact Watt gives you doing the same thing. The same applies to letting Stephon Tuitt just wreck plays, the team gets a lot out of it. But we also need to recognize the value Heyward and Dupree give by making sure the quarterback can’t escape from the pass rush.

2nd quarter, 0:15. Cameron Heyward is the defensive tackle to the left side of the screen, Bud Dupree is the edge rusher outside him.

You aren’t getting through a Heyward/Dupree post without a stunt. The Steelers run this both ways, with Heyward setting up Dupree and Dupree setting up Heyward. This time it is Heyward setting up Dupree, and few players lock up blockers like Cameron ;Heyward does, drawing, forcing and keeping double teams to free up team mates. Again, he was a darn good two-gapping DL.

Butler paired that inside stunt for Dupree with T.J. Watt setting up Tuitt to go outside of him, just look at the hit Watt puts on the guard, and the tackle pinching so far inside before he sees what is happening. By the time he recovers Tuitt is right on him and the outside wall of the pocket is where the guard lined up. That’s a bad spot to be in with Dupree crashing into your pocket. It’s 4th down, and Baker Mayfield doesn’t give up on plays, so we get the addition of a monster hit from Cameron Heyward. I could watch that all day.

3rd quarter, 14:17. Bud Dupree is the edge defender to the right side of the screen.

Of course I’m also not going to have a film room covering Bud Dupree that doesn’t involve a play where the opposing team tries to deal with Bud Dupree by pulling a guard, or in this case sending a tight end from the opposite side.

It never goes well, but everyone thinks their version will work, and it’s just an easy sack for Dupree. He’s too quick off the line and too fast for this nonsense to succeed.

Conclusion

Bud Dupree and Cameron Heyward have both been far more valuable than their stats say since each joined the team, but they really blossomed together, and in 2019 and 2020 absolutely destroyed teams that tried to run their way, while locking quarterbacks into the pocket for the other pass rushers to finish off. Cameron Heyward will continue to be incredibly valuable no matter who is next to him, but the Steelers have had a special pairing on the right side for three years now, and it is something I hope Steeler fans can appreciate if it is over.

And if you held questions about just how good these two were together, just ask the Cleveland Browns, they know.

Podcast: If you think Ben Roethlisberger’s issues are all about money, you are crazy

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 02/19/2021 - 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 are trying to figure out whether they can afford to honor Ben Roethlisberger’s contract, but this whole situation isn’t just about money. It’s about so much more. 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
  • If you think Ben Roethlisberger’s issues are all about money, you are crazy
  • Hart to Heart
  • 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.

Mason Rudolph has earned a shot to become Ben Roethlisberger’s successor

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 2:00pm
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Rudolph is developing into a fine quarterback in this league and has every right to fight for a starting job

I know plenty of you probably had a brain aneurism reading the title of the article, but it is absolutely true. Mason Rudolph has proved himself worthy of at least getting the shot to become Ben Roethlisberger’s successor. Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert has continued to praise Rudolph throughout this offseason, words which he deserves. His development as a quarterback in this league has been on an upward trajectory ever since he was drafted. Sure, there were some bumpy moments for a third round quarterback, but that player won't truly reach his potential until his fourth/fifth year in the league.

GM Kevin Colbert on Mason Rudolph: The game he started this year (in Cleveland) was the best game he has played for us. It was very encouraging to see him play the way he did in the Cleveland game.

— Bob Labriola (@BobLabriola) February 17, 2021

Let’s just look at some facts on the former Oklahoma State Cowboy. For starters, Rudolph has completed 61.7% of his passes, which is right around league average. But he was able to do this within the terrible 2019 Steelers offense, and with the Steelers backups in the 2020 season finale. His career touchdown to interception ratio sits at 15-10, but if you take out his worst career game (at Cleveland in 2019) the ratio is 14-6. To top things off, Rudolph has a canon of an arm and throws a really nice deep ball. His ability to hit guys like Chase Claypool on deep routes changes the entire complexity of the offense.

Mason Rudolph to Chase Claypool 28 yard TD. 24-16 Cleveland. One possession game pic.twitter.com/cMFlfwIjau

— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) January 3, 2021

Players can, and will, improve. I know a lot of the disdain toward Rudolph comes from his time as the starter in 2019. But you have to keep in mind Ben Roethlisberger received the bulk of the training camp snaps that year, and Rudolph hadn't quite grasped the offense yet. This forced the team to simplify what already was a bland offense. He stood no chance that year, and was placed in a terrible position. His last two games against the Jets in 2019 and Browns in 2020 could be the key into seeing what Rudolph really could become. Someone who takes care of the ball, but has developed a wicked deep-ball. Don’t let early performances cloud your judgement of this kid. Imagine what he could do if he had an entire training camp to practice as the starter within a better offensive system.

With Matt Canada now at the helm of the offense, Rudolph will be in a system much better suited for his skillsets, and will be put in a position to succeed. Unlike Randy Fichtner, who nearly had his head taken off each and every week back in 2019.

Pittsburgh Steelers QB ‘Mason Rudolph’ Gets KO’d After Hard Hit By Baltimore’s Defense! pic.twitter.com/uX2WwUPtz0

— SFTY+ (@sftyplus) October 6, 2019

Now, by no means am I suggesting the Steelers should forgo drafting a quarterback in the near future. Nor am I saying Rudolph is the future of this organization. But, the Steelers have already invested plenty of time into developing Rudolph, and should at least get a look. If he fails, the Steelers can move on to Dwayne Haskins or whomever they have waiting in the wings. But if he takes that next step, the Steelers can keep on rolling without having to worry about the games most important position.

But what do you think? Are you willing to give Mason Rudolph one more shot at the Steelers starting quarterback role? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.

What happened to the Steelers’ 2008 draft class?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Leading up to the 2021 NFL draft in April, let’s look at how some of the Steelers’ drafts played out.

The 2021 NFL draft is less than three months away. Each week leading up to the draft, we are going to dive into an NFL draft class starting with the Steelers 2004 NFL draft. In doing so, each player selected by the Steelers will be highlighted as to how their NFL career, or lack thereof, took shape. As we get to more recent years, some will be combined as many of those draft choices are still with the Steelers.

Part 5 of 15 will highlight the Steelers 2008 NFL draft where no players remained with the Steelers past their rookie contract.

So let’s take a look at the seven players drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2008 NFL draft:

Rashard Mendenhall Running Back, Illinois

Round 1
Pick 23

The last running back drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Rashard Mendenhall only appeared in four games as a rookie before being lost for the season in his first start with a fractured shoulder from a hot delivered by Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis. Rushing for more than 1,000 yards each of the next two seasons, Mendenhall was more known for his fumble in Super Bowl XLV. The following year Mendenhall tore his ACL in the final game of the season and did not appear in a game in 2012 until Week 5. Eventually benched due to ineffectiveness, Mendenhall was suspended for the Steelers’ Week 15 game against the Dallas Cowboys when he did not show up in Week 14 when he was inactive against the San Diego Chargers. Mendenhall only rushed for 182 yards on 51 attempts his final season in Pittsburgh before spending one year in Arizona. After rushing for 687 yards on 217 carries for the Cardinals, Mendenhall retired during the 2014 offseason. Mendenhall worked as a writer for the HBO series Ballers.

Limas Sweed Wide Receiver, Texas

Round 2
Pick 53

Drafted to be the big target at wide receiver the Steelers were looking for, Limas Sweed was a tremendous disappointment as he only appeared in 20 regualr-season games in two seasons for the Steelers. Sweed’s entire NFL career consisted of seven receptions for 69 yards and no touchdowns in the regular season and two receptions for 20 yards against the Baltimore Ravens in the 2008 AFC Championship Game. Going into the 2010 season, Sweed suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in minicamp. The following season, the Steelers placed Sweed on the Waved/Injured List during training camp and released him later in the year. Trying to catch on with a couple CFL teams, Sweden never played in the NFL again.

Bruce Davis Linebacker, UCLA

Round 3
Pick 88

After playing defensive end in college at UCLA, Bruce Davis struggled to adjust to outside linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Inactive for all but five games his rookie season, Davis never recorded any stats for the Steelers and was waived following training camp in 2009. Davis bounced around from various practice squads over the next two seasons as he spent time with the Patriots, Broncos, and 49ers. Signed to the active roster of the Oakland Raiders during the 2010 season, Davis only lasted 10 games between 2010 and 2011 where he totaled six tackles. After stints on the practice squad of the Cincinnati Bengals and back to the San Francisco 49ers, Davis played a season in the CFL.

Tony Hills Tackle, Texas

Round 4
Pick 130

The Pittsburgh Steelers traded back seven spots of the fourth round in order to pick up an additional sixth round pick as they were already down there 2008 7th round draft pick which was used to acquire Allen Rossum the previous season. The Steelers selected tackle Tony Hills who spent three seasons in Pittsburgh but only appeared in four games in 2010. After not making the team in 2011, Hill signed with the Denver Broncos for one season where he only appeared in one game. In all, Hills played for 11 different NFL franchises between practice squads and active rosters through 2016. Hills saw the most playing time with the New Orleans Saints in 2015 and 2016 where he appeared a total of 19 games. After signing with his 11th team in the Detroit Lions during the offseason of 2017, Hills announced his retirement from the NFL at the start of training camp.

Dennis Dixon Quarterback, Oregon

Round 5
Pick 156

The first quarterback drafted by a head coach Mike Tomlin, Dennis Dixon appeared in four games with the Steelers from 2008 to 2010. Starting his first game in 2009, Dixon fell to the Baltimore Ravens in overtime in Week 12. In 2010, Dixon started the first two games of the season for the Steelers while Ben Roethlisberger was serving a four-game suspension and Byron Leftwich missed time due to injury. In Dixon’s and second game against the Tennessee Titans, he suffered a torn meniscus at the beginning of the second quarter and ended up on injured reserve. Dixon did not appear a game for the Steelers in 2011 as he was the third quarterback on the roster. Signing with the Baltimore Ravens for the 2012 season, Dixon spent the year on the practice squad. The following season he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles but failed to make the team and landed on the Buffalo Bills practice squad. Dixon’s last stop in the NFL was spending one week on the practice squad of the Arizona Cardinals in 2014.

Mike Humpal Linebacker, Iowa

Round 6
Pick 188

Unfortunately for linebacker Mike Humpal, his professional career never really got going as a neck injury caused him to be waived/injured. Upon clearing waivers Humpal returned the Steelers on the Reserve/Injured List for 2008. The Steelers released Humpal in the offseason and he never appeared in the NFL again. Due to his neck injuries, Humpal became inspired to become a chiropractor and has his own practice in Iowa.

Ryan Mundy Wide Receiver, West Virginia

Round 6
Pick 194

The Steelers final selection of the 2008 NFL draft ended up playing more games in the NFL (96) than any of the others. Ryan Mundy appeared in every game for the Steelers in his four-year career while getting five spots starts due to injuries. Primarily a special-teams player, Mundy went on to play a season with the New York Giants in 2013 and started all 16 games for the Chicago Bears in 2014. After suffering a hip injury in the preseason of 2015, Mundy was placed on injured reserve and never played in the NFL again. While Monday did have one interception with his time with the Steelers, he managed four interceptions with one being returned for a touchdown in his one season in Chicago.

The Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger saga goes far beyond just money

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 11:30am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The saga between the Steelers and their franchise quarterback goes well beyond finances.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and their franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are currently at odds. The general public feels as if the two parties are at odds over money, after all, Roethlisberger will have a whopping $41 million dollar cap hit in 2021, but is that really all which is plaguing this relationship?

A day after Kevin Colbert met with media, via Zoom, to discuss the organization moving forward, and the upcoming offseason, the fan base was ablaze thinking about Ben Roethlisberger possibly not being a part of the team in 2021. Whether it be to retirement, or a release, the thought of Roethlisberger not being on the team is still something which is tough to fathom.

Social media was pounded with fans suggesting Roethlisberger take a pay cut to help the team. How he should be appreciative of all the Steelers have done for him throughout the years. Some even brought up the off field allegations as a reason Roethlisberger should be thinking about the team, and not the bottom line.

Well, not only did Roethlisberger say he isn’t concerned with how much money he makes, but it isn’t his fault the Steelers consistently pushed his money back, knowing the time would come when his salary cap hit would be astronomical.

At this point, there is only so much Roethlisberger can do to help the team after they have kicked the can down the street so much. He can say he doesn’t care what he makes in 2021, but the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and NFLPA show Roethlisberger is due a significant amount of money in 2021, no matter what.

This tweet from Dan Graziano of ESPN outlines this perfectly:

Roethlisberger:

Current 2021 cap number: $41.25M.

2021 cap number if he retires or is cut: $22.25M.

Lowest possible 2021 cap number if Steelers extend his deal: $27.125M.

2021 cap number if he took a $17.925M pay cut and played for minimum (which feels unlikely): $23.325M.

— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) February 17, 2021

The Steelers could give Roethlisberger an extension, bumping a lot of his money owed over the next two years solving a lot of problems, but is this saga, if you want to call it that, all about money?

For the Steelers, it is about the bottom line for the entire organization. With an unknown salary cap number in 2021 the team has to be concerned with the $41 million dollar cap hit for Roethlisberger. The ultimate goal is to not have their quarterback’s pay hinder the team from keeping some of their own free agents, and possibly signing some outside free agents. All while still having their franchise quarterback on the field.

For Roethlisberger, he is going to get his money one way or another, but does he want to return? After the retirements of two of his best friends on the team, Vance McDonald and Maurkice Pouncey, does Roethlisberger even want to come back for the 2021 season? Does he want to come back with a new offensive coordinator who wants to do things he isn’t comfortable, or familiar, with? Does he want to go through those growing pains as a 39 year old quarterback in the waning years of his career?

You can suggest this is all about the money, and money certainly is a large part of this situation, but don’t kid yourself in thinking it is the only factor for No. 7 potentially returning for another year in Pittsburgh.

This saga isn’t close to being over, but expect things to heat up before they cool down with Roethlisberger due a large portion of his money in the month of March. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.

Podcast: Steelers free agent needs at this moment in time

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 11:00am

BTSC breaks down what the Steelers’ free agent needs are before the NFL Draft

At this particular moment in time, the Steelers have specific needs regarding free agents. That might change before the NFL Draft. They might even change next week. But for right now, the Steelers have a lot that needs addressed. This and much more will be pondered on the latest episode from the BTSC family of podcasts, “The Curtain Call”. As always, it is a good time to talk everything Steelers. Join Michael Beck and Geoffrey Benedict as they break down all things Steelers.

  • News and Notes
  • Steelers free agent needs before the draft
  • and MUCH MORE!

Michael and Geoffrey walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

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

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

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

NFL notifies team the salary cap floor has increased to $180 million in 2021

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the many teams who is in salary cap distress, but the latest report shows some help might be on the way.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of many teams in the NFL who are looking at a grave salary cap situation entering the 2021 season. If the salary cap were to steadily increase, like it has for over a decade, the Steelers would be just fine. Sure, there would be changes to the roster, but nothing which would cripple the team’s roster/decision making ability.

Nonetheless, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL is looking at a very uneasy salary cap situation this offseason. With hardly any fans in seats this past season, and TV deals due to renew, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to a salary cap floor of $175 million dollars in 2021. In other words, no matter how bad the situation was, the cap would not fall below that number.

On Thursday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that floor number has increased from $175 to $180 million.

NFL informed teams today the salary cap this season will be a minimum of $180 million.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 18, 2021

Yes, it increased by just $5 million, but this is at least a sign of the league suggesting things might not be as bad as once thought. There are some factors to consider with the league’s financial situation which is still unfolding.

Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated outlines two major factors of the eventual 2021 salary cap:

Two things to remember, re: 2021 salary cap ...

1) TV deals getting done, as has been the expectation, would likely make the owners more flexible in borrowing from future years.

2) A major drop in the cap hurts a LOT of people (veteran players, free agents, teams, etc.)

— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) February 18, 2021

Once the new television deals are done, the league will have a better idea as to what the cap number will be for the 2021 season. Teams are in the dark at the moment, with league sources stating they might not know the official salary cap for next season until the day before the new league year starts in March.

If the television deals get done sooner, that number could be made final sooner than later. The fact the base number went up to $180 is a step in the right direction, and the Steelers, along with many other teams, should hope the cap can at least stay at $198, where it is currently, and then move forward after the 2021 season with yearly increases.

A lot still to unpack with the 2021 salary cap, so be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.

Kevin Colbert deflects question about contract, focusing on the Steelers’ deficiencies

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 8:30am

Kevin Colbert is taking it year by year, and he deflected questions about his future with the team during a recent meeting with media.

This offseason there have been numerous talking points surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they press through an offseason filled with unknowns. Most of the talk has been about the Steelers’ numerous free agents, mainly Ben Roethlisberger’s future, but one topic which hasn’t received much breathe is the contract of Kevin Colbert.

The general manager hasn’t been talked about much, other than some crazy rumors of the Detroit Lions trying to lure him out of Pittsburgh earlier this offseason. Nonetheless, when Colbert met with media Wednesday, via zoom, he spoke about his year-to-year contract with the team.

Nonetheless, he ultimately deflected the question.

“Quite honestly, that’s all I deserve because we have to continue to prove ourselves year after year,” Colbert said Wednesday.

When asked to elaborate, Colbert gave the stock answer regarding his failure to provide a quality team to win a championship.

“We didn’t do good enough. That is the evaluation I’m making on myself,” Colbert said. “Art (Rooney II) and I will discuss it at the appropriate time. Now, we need to focus on the team. I’m signed through the end of May. We’ll have plenty of time to sort through that.”

“I would say it’s the same way as my own — we weren’t good enough,” Colbert said. “When I say that, I mean ‘we.’ Coach can only do so much with the players he’s given. I can provide him with what I think are the right fits. When it works, great. When it doesn’t, we both know we weren’t good enough.”

Colbert was also asked about his thoughts on Mike Tomlin, who is moving into the final year of his current contract with the team. Colbert was adamant the issues with the team fall on many, but not Tomlin.

“Mike Tomlin has done so much more good in this league than not good,” he said. “Mike is an excellent NFL head coach. He’s won a Super Bowl. He’s been to two. Have we had the success we wanted to have recently? No, that’s a collective ‘we.’ We’ll just continue to work to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

The Steelers have a lot of decisions to make this offseason, and Colbert’s contract is just one of those decisions. So be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.

Podcast: Signing J.J. Watt, a Steelers pit fall?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 8:25am

Matt Peverell breaks down the Steelers salary cap situation every week in The Cap Room.

With J.J. Watt free to sign with any of the 31 other teams in the NFL, Steelers fans are hoping the eldest Watt brother decides on the Steel City to complete the Watt trifecta. That’s easier said then done. What implications would a deal have on the Steelers already difficult cap situation? Join BTSC’s Matt Peverell for his solo show as he examines the ins-and-outs of the Steelers dollars and “sense” situation. Check out the newest addition to the BTSC family of podcasts and stay a while with Matty in The Cap Room.

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

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You can listen to the show in the player below.

The Steelers new offensive philosophy will change how they evaluate players

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

General manager Kevin Colbert acknowledged a new style in offense will change how they look at certain positions moving forward.

If there was any question as to whether or not Matt Canada will be implementing new philosophies for the Steelers offense, they can be put to rest.

Taking questions from the Pittsburgh media on Wednesday, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert addressed the change in philosophy with the hiring of Matt Canada as their new offensive coordinator. According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Colbert admitted they will have to look differently as they evaluate players to be the best fit for the Steelers moving forward.

Colbert said Matt Canada's college-style offense could force the Steelers to evaluate players such as wide receivers, running backs, even quarterbacks, differently. "We will be looking at different players differently than what we currently have."

— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) February 17, 2021

When Matt Canada was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator earlier this offseason, some Steelers’ fans felt an internal promotion would simply give more of the same. With Canada only having one season under his belt in the NFL, it was difficult to say if his philosophies were going to take center stage right away with the Steelers. Based on Colbert‘s comments, the Steelers did not promote Canada to simply run the same system they were previously using and are looking for his fingerprints to be all over the offense in 2021.

So in what ways will the Steelers have to look differently at personnel in Matt Canada‘s offense? Do the players they have on the roster work or will they be looking to fill specific needs moving forward?

To better answer this question, I solicited the help of BTSC’s Geoffrey Benedict. According to Geoffrey, he believes the requirements for different positions in Canada’s offense are as follows:

Offensive line: Awareness and processing.

Tight end: Versatility to play in backfield and out wide.

Wide receiver: Play every receiver position plus run the ball.

Running back: Vision.

Quarterback: Ability to follow the system.

Specifically in Colbert’s quote, he addressed the need to have the proper personnel at both wide receiver and running back. It was also interesting that Colbert threw in quarterback as a position where they will have to look differently as he also had very interesting comments when it came to Ben Roethlisberger’s future with the Steelers in 2021.

Between struggling to rush the football as well as the ability to push the ball down the field in 2020, it appears the Steelers offense will look quite different this coming season regardless of if they have similar personnel. Whether or not the Steelers will be able to hit the ground running with this new offense is what all Steelers’ fans are waiting to see this fall. Until then, it will be interesting to see how the Steelers fill out their roster both through free agency and the NFL draft and what this will mean to their offense moving forward.

As of today, it still feels like the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger will work it out

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 6:00am
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Was Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert’s statement about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s future with the team really as cryptic as so many are making it out to be? I certainly don’t think so.

“As we sit here today, Ben is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He reiterated that to us that he wants to continue to play, and we told him quite frankly we have to look at this current situation. ... With Ben’s current cap number, some adjustment will have to be made.”

That quote comes to you courtesy of Brooke Pryor, a Steelers beat reporter for ESPN.com, and it’s from gm Kevin Colbert’s press conference with reporters on Wednesday. Of course, the quote is about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his current status with the team, including a salary cap hit that is untenable (I just learned that word).

In the case of Roethlisberger and the Steelers, the word untenable, while not the exact definition, means, “We can’t pay you that much.”

Colbert’s statement regarding Roethlisberger’s future with the team didn’t seem much different than the one Art Rooney II made a few weeks ago during his year-end presser. The Steelers need to rework Roethlisberger’s contract, and Roethlisberger appears to be open to doing just that.

So why the wild-running speculation on Wednesday, brother? Is it because of the words “As we sit here today”? If so, why? What else was Colbert supposed to say? As we sit here today, there are a lot of players who are members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but tomorrow could be another story based on any number of things. But in the case of the Steelers and their future Hall of Fame quarterback, I can’t imagine any one thing preventing them from working something out. As I’ve stated before, it seems like the best route is for the two sides to work out an extension that significantly reduces the team’s cap hit from the $19 million it would be if no reworking was done. I say reworking because it doesn’t seem like renegotiating is the right thing to call it. Would the Steelers really ask their quarterback to take a pay-cut so significant that he would be making at or close to the veteran minimum for 2021? If so, would the extra few million saved really be worth it, especially if Roethlisberger was unwilling to do that? And if the big guy wasn’t into doing that, I would certainly side with the player and encourage him to tell his bosses to take their new deal and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

If the Steelers want Roethlisberger’s services for 2021, that means they think he has what it takes to get them to where they want to go. You don’t get that for minimum wage, my friend.

But I feel confident that Colbert’s words weren’t meant to be taken in a cryptic fashion. Like a lot of folks, I think he knows the work that has to be done for the team to get into cap compliance by the start of the NFL’s new calendar year. And, guess what? The new year is still a month away. As others have said, we still don’t know what the NFL’s salary cap will ultimately be. When that figure becomes a reality, so will Roethlisberger’s status for 2021.

As we sit here today, I believe Ben Roethlisberger playing for the Steelers again in 2021 is pretty much a sure thing.

Watch Bill Nunn’s daughter, Lynell, get “the knock” for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 5:00am

The Pittsburgh Steelers have another of their own in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and you can watch Bill Nunn’s daughter react to hearing her father will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have another member of their franchise inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer when Bill Nunn will get his bust in Canton, OH. Nunn, who was also inducted with former guard Alan Faneca, will be a part of a Steelers-centric celebration this summer when Troy Polamalu, Bill Cowher, Donnie Shell, Nunn and Faneca will all be inducted at the same time.

Nunn was always considered to be worthy of the Hall of Fame after all he did for the way he changed the way scouting takes place, but when it finally happened it was a surprise from Hall of Fame President David Baker to Nunn’s daughter, Lynell, which is worth watching.

Instead of the nominees being in the same hotel and getting “the knock” from Baker, this year, due to COVID-19, Baker went around the country and delivered the news to every player, coach or scout individually. In this situation, the “knock” was done virtually.

You can watch Lynell’s call from Baker below:

An extended version of 'The Knock' that the family of Bill Nunn received to learn of his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021.#PFHOF21 | @steelers pic.twitter.com/qaknyZXzfq

— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) February 17, 2021

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

Podcast: Is there a magic number to get to the Super Bowl?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 02/18/2021 - 4:30am

The Oracle Dave Schofield shares his thoughts in the AM platform with the classic stats show with the Co-Editor of BTSC.

The Steelers ended the 2020 season with 12 wins and that just wasn’t enough. Is there a magic number for Pittsburgh to reach the Super Bowl? This is just one of the topics that will be discussed on the Thursday episode of the AM slate of the BTSC family of podcasts. Join Co-Editor Dave Schofield as he breaks out the Steelers slide rule and geeks out only like he can.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Is there a magic number to get to the Super Bowl?
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

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You can listen to the show in the player below.

The Steelers can't afford to mess up the 2022 compensatory formula

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 02/17/2021 - 2:00pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Steelers need to start hoarding draft picks like De Beers gathered diamonds

The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in a sticky situation. Shortly they will be faced with replacing their future hall of fame quarterback, while also staring down the barrel of a decreased salary cap. What originally would have been a one-player rebuild might just turn into a full-on tear down. If they are lucky enough, the NFL will come to agreeance with both the players union and its TV partners on a 17th game and a mega billion dollar licensing deal that will keep the salary cap rising. However, if the worst case scenario comes to fruition the Steelers will have to tighten its hypothetical belt and prepare for some rather thin years.

The smartest and fastest way for the team to regain its contender status is by nailing their draft picks. While that is probably an obvious statement, the Steelers have a very clear way of increasing its chances to hit on those selections simply by having more draft choices. But I'm not talking about trading away resources like players or their own picks, I’m talking about gaining picks by losing free agents, and not signing outside players to replace them thus pandering to the compensatory selection formula.

While the exact formula wasn't exactly known outside of NFL headquarters until the most recent CBA, the gist of it is fairly simple simple. The league “grants teams extra selections in the following year’s draft if they lose more value in free agency (whether in quantity or quality of players) than they bring in. 32 of them are awarded each year, and teams can receive no more than four. The value of the picks – which occur after the third through seventh rounds – are roughly based on the annual salary of the new contract signed by the departing free agent.” -Sports Illustrated.

The Steelers find themselves with a number of big-ticket players on the way out. Those players being JuJu Smith-Schuster, Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, Alejandro Villanueva, and even James Conner, Cameron Sutton, and Avery Williamson could command deals that would sway the formula. The Steelers are in a legitimate position to receive multiple third and fourth round selections in 2022. The way they can guarantee such a massive draft haul is by resisting the temptation to bring in too many outside free agents until the compensatory window has closed.

The top free-agent Ts pic.twitter.com/jRBiEl26LW

— PFF (@PFF) February 16, 2021

The Steelers would be wise to look at the “street” free agent list that doesn't affect the formula whatsoever. Those are players that weren't under contract before March 17, most notably meaning players that were released. The list of street free agents currently include J.J. Watt, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Bouye, and Nick Eason, however that list is going to rapidly grow once the NFL sets its 2021 salary cap total. These players have to have priority over regular free agents.

To top things off, if Ben Roethlisberger hangs up his cleats within the next twelve months, the Steelers may want to go quarterback in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Then, the Steelers will likely need to put a serious package of picks together to move up in the draft to get one. The Steelers are still too good to finish within the bottom ten teams, and for a quarterback these days you probably want to get within the top eight as to not reach for one.

But what do you think? Should the Steelers avoid outside free agents to gain extra 2022 draft compensation? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.

Kevin Colbert doesn’t give a ringing endorsement for Ben Roethlisberger in 2021

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 02/17/2021 - 12:45pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers general manager admitted there’s a lot to work out with Roethlisberger for the 2021 season.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert met with members of the media on Wednesday and answered questions in regards to the Steelers 2021 offseason. With the Steelers facing uncertainty at the quarterback position, specifically in regards to the future of Ben Roethlisberger, Colbert did not make particularly bold statements about the future of their franchise quarterback. In fact, it was what Colbert did not say in regards to Roethlisberger which speaks more to the situation. This per Mark Kaboly of The Athletic:

GM Kevin Colbert didn’t really assure that Ben Roethlisberger will be back during call with media. Said it is really still up in the air. Said it might depend on what is in free agency and what they can add. He could’ve just squashed speculation but didn’t

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) February 17, 2021

So what exactly did Colbert say concerning Roethlisberger during his time with the media? Several different statements have been reported. For example, even if Roethlisberger wants to return to the Steelers they will be looking to do what is best for the organization. This per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Kevin Colbert on Ben Roethlisberger: With Ben's current cap number, some adjustments will have to be made. Hopefully there's a way we can figure out what's best for the organization. Hopefully he can see that and feel the same way. There's a lot of work to be done."

— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) February 17, 2021

But it’s not all salary cap and contract negotiations when it comes to Roethlisberger according to Kevin Colbert. The Steelers also have to decide if Ben Roethlisberger is their best option with what they want to do in their offense moving forward. This per Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network:

Pressed GM Kevin Colbert on what he meant “look at the situation” re Ben Roethlisberger's future w the #Steelers. Says “first and foremost,” it’s making finances work. But acknowledges “all of the above” to whether Ben still best option for future of franchise, O philosophy, etc

— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) February 17, 2021

So if Ben Roethlisberger may or may not be the right quarterback for the Steelers moving forward, what are the options according to their general manager? The only other player to start at the position for the Steelers in 2020 was Mason Rudolph. With one year left on his contract, Colbert mentioned he was encouraged with Rudolph’s progress in 2020. This per Bob Labriola of Steelers.com:

GM Kevin Colbert on Mason Rudolph: The game he started this year (in Cleveland) was the best game he has played for us. It was very encouraging to see him play the way he did in the Cleveland game.

— Bob Labriola (@BobLabriola) February 17, 2021

Colbert also went on to say Mason Rudolph would also be looking to prove what he can do going into the final year of his contract. Obviously, the only way he can do this beyond the Pittsburgh Steelers is to see significant playing time this coming season.

#Steelers GM Kevin Colbert on Rudolph entering the final year of his rookie contract: I think Mason is going to want to prove who he is.

— Bob Labriola (@BobLabriola) February 17, 2021

Although the endorsement for Rudolph was encouraging, his situation with the Steelers in 2021 ultimately comes down to Roethlisberger first. Should the Steelers decide to retain Roethlisberger and be able to rework the remaining year of his contract in order to help with the salary cap, it means this is Roethlisberger’s team as long as he is with the Steelers.

Most importantly, the Steelers have to figure out what direction they are going with in regards to the 2021 salary cap situation. Whether or not they feel Roethlisberger is their best option a quarterback is insignificant if they simply cannot make his salary fit within their financial means. This according to Kinkhabwala:

Pressed GM Kevin Colbert on what he meant “look at the situation” re Ben Roethlisberger's future w the #Steelers. Says “first and foremost,” it’s making finances work. But acknowledges “all of the above” to whether Ben still best option for future of franchise, O philosophy, etc

— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) February 17, 2021

There is an awful lot which can be read into what general manager Kevin Colbert said and did not say during his time with the media on Wednesday. In the past, Colbert has always come out to talk about how Roethlisberger is there guy moving forward. Not hearing those words will have many reading between the lines as to how the Steelers ultimately feel about Ben Roethlisberger’s future. On the other hand, these words could be setting the stage for contract negotiations between Roethlisberger and Steelers in order to put the team in the best financial shape going forward.

Only time will tell whether or not the Steelers and Roethlisberger will be moving forward together or apart from this point on. Either way, they Steelers have exactly four weeks to finalize their decisions as the new league year is set to kick off at 4 PM on March 17.

Analyzing the Steelers defensive depth without their free agents

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 02/17/2021 - 11:30am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have several free agents on the defensive side of the ball. What would the defense look like if they lost them all?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are not in a good place heading into the 2021 offseason. They are bellied up to the salary cap, and their list of free agents is long. When it comes to best, and worst, case scenarios, you have to wonder what the team would look like if they happen to lose more free agents than they keep.

In fact, I wanted to take a look at the defensive depth if the Steelers were to lose all of their free agents on that side of the ball.

Let’s take a look at the free agents first:

Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA)

OLB Bud Dupree
CB Mike Hilton
CB Cam Sutton
DT Tyson Alualu
DE Chris Wormley
LB Avery Williamson
OLB Cassius Marsh
LB Jayrone Elliott
S Sean Davis
S Jordan Dangerfield

Restricted Free Agents (RFA)

OLB Ola Adeniyi

Exclusive Righs Free Agents (ERFA)

ILB Robert Spillane
S Marcus Allen

Okay, with those names now out there, this exercise is based on what the Steelers’ depth would look like on the defensive side of the ball would look like if they lost all of their free agents. To make this simpler, and also how rare it is, I decided to say all RFA and ERFA will be retained one way or another. Therefore, the only players who will truly be lost are the UFAs.

Let’s look at the Steelers depth chart, by position (Note: I focused on players who had physical reps in the regular season or playoffs in 2020. Those who were never on the active roster are held off this list.):

Defensive Line

Cameron Heyward
Stephon Tuitt
Carlos Davis
Isaiah Buggs
Henry Mondeaux

OLB

T.J. Watt
Alex Highsmith
Ola Adeniyi

ILB

Devin Bush
Vince Williams
Robert Spillane
Ulysees Gilbert III

CB

Joe Haden
Steven Nelson
Justin Layne
James Pierre

Safety

Minkah Fitzpatrick
Terrell Edmunds
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Marcus Allen

There is a general consensus around the fan base the offense is the side of the ball which could be decimated by free agency this offseason. While they have their share of pending free agents, the defense certainly could be hit hard by free agency as well.

The loss of players like Hilton, Sutton, Alualu and Dupree leave huge holes in the depth of the Steelers’ defense. This obviously points to the team having to hit home runs with their picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, but it also points to them having to be players in the free agent market.

A lot of what they can, or cannot, do this offseason will hinge on the return of Ben Roethlisberger, as well as the pending salary cap number for the 2021 season. With those unknowns, it doesn’t leave fans with a warm, fuzzy feeling about the future of the team. But if you look at the above list, if they are able to keep just a few of those free agents, the outlook should be another dominant defense next season.

For instance, if the Steelers can keep Mike Hilton and/or Cam Sutton, the secondary will be just fine. If the Steelers could re-sign Alualu, their defensive front should be fine as well. Will the defense be addressed in the upcoming draft? Absolutely, but the Steelers defense could again be dominant with just some smart acquisitions/signings in the coming months.

If the Steelers were to lose all their defensive UFAs, would it be the end of this dominant group? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the team as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.

Podcast: The Roethlisberger effect on the rest of the Steelers roster

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 02/17/2021 - 11:00am

In the spirit of brotherly love, siblings Dave and Rich Schofield break down all things surrounding the black-and-gold.

The Steelers have a lot that they need to accomplish in the offseason, however one player’s contract may be holding everything up. Of course. We are talking about one Benjamin Todd Roethlisberger. What is the effect of the veteran quarterback’s finances on the rest of the Steelers roster? This will be just one of the subjects that will be discussed in the latest installment on the BTSC family of podcasts, The Scho Bro Show.

As always, it sure is a good time to get on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-Gold. On this show, Dave and Big Bro Scho break down all things Steelers, still talk stats, and also answer questions from fans!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • The Roethlisberger effect on the rest of the Steelers roster
  • Steelers Q&A

Dave and Rich walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

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