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Podcast: Steelers bite back Jaguars in a fall classic

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 4:45pm

Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo take a look back into Steelers lore in the BTSC family of podcasts. Check out the newest offering of the “Steelers Retro Show“.

It’s time again to climb into the BTSC Delorean to revisit a Steelers’ game from yesteryear. With the Steelers playing a former divisional foe on Sunday, let’s venture back to a time when a former Pirates manager, Jim Leyland, finally won the World Series as his Florida Marlins outlasted the Cleveland Indians 4-3 in extra innings of the seventh game. It was also around that time when Bill Clinton was probably still thinking that his reputation was safe as President of the United States, Seinfeld was still topping the Neilsens in the last season of its run and Boogie Nights had just been released.

Meanwhile, the 5-2 Jags were looking to knock the 5-2 Steelers from their perch and stand alone at the top of the AFC Central. Jacksonville was also hoping to sweep the season series after their 30-21 victory over visiting Pittsburgh in Week 3. Relive that awesome overtime classic on the Steelers Retro Show.

Welcome to October 26, 1997. Join BTSC’s Tony Defeo and Bryan Anthony Davis as they go back in time and relive this memorable matchup.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • What was happenin’ in 1997
  • and MUCH MORE!

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

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Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Quick thoughts on Avery Williamson’s Pittsburgh Steelers debut

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 2:30pm
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The newest member of the Pittsburgh Steelers debuted in black and gold against the Bengals

Avery Williamson made his long awaited debut for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth quarter of the teams 36-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. The 28 year old linebacker received his first snaps since suiting up as a member of the New York Jets, and didn't look out of place despite limited practice time in the Steelers system.

The Steelers being able to build a comfortable lead didn't just allow Williamson on the field, but to play with reckless abandon. In what was basically garbage time, the Bengals turned to its running game, which fits right in the wheel house of Williamson. The heavy tackling, run stuffer was able to get into the thick of the action on a number of occasions.

Black & Gold looks good on you, @AWilliamson54 pic.twitter.com/g4JXBXTaWW

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 8, 2020

Playing in just 11 snaps, Williamson was able to put up his first career Steelers tackle, in vicious fashion. He was also involved in a number of other group tackles.

I really liked how Williamson attacked the ball carrier, and how he doesn't allow anyone to get past him. Williamson is a sure tackler who has enough speed to cover the entire field. While his predecessor Devon Bush, flashed his blazing 4.43 forty time on a number of occasions, Williamson can still fly with 4.66 speed.

We 9-0‼️

— Avery Williamson (@AWilliamson54) November 16, 2020

As Williamson get more comfortable within the Steelers system, and picks up the lingo of the defensive scheme. I envision the seventh year pro playing more and more snaps before he supplants Robert Spillane as the teams starting inside linebacker.

I know many of you really like Spillane, as do I, but as the weeks go on Spillane has been exposed in some of the weaknesses of his game and would fair better in a more limited roll, while ramping up his special teams usage. While Williamson isn't the best cover linebacker either, he is a much more polished veteran who has a better understanding of the game being a multi year starter.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think about Avery Williamson’s debut? Do you think he’s destined to overtake the starting job?

Tell us why/why not down in the comments below!

Power Rankings: Steelers remain in the top spot after red-hot start

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 1:30pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After the Steelers’ red hot 9-0 start, they are at, or near, the top of the Power Rankings heading into Week 11.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, along with the rest of the NFL, are coming off the ninth week of a journey which has never been done in the history of the game. Playing games amidst a global pandemic.

The league has done tremendous work with protocols and adjustments to make sure this season goes off without a hitch, but even the best laid plans can have their bumps in the road. The Steelers experienced that first hand with an unexpected bye week after the Titans’ outbreak forced their Week 4 game to be moved.

Who do the experts think will be the team to beat this season? Power Rankings are one way to decipher who they like, or don’t like, at any particular juncture of the season. Heading into Week 11, there is a lot which can be expected. The Chiefs find themselves near the top of most rankings, while the Seattle Seahawks or the New Orleans Saints are everyone’s favorite now in the NFC.

Where do the Steelers fall? Well that depends. After a perfect 9-0 start, almost everyone sees the black-and-gold as a Top 3 team. Take a look at some of the Power Rankings below, and be sure to let us know what you think of the rankings in the comment section below!

ESPN

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

What would they take back: Cutting Jordan Berry

When your team is 9-0, it’s hard to want to take back anything. That leaves us with the punter situation. Searching for more consistent distance, the Steelers cut Berry and signed veteran Dustin Colquitt just before the season. But that experiment didn’t last long when the Super Bowl champ averaged 43.1 yards per punt — lower than Berry’s 45.5 average in 2019. The Steelers cut Colquitt after five games and brought Berry back. Since the switch, Berry has averaged 47.4 yards per punt. The punter switch obviously didn’t cost the Steelers any games, but it made some more stressful than they needed to be.”

2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. Green Bay Packers
4. New Orleans Saints
5. Baltimore Ravens
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
7. Buffalo Bills
8. Arizona Cardinals
9. Los Angeles Chargers
10. Seattle Seahawks

NFL.com

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger didn’t practice last week after being moved to the COVID-19 list on a close-contact designation. It’s unknown how much of the practice field he would have seen anyway, after sustaining injuries to both knees in last week’s win over the Cowboys. Then, Sunday rolled around, and Roethlisberger did his same ol’ Big Ben routine. The veteran quarterback carved up a depleted Bengals secondary for 333 yards and four touchdowns in a 36-10 win to move the Steelers to 9-0, with the lowly Jaguars on deck. This version of Big Ben — combined with an array of playmakers and a top defense — makes the Steelers easily the No. 1 threat to a Chiefs repeat.

3. New Orleans Saints
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5. Green Bay Packers
6. Baltimore Ravens
7. Buffalo Bills
8. Las Vegas Raiders
9. Arizona Cardinals
10. Los Angeles Rams

CBS Sports

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

“They just keep on winning. The good thing is the passing game came alive against the Bengals. They have earned this top spot.”

2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. New Orleans Saints
4. Green Bay Packers
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6. Baltimore Ravens
7. Las Vegas Raiders
8. Buffalo Bills
9. Miami Dolphins
10. Los Angeles Rams

The Sporting News

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Pittsburgh Steelers

“The Steelers were challenged to put together a complete game defensively and came through against the Bengals. They have to be disappointed by their running game issues, but can’t complain about their dangerous wide receivers compensating for them.”

3. New Orleans Saints
4. Green Bay Packers
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6. Buffalo Bills
7. Miami Dolphins
8. Arizona Cardinals
9. Los Angeles Rams
10. Baltimore Ravens

NBC Sports

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

“The Steelers remain undefeated after breezing past the Bengals on Sunday. They’re the first team to start a season 9-0 since Cam Newton’s Panthers did so in 2015.

Pittsburgh has a real shot at 10-0 as it’ll take on the lowly Jaguars in Week 11.”

2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. New Orleans Saints
4. Buffalo Bills
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6. Arizona Cardinals
7. Green Bay Packers
8. Baltimore Ravens
9. Seattle Seahawks
10. Indianapolis Colts

Film Room: Danny Smith and the special teams set the tone for a big win

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 12:30pm
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers chew gum and dominate field position in Week 10.

The Steelers special teams had a crazy rollercoaster of a day in week 9, a script worthy of a soap opera. In week 10 they came home to Heinz Field to face the Bengals on a wet field with 30 MPH winds gusting through a stadium already notorious for it’s windiness.

Danny Smith’s special teams didn’t even flinch. They came out focused and looking to make an impact from the first punt.

Week 10, 1st quarter, 13:38.

Your offense struggles adjusting to the wind on the first drive, that’s okay, maybe you just need a second try.

Derek Watt (welcome back!) has ahold of the runner’s legs when Olasunkanmi Adeniyi comes in with a great punch to knock the ball loose and Benny Snell finds it.

Both Adeniyi and Snell have seen their share of snaps fall off and Snell was criticized by Mike Tomlin for losing the football. They didn’t pout, they didn’t complain, they just found ways to make plays and help their team win anyway. Kudos to both for embodying a winning culture, and putting their kicker in range whether the offense was ready to go or not.

The Steelers offense would gain 9 yards and settle for a 42 yard Chris Boswell field goal.

The Steelers offense gained 27 yards on two drives, the defense hadn’t even gotten to the field yet and the Steelers had forced a turnover and taken a 3-0 lead because of their special teams.

The wind didn’t stop Boswell’s field goal, but it would mess with the ensuing kickoff.

Week 10, 1st quarter, 11:23.

After the wind knocked the ball off the tee, forcing the Steelers to have a player hold it in place we got this beauty of a play. The ball is carrying to screen right with the wind, and the returner can’t get a good read on it. The ball bounces off his leg into the end zone, where the returner is eventually tackled. Rookie Alex Highsmith in the moment, and plenty of Steeler fans at home thought this would be a safety, but it wasn’t.

It was the right non-call too. Here’s the NFL rulebook on Safeties: (emphasis added)

SECTION 5 - SAFETY
ARTICLE 1. SAFETY
It is a Safety:
1. if the offense commits a foul in its own end zone or;
2. when an impetus by a team sends the ball behind its own goal line, and the ball is dead in the end zone in its possession or the ball is out of bounds behind the goal line.

Impetus is the key word, the offense (in this case the return team) has to cause the ball to go into the endzone, and while the ball bounced off the returner, that bounce didn’t redirect the ball toward the end zone, the ball was heading to the end zone and was deflected to the side, and still went in the end zone. So this play ended up just being a touchback.

At the end of the 1st quarter they’d catch a kick cleanly, and actually get worse results.

Week 10, 1st quarter, 1:51.

You can see the coverage unit with a good spread of players covering every direction the returner can go, and they bring him down at the 19 yard line, 6 yards short of a touchback. The Bengals were struggling on offense, and tried to manufacture some yards with returns. It wouldn’t work. After the bobbled ball for a touchback the Bengals returned 3 of the next 4 kicks, returning the ball to the 21, 19 and 22 yard lines. They took the touchback on the Steelers last three kickoffs, putting the Steelers kick return team at +13 yards on the game.

At the end of the second quarter, there was a bit of a flashback to week 9, but the refs showed this crew actually knew the rule book.

Week 10, 2nd quarter, 1:51. Watch the interior Bengals linemen that shift next to Kameron Canaday.

The Bengals #98 gets his arm on Kameron Canaday’s back, and a flag flies. After a conversation they announce there is no foul, and there isn’t. #98 doesn’t use that arm to push off and try to jump the gap, but it is my opinion that the flag came out because of the contact, showing they were watching for a repeat from Dallas.

In the second half, the Bengals attempts to mount a comeback were repeatedly made more difficult by the field position battle that the Steelers were winning.

Week 10, 3rd quarter, 1106.

The Steelers offense stalls early in the second half, taking a touchback at the 25 yard line only to punt from their 27 yard line, but this Jordan Berry punt carries for 58 yards and Justin Layne arrives right on time for a big hit and a huge flip of the field, putting he Bengals in control at their own 15 yard line. A great stop by the Bengals defense ends like this, with even worse field position for their young quarterback.

That drive would gain 18 yards, and they would punt from their 33 yard line.

Week 10, 3rd quarter, 8:47. James Pierre is the Steeler to the bottom of the screen.

James Pierre does a fantastic job on this play, you can’t do that job better than he does on this play. There are some other solid blocks, and Ray-Ray McCloud returns a 42 yard punt for 8 yards to drop the net gain to 34 yards. The Steelers start their drive at the 33 yard line, winning the field position battle despite the Bengals offense outgaining them.

That’s how you keep a young quarterback cold and his offense struggling.

At the end of the third quarter the Steelers would have another stalled drive, gaining 9 yards and punting from their own 35 yard line, this time they would be punting in the direction that had been into the wind, but the wind had died down a lot by this point.

Week 10, 4th quarter, 14:55.

The returner keeps backing up before letting the ball go. It lands at the 10 yard line (66 yards in the air) and bounces to the 3 yard line where the Steelers down it, burying Joe Burrow and the Bengals to start the 4th quarter. Hard to start a comeback when you have to worry about not giving up a safety first.

The Steelers defense stuffed the run, and the Bengals settled for a 5 yard pass to get some room for their punter with the hopes of getting a better situation on their next drive, but that wouldn’t happen.

Week 10, 4th quarter, 13:27. Ray-Ray McCloud is the returner.

Lots of good blocks on this return, Justin Layne throws a big block to spring McCloud and he’s off for 42 yards on a 47 yard punt, giving the Steelers the ball 5 yards from where the Bengals punted. The Steelers scored again and a 4th quarter comeback was removed from the realm of reasonable possibilities.

On a day where the Steelers offense and defense both excelled it is easy to overlook the job the special teams did in setting up both units for success throughout the game, from an early lead that was almost entirely the work of special teams’ units, to consistently dominating field position, the special teams set the Steelers up for success and made the Bengals day more difficult.

In my opinion, the Steelers special teams were the best unit on the field in week 10, and they dominated the game from start to finish.

The Steelers are hopeful to get some key players back vs. the Jaguars

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 11:29am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping to get some familiar faces back in the fold in Week 11 when they head down to Jacksonville.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have started the season 9-0 and are coming off a dominant performance against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10 at Heinz Field. Throughout the game the Steelers saw plenty of big plays both on offense and defense, but what wasn’t witnessed, thankfully, was a major injury.

After the game head coach Mike Tomlin said his team didn’t suffer any serious injuries, just noting mainly bumps and bruises which accompany a physical AFC North matchup. Reserve running back, and special teams player, Trey Edmunds was unable to finish the game due to a hamstring injury, but other than that it was a clean outing for the home team, as it pertains to the injury front.

On Tuesday Tomlin was in front of the media for his weekly press conference, and there he updated the Steelers’ injury situation heading into their week of preparation for their road game vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11.

When it comes to in-game injuries, Tomlin only listed two players who suffered injuries. He mentioned Edmunds’ hamstring injury, but also added Jaylen Samuels with a quadriceps injury. How severe are these injuries? Tomlin said it could keep them out of practice in the early portions of the week.

There was good news on the injury front as Tomlin stated the organization had extreme optimism in the possibility of getting two defenders back in the fold.

Those would be slot cornerback Mike Hilton, who has missed the last four games with a shoulder injury, and Chris Wormley, who was placed on Injured Reserve after injuring his knee weeks ago.

Getting Hilton and Wormley back would be a great step forward for the Steelers’ defensive depth. With Wormley in the mix it would mean the Steelers wouldn’t have to rely on the likes of Carlos Davis and Henry Mondeaux, and with Hilton back it would allow Cam Sutton to resume his usual role as the dime cornerback in defensive sub packages.

With that said, we’ve heard Tomlin talk about Hilton’s potential return now for weeks and it has yet to take place. So, stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11 of the 2020 regular season.

Podcast: Did the Steelers put the NFL on notice in Week 10?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 11:00am

In the latest episode of “Steelers Hangover” show, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo look at the Steelers season and how they beat up on the Bengals to go 9-0.

Up until Week 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals, the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t winning emphatically and still aren’t considered world beaters as of yet. But was the 36-10 shellacking of Cincy enough notice to the football world that the Steelers are true contenders? This is just one of the subjects that will be discussed on the latest episode of the BTSC podcast, The Steelers Hangover. On this show, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo break down all things Steelers! Join the veteran duo as they analyze all things black-and-gold.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Did the Steelers put the NFL on notice in Week 10?
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

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Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1

Part 2

Steelers Vertex: Inside vs. outside tells the story of the Steelers running game

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 10:00am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

One aspect of the the Steelers running game has been consistent throughout the season, but the other has not.

We’re back at it again this week, so let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

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

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

The topic at hand this week is looking at the Steelers running game yet again. In the 36-10 victory over the Bengals on Sunday, there was little else which was an issue as the Steelers played a complete game for all four quarters. But when looking deeper, it’s a regression based on where the Steelers are running the ball leading to the lost production.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

First and foremost, I have to give the credit to Geoffrey for identifying a discrepancy in the Steelers running game. He has noticed a big difference between the Steelers inside running and outside running as the season has gone on. Geoffrey also identified the key turning point in the season of when the Steelers went to Tennessee for their sixth game. Therefore, I’m going to be looking at the statistics for the Steelers first five games (NYG, DEN, HOU, PHI, and CLE) versus their most recent four games (TEN, BAL, DAL, CIN).

The other metric which is going to be broken down here is the Steelers outside runs and inside runs. To specify, I used Pro Football Reference’s breakdown where runs considered at tackle or end as being outside and guard or center being inside.

In the first five games of the 2020 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had good success running to the outside. In 62 run attempts, they had an average of 6.5 yards per carry. In those plays, they scored 4 touchdowns and 19 of the plays have gone for 10 yards or more. Conversely, there were also 10 plays in which there were no yards gained or a loss on the play.

In looking specifically at running right versus running left, the Steelers attempted 30 rushes to the outside on the right side where they averaged 8.8 yards per carry with 1 touchdown, 6 plays of 10 yards or more, and only 2 plays where they did not gain any yards or lost yardage. When it comes to running to the left side, the Steelers had 32 runs for 4.4 yards per carry along with 3 touchdowns, 3 plays of 10 yards or more, and 8 plays of zero or negative yards.

When it comes to the four most recent games for the Steelers (weeks 7 through 10), the Steelers success is a whole different story. In 38 run plays to the outside, they are only averaging 2.1 yards per carry, have scored 1 touchdown, and had only one play of 10 or more yards. When it comes to plays for no gain or loss of yardage, they have had 13 of said plays. When running outside to the right, the Steelers have had 13 runs for a 3.0 yard per carry with 0 touchdowns, 1 run of 10 yards or more, and 6 negative or no yards gained plays. As for the left side, they have had 20 rushes for a 1.3 yard average with 1 touchdown, 0 plays over 10 yards, and 7 plays in which they gained no yards or lost yardage.

Obviously, the numbers show a completely different running game when it comes to the outside over the last four games. But is this strictly for outside running or does it just show how the running game has gone in general?

For this, let’s look at inside runs over the same period. Just to clarify, quarterback kneel downs are not included in this statistic although technically they are a running play. The first five games of the season, the Steelers have run inside on 82 occasions for an average of 3.6 yards per carry, 3 touchdowns, 8 plays of 10 yards or more, and 12 plays of zero or negative yards gained. Over the last four games, the Steelers have run the ball up the middle 40 times for an average of 3.8 yards per carry, 1 touchdown, 3 plays of 10 or more yards, and 7 plays of zero or negative yards. While the stats of touchdowns, runs over 10 yards, and negative plays are somewhat indicative of the decrease in the number of attempts, the Steelers have actually averaged slightly higher per carry running up the middle over the last four games versus the first five.

In looking at these numbers as a whole, what is interesting is how the Steelers had more negative yards running to the inside in the first five weeks (12 vs 10) but yet had almost twice as many negative plays running to the outside over the last four games (13 vs 7).

So in looking at the problems in regards to the Steelers’ run game, there hasn’t been hardly any change when it comes to running inside early in the season versus their most recent games. Where things have changed completely for the Steelers are the outside runs over the last four weeks. Why has this been the case? I guess it’s time to check the film…

The Film Line:

Last week I talked about the Titans countering the Steelers short passing game out of 11 personnel by putting an extra defender in the box but keeping the linebackers a bit deeper, and how that extra defender in the box helped thwart the Steelers run game.

It wasn’t the only problem with the Steelers run game though, and we are going to talk about some of the others this week including a glaring problem that showed up constantly throughout the Bengals game.

Week 10, 2nd quarter, 2:18.

This play is bad. This run is supposed to go between Chukwuma Okorafor’s block on the defensive tackle and David DeCastro’s block on the defensive end. Conner should follow Maurkice Pouncey into that gap, only the gap doesn’t exist. There are three Bengals in that gap and one outside. How did they get there?

Here’s the field right before the jet motion starts.

And here it is right after the snap.

Before the motion the Bengals have a 5-man canopy behind the nickel front. At the snap that canopy is 3 players, the strong safety is almost in the box, the corner is about to fill the run lane while the linebacker follows Conner outside.

The Bengals moved on the motion. The moment Chase Claypool starts coming across the formation the Bengals sell out on the run, and not just the run in general, the outside run the Steelers are running here. They know to defend the sweep and an off-tackle run to the opposite side. This play has become predictable.

It’s so predictable, a simple cutback is something they are surprised to see.

Week 10, 1st quarter, 6:42.

The defensive end to the top of the screen just drives Alejandro Villanueva back while the strong safety shoots to cover the jet sweep. Watch the inside linebackers, they split with #57 running to defend the off-tackle run that Conner is supposed to run here. When he cuts back there is no one there and it’s an easy 16-yard gain. This play was actually before the one above, the Steelers saw the Bengals biting on both the sweep and the off tackle run and kept calling the play.

This wasn’t a new development for Week 10 though.

Week 8, 2nd quarter, 6:38.

There’s no motion here, but the Ravens read the run and defend it perfectly, because its a run the Steelers constantly use.

There are multiple problems here. The run lane is closed when the Ravens drive David DeCastro into the lane and the edge takes on Matt Feiler’s pull too far inside for the kick out to work. DeCastro is a great lineman, but he hasn’t been himself since his injury in Week 5. He’s still doing good in pass blocking, but he’s been pretty bad in run blocking since. The pull gets stuffed because there aren’t a lot of runs out of shotgun, and the Steelers use this run a lot, especially off of jet sweep motion. Against the Bengals, the jet motion actually made the run play worse because the Bengals figured out something that other teams hadn’t exploited to the level they did.

The Steelers don’t throw the ball when they use jet motions. I don’t mean they never throw it, they run a pass play off jet motion about once a game, and those plays don’t work.

Week 10, 3rd quarter, 0:46.

First off, look at JuJu Smith-Schuster’s jet motion on this play. He takes a deep arc because he has to make sure he doesn’t end up running into one of the tackles dropping into their pass block set. Second, Eric Ebron is on the line to the bottom of the screen. As he comes across the middle, once he passes the linebackers he’s wide open. The corner responsible for Ebron is reading run first, and is 5 yards behind him.

The play design worked, but Ben Roethlisberger takes a deep shot to a covered Chase Claypool when his tight end is wide open. I rarely complain about Ben Roethlisberger taking deep shots, but the Bengals are jumping on jet sweeps, pulling the corners in to run defense to stuff those run plays. Passing with that motion is an attempt to catch them looking for a run, and it works. The entire point of this play is hoping that corner is reading run and late picking up Ebron, and Roethlisberger throws it to Claypool for a 50/50 ball.

And this brings us to the real problem.

The Steelers have two offenses. They have the 2018 Ben Roethlisberger offense that Randy Fichtner was promoted to run for him. It is an offense that was heavily pass based with a run game that was largely solved by the end of 2018. The Steelers tried to fix the problems with that offense by bringing in Matt Canada to add more motion, play action, and creativity, especially in the run game.

The challenge is melding the two into one offense, and that has been problematic. The run-pass options didn’t work because Ben Roethlisberger was running them off of pre-snap reads. Passing out of heavy sets with running backs lined up as receivers didn’t work well either. Now the jet-sweeps that were a huge boost to the run game have become a liability because they can’t pass on plays with that motion and teams tee off on the run the moment that motion starts.

Ben Roethlisberger is an old dog, and not one with a history of learning new tricks quickly. Everyone remembers the Rosetta Stone comments and the long learning curve Roethlisberger had in Todd Haley’s offense. Roethlisberger may not be complaining publicly about Matt Canada, but he isn’t running his additions to the offense well.

This has the Steelers in this weird mode where they try to run a dumbed-down version of the new, more creative offense for a few series before giving up and running Ben Roethlisberger’s offense. So far every attempt to merge the two into one effective and balanced offense has failed, the quarterback just isn’t able or willing to run the new stuff.

Randy Fichtner is still trying, though.

Week 10, 2nd quarter, 9:21. James Conner is the Steeler farthest to the bottom of the screen.

This is 11 personnel, the Bengals don’t adjust well to covering it when the Steelers go empty with James Conner at wide receiver and JuJu Smith-Schuster is open for a 24 yard reception. If the Steelers can switch from a singleback look to empty set, maybe they can make the singleback plays a bit harder to defend.

The Point:

The Steelers can’t keep running two different offenses. Both have become predictable, to the point that the only way the Steelers really move the ball is to go empty set and just pass the ball.

Ben Roethlisberger is the Steelers offense, he’s the straw that stirs the drink for this team. They aren’t going to win without him, and any improvements to this offense have to be ones that work with him. Randy Fichtner is still working to find ways to utilize Matt Canada in ways that work for his quarterback. Hopefully he finds it, or this offense will never reach its real potential and rival the likes of the Kansas City Chiefs, who use a lot of motion and misdirection to make Patrick Mahomes an even more effective quarterback than his talent and receivers would allow in a more vanilla offense.

If they don’t find that solution, the Steelers can at least run outside less and run inside more, and maybe consider playing Kevin Dotson until David DeCastro is healthier.

This is the NFL. Once a team puts something on tape, other teams are going to break it down and figure out a way to stop it. If an opponent takes certain things out of the equation which don’t occur in a given personnel and formation, it’s much easier to stop the play. The whole term one-dimensional is about knowing the other team is going to run or pass. Right now the Steelers need to stay ahead of the curve by figuring out what defenses are doing to try to stop certain things and exploit them, not simply run the play right into what they are guarding against. It’s a constant game of chess (not checkers), and you can’t make the exact same moves every game and expect the opponent to sit back and take it.

The Steelers made the first move in establishing the outside run game. Their opponents countered by selling out to stop it. It is now up to the Steelers to exploit their move. Once teams have to counter against the Steelers taking advantage of them selling out on the outside run, hopefully those runs being successful will be back on the table. It’s up to the Steelers to make them pay and get them out of the defense which is shutting down the outside run.

Steelers add tight end Charles Jones to the practice squad

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 9:12am
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

In a corresponding move, the Steelers have released linebacker Ray Wilborn.

In what has become the ever changing ins and outs of the NFL, the Steelers have added tight and Charles Jones to the practice squad. In a corresponding move, they have released linebacker Ray Wilborn.

We have added TE Charles Jones to the practice squad and released LB Ray Wilborn.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 17, 2020

With Vance McDonald still on the NFL‘s Reserve/COVID-19 List, the Steelers brought Jones in for a workout last Wednesday. Waiting for him to clear Covid protocol, Jones was now available for the Steelers to add to the practice squad. Jones joins tight end Kevin Rader who has been on the practice squad all season.

Jones played collegiately at Tulane where in four years he totaled 61 receptions for 460 yards and eight touchdowns. Undrafted in the 2019 NFL draft, the 6’4” 255-lb. tight end signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Failing to make the 53-man roster, Jones was signed to the Jaguars’ practice squad to start the 2019 season.

After being promoted to the active roster in mid November, Jones appeared in four games for the Jaguars in 2019. Playing 27 offensive snaps as well as 10 on special teams, Jones had one catch for 5 yards in the Jaguars’ Week 17 win over the Indianapolis Colts last season.

In 2020, Jones began training camp in Jacksonville but was waived/injured late in August and was waived with an injury settlement at the beginning of September. Jones spent three days on the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad in Week 8.

It is interesting that Steelers chose to release linebacker Ray Wilborn as they currently had only 15 players on the practice squad. When Kevin Dotson went on the Reserve/COVID-19 List on Saturday, the Steelers promoted safety Antoine Brooks Jr. to the 53-man roster which left a vacancy on the 16-man practice squad. With the Steelers deciding to make a move, chances are there will be more signing or shifting of players over the next week or more.

Stay tuned to BTSC as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to take on the Jaguars this Sunday in Jacksonville.

Stock Report: See whose stock is rising and falling after Week 10

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 8:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Discussing which Steelers players or positions are trending up, trending down, or simply treading water.

Welcome to the latest edition of the Steelers Stock Report of the 2020 NFL season: Cincinnati Bengals edition. I have been granted the distinguished opportunity to attempt to determine which direction individual players, or units, are trending after each weekly matchup, to the best of my ability.

I will attempt to make each determination without the use of my Black-and-Gold glasses, but admittedly I can make no promises.

Let’s get started...

Steelers stock trending up: Passing game

Last week Ben Roethlisberger was the recipient of this distinction for his heroic performance in leading the Steelers to a comeback victory over the upset minded Dallas Cowboys in Lone Star state, and he was even better this week against the Cincinnati Bengals.

After being unable to practice all week due to COVID protocol and being quarantined due to contact tracing; he was able to participate in a more intensive walk through on Saturday, Ben returned to Heinz Field in less than ideal conditions on Sunday against the Bengals.

There were sustained winds of over 20 mph blowing sideline to sideline across the field throughout the game, which would inevitably affect the passing games for both teams. Thankfully for the Steelers, Roethlisberger is well versed in knowing how to throw the ball in adverse weather conditions. Apparently, his young receivers needed a little time to adjust.

It takes superior velocity and a tight spiral to drive the football accurately through a strong cross wind, and Ben Roethlisberger has a cannon. Early in the game, the receivers seemed to struggle with the increased rpms of Ben's passes, letting multiple throws pass right through their mitts. After a series or two were in the books, they made the necessary adjustments.

JuJu Smith Schuster had his first drop of the season on a perfect pass on a quick slant route that could have went for one of those epic long catch and run touchdowns that he is famous for. He made up for that miscue with a touchdown reception in the back of the end zone after yet another Houdini disappearing act in the pocket by Big Ben. Juju's leadership and toughness have been on full display this season.

Chase Claypool continues his efforts to develop chemistry with Roethlisberger, with the results ranging from spectacular to near misses. The duo hooked up for a couple of touchdowns on the day, but they still aren't firing on all cylinders just yet. That should be a scary proposition for future Steelers opponents.

Diontae Johnson had maybe his best game as a professional, after his seemingly mandatory slow start to every game. He was finally able to hook up with Ben on a deep ball, and he did a great job working open throughout the game. The Big Ben to DJ connection is starting to gain steam, which bodes well moving forward.

Roethlisberger was even able to press the Bengals down the seam to TE Eric Ebron, something that should be available as the season progresses. The Steelers offense played another clean game without committing a turnover, and the Steelers offensive line did a excellent job protecting Ben Roethlisberger, not giving up a single sack. That's the good news....

Steelers stock trending down: Running game

Now for the not so good news. Normally it's kind of difficult to find an area of concern for a team that just defeated a division rival in dominating fashion on all three aspects of the game to remain undefeated on the season, but this Steelers team still has one glaring weakness. The Steelers offensive line, while being one of the best pass blocking units in the league, is absolutely atrocious when it comes to getting any push and opening lanes for the running game. Hopefully that wasn't too harsh, but nonetheless it is entirely accurate.

There is no point in beating a dead horse, or to point out that the Steelers don't have a single road grader along the line. That would be a blocker capable of winning one on one encounters with a defender by moving him against his will in a direction he doesn't want to go via shear force. Rookie RG Kevin Dotson has an abundance of this desperately needed ability, but he is stuck on the bench behind perennial Pro Bowl player David DeCastro. I have my suspicions that DeCastro would be none too happy with some sort of rotation based on down and distance, or based on need versus the weekly matchup. Desperate times call for extreme measures, and may have to be considered down the line.

The Steelers are not at that point just yet however. Part of the problem at the moment is easily diagnosed. The Steelers running formations are recognizable and predictable. Their heavy packages are ineffective to say the least, and Jerald Hawkins brings next to nothing to the equation. If the Steelers are going to bring FB Derek Watt on the field only when they are planning to run the ball, the predictability dampens his ability to make an impact.

To put it bluntly, James Conner doesn't have the foot speed to run outside the tackles, and must make a living between the tackle boxes. Please don't misunderstand me, Conner is in no way the main issue with the Steelers inability to successfully run the football consistently; but it is imperative that he doesn't try to bounce runs outside, where he routinely loses two or three yards, rather than power forward for the two or three yards available. Focus on keeping the offense in favorable down and distances. With Ben Roethlisberger playing some of the best football of his career; with improved ball security and the best Steelers defense in recent memory supporting him, the Steelers should be focused on avoiding negative yardage plays.

Finally, I would like to see Ben take snaps behind center more often moving forward, and be far less predictable in those situations. The Steelers have to display a renewed focus on the running game to reach their desired destination. Not necessary run the ball more frequently, but definitely more effectively when they do.

Steelers stock providing excellent return of investment: Jordan Berry and Ray Ray McCloud

Ray Ray McCloud has been a breath of fresh air for the Steelers return game. He is quick, elusive, and has an impressive ability to forcibly squeeze himself through tight spaces. He is also decisive in his decisions, and combines excellent ball security with his aggressiveness.

Finally, I feel it necessary to acknowledge the above the line performance of Jordan Berry since his unfathomable return from the NFL's unemployment list. Admittedly I wasn't surprised when his services where still available when the Steelers came calling. That says a lot about how he is viewed around the league, especially for a veteran known to be a solid teammate of good character.

It appears the time away from the game has done the young man some good. Berry has always had a booming leg, hopefully now he has the consistency and focus to go with it. So far so good.

The Steelers snap counts show the defense changed things up in dominating the Bengals

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 7:15am
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers changed how they matched the Bengals formations, and it worked.

Tyson Alualu and Derek Watt returned, Mike Hilton didn’t. The Steelers looked exactly the same in some ways, and yet changed their entire approach to the game in others. It was quite a game in week 10, and a dominant win over a Cincinnati Bengals team with a bad record, but the talent to be dangerous to anyone. Let’s look at who was out there making it happen.

Offense

The Steelers didn’t run the ball much against the Cincinnati Bengals, but James Conner played 64 snaps, the first time all season he has had more snaps than any of the Steelers wide receivers or tight ends. Conner was targeted twice and ran the ball 13 times, meaning his usage rate was under 25% for only the second time in his career. The first being in 2018 against the Kansas City Chiefs when Conner ran 8 times and was targeted 5 times in 72 snaps (18.1% usage rate).

Benny Snell played only 4 snaps, running the ball three times at the end of the game, while Jaylen Samuels played a single snap. It is becoming clear that Anthony McFarland is the Steelers backup to James Conner, and the Steelers intend to play Conner the vast majority of the game. Derek Watt’s return at fullback resulted in only 6 snaps as the Steelers heavier packages have been ineffective, and with Vance McDonald out didn’t get much work in this game.

Eric Ebron continues to dominate tight end snaps, and while Zach Gentry, at 14 snaps, played more than the backup running backs and fullback combined, he was not targeted.

Ray-Ray McCloud had a big day on special teams, but his impact on the offense was limited to a pitch to Chase Claypool on a reverse. The Bengals were focused on taking away the jet sweeps and they did a good job of it. JuJu Smith-Schuster led the Steelers receivers in targets for the first time since week 8 of 2019, but was second in snaps played to Diontae Johnson who led the team in receiving yards as well. Chase Claypool ranked third in wide receiver snaps, targets and receiving yards, but led the team with 2 touchdowns. James Conner bounced back, retaking the #4 spot in the wide receiver group, largely because the Steelers kept James Conner on the field, and James Washington plays more in 11 personnel than in 01 personnel.

Ben Roethlisberger sat for the final 4 plays of the game, and Maurkice Pouncey sat with him, with Kevin Dotson out for this game David DeCastro finished the game and was playing on field goal units as well. Mason Rudolph played 4 snaps but only handed off to Benny Snell on those plays.

The biggest change on offense was the Steelers using James Conner in empty sets a decent bit, keeping James Washington more involved in the offense and showing signs that they are looking to be able to go from a single back look to an empty formation in the future. If you read The Vertex here on BTSC last week, that move may make sense to you as teams are putting extra defenders in the box against the Steelers single back formation, and those linebackers and safeties are often liabilities in empty sets.

Defense

The first thing that should stand out to you is no player playing 100% of snaps, ending Minkah Fitzpatrick’s streak at 9 games. It was for a good cause though, as the backups got to play the last series of the game with the Steelers leading by 26.

Tyson Alualu returned, but only played 19 snaps, the fewest he has played since week 5 of 2019, when he played 13 snaps against the Baltimore Ravens. Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward dropped back below 80% of snaps, it is always good to see the Steelers in a position to limit their snaps. The Steelers did play Henry Mondeaux and Carlos Davis this game, but their snaps were down from week 9 as well. The Steelers have been using heavy doses of 3 defensive lineman, but in this game averaged 2.12 lineman per defensive snap, despite the Bengals spending the vast majority of the game in 11 personnel, which the Steelers had been defending with their 3-4 set a lot this season.

It was good to see the Steelers get away from that, even if it was strange to see them do so the week Tyson Alualu returned. Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt dropping into coverage against wide receivers isn’t often the best strategy. Although, to be honest, it worked really well for most of the season.

For the defensive backs, Justin Layne didn’t play a single snap on defense, as Antoine Brooks Jr. took over dime back and, on a decent number of plays, nickel back duties. Cameron Sutton played all but 10 snaps before they took the starters out and Terrell Edmunds was the only one of the top 4 DBs to miss a snap before the last drive, and he missed one snap.

The Steelers averaged 5.3 defensive backs per play. The Steelers spent almost every snap in either nickel or dime package, a big difference from what we’ve seen the rest of the season, especially considering the Bengals ran 11 personnel most of the game.

We can project the Steelers formation usage pretty accurately just from the snap counts.

The Steelers ran 3-4 about 12% of the game, Dime about 31% of the time, and the rest, 57% was in nickel.

How do I know? If we set our expectations for snaps as the Steelers using nickel every play you would expect 2 DL, 2 OLB, 2 ILB, 3 CB, 2 S per snap. The Steelers weren’t far away from that, they ran 8 additional lineman snaps, were even in outside linebacker snaps, ran 20 fewer inside linebacker snaps, 13 additional cornerback snaps, and 1 fewer safety snaps than expected.

Now all we have to do is account for those snaps. The Steelers ran one play where Terrell Edmunds came out for an additional corner (something the Steelers do occasionally), 8 snaps where they played an extra defensive lineman (3-4), and with 3-4 that lineman isn’t replacing an inside linebacker, he’s replacing a corner, which leaves 20 cornerback snaps to account for along with 20 snaps with only one linebacker, and that is dime defense. Marcus Allen is the dime linebacker, he played 20 snaps, so that adds up and makes sense. With 8 snaps in 3-4 and 20 in dime, that leaves 37 snaps in nickel.

The Steelers using nickel so much against 11 personnel is a pretty big change from their strategy most of the season, and we’ll have to watch and see if it becomes a trend, or if it is just another instance of Keith Butler and his coaches crafting an opponent-specific game plan.

NFL Week 11 Betting Preview: Steelers currently a 10-point favorite against the Jaguars

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 6:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The undefeated Steelers travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars

The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to to build on their franchise-record winning streak to start a season as they travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars. While the Steelers have one their last two home games by a total of 56 points, their last three road victories have only been by a combined 12 points.

Can the Steelers keep their franchise record streak going of consecutive wins to start a season? Will they be able to find their running game which has disappeared in recent weeks? Can they play a complete game on the road and put away a team where they are a heavy favorite?

When it comes to the betting lines for Sunday’s game, the following information is the current consensus spread and over/under for the Steelers this week as reported by oddsshark.com.

Game Info: Week 11 Pittsburgh Steelers vs Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, November 22, 2020 at 1:00 PM

Betting line: -10

Over/under: 47.5

Last Regular Season Meeting: Steelers (W) 20-16 vs Jaguars

Win streak: 1 games PIT

Last 3 Meetings: PIT 1 - 2 JAX

Last 10 Meetings: PIT 4 - 6 JAX

The opening line on the game was at -6 when the schedule was released in May. While the Jaguars were not expected to do much in 2020, the Steelers not losing a game has pushed the spread even more towards Pittsurgh.

Being highly favored on Sunday, the Steelers have a current moneyline on sportsbettingdime.com of -480 to win the game straight up, which is the equivalent of 5/24 odds. So a $20 bet placed on the Steelers over the Jaguars would have a payout of $24.17 ($4.17 plus the original $20 bet). The Jaguars have a current moneyline of +360, or 18/5 odds. Therefore the same $20 bet placed on Jacksonville to win straight up would have a payout of $92 ($72 pus the original $20 bet) .

According to Oddsshark.com, the Steelers are 6-1 against the spread in their last 7 games and are 5-1 straight up the last 6 games in Jacksonville. The Steelers also have gone UNDER in 6 of their last 9 in November.

If looking at the futures bets, the Steelers odds to win the Super Bowl vary from 5/1 to 6/1 and only the Kansas City Chiefs have better odds. The Steelers odds to win the AFC Championship are 13/5 odds. As for winning the AFC North, the Steelers are currently at 1/10 odds and are now ahead of Baltimore at 11/2 odds. The Browns are next at 22/1 odds with Cincinnati coming in at the bottom at 1000/1 odds to win the AFC North.

SportsBettingDime.com has the odds at https://www.sportsbettingdime.com/nfl/odds/

Podcast: The Steelers lack of a running game could stop their Super Bowl aspirations

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 5:30am

In the latest podcast on the BTSC family of podcasts, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers and how not having a strong rushing attack on offense won’t get the Steelers to the Super Bowl.

The Steelers are 9-0 for the only time in team history. They boast a dominating defense, a rejuvenated Ben Roethlisberger and a host of weapons for him to throw to. But their once-potent running game is not making the grade. This unit needs to experience an awakening or the SteelersSuper Bowl hopes will suffer. Join BTSC Deputy Editor Michael Beck as he explains how the lack of a running game might keep the Steelers from hoisting a Lombardi.

Check out all episodes on the following platforms:

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

You can listen to the show in the player below.

PFF outlines how the Steelers got back to the big play in Week 10

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 11/17/2020 - 4:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t just dink and dunk their way to a win in Week 10.

Any fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers who has paid attention throughout the team’s red-hot 9-0 start to this 2020 regular season has heard the criticism of the offense.

No, not the lack of a running game which has popped up recently, but the questions on whether Ben Roethlisberger could still deliver the big play downfield. It wasn’t due to a lack of arm strength after season-ending elbow injury in 2019, but just an inability to complete all of the necessary throws to be considered the elite quarterback he was prior to his injury.

After some big passes, including one big time throw to Diontae Johnson, vs. the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10, Roethlisberger continues to check boxes off his to-do list. Even the folks at Pro Football Focus (PFF) have taken notice.

Through the first nine weeks, Roethlisberger leads the league in the shortest average time to throw (2.18 seconds). His quick release wore out the Bengals’ pass rush, which generated pressure on just 8.7% of his drop backs. The Steelers’ offense produced seven explosive pass plays that went for 15 yards or more, and Roethlisberger completed two big-time throws to show he still has the ability to push the ball downfield.

Simply put, the Bengals’ secondary could not match up with the depth of playmakers the Steelers have at their disposal in the passing game. Whether lined up against Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster or Chase Claypool, Tony Brown could not hold up in coverage at his wide corner position. He surrendered six catches off of 12 targets for 84 yards and a touchdown. Roethlisberger went after Brown in critical situations and completed five passes against the third-year defender for first downs.

The Steelers left a lot on the field, especially on offense in the first half, but you would be blind to not see the evolution, and development, of the Pittsburgh offense. Are there still areas of concern? Absolutely. I did mention the lack of a competent running game earlier. However, the offensive line is doing a great job protecting Roethlisberger, and Roethlisberger is delivering to his wide array of weapons on their way to a perfect start.

Great start, but more work to be done...all while starting 9-0.

We’ll take it.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Duval county Sunday in Week 11.

Vikings vs. Bears, Week 10: Monday Night Football open thread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 11/16/2020 - 7:00pm
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

NFC football in prime time to finish up Week 10!

It is hard to believe, and some might still struggle with it, but NFL football is at the halfway point!

It wasn’t always certain there would be a return of America’s favorite game, but here we are, finishing up Week 10 and another Monday Night Football kickoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears.

While this isn’t the first NFL game of the 2020 season, our new commenting system remains a work in progress. While improvements have been made, and they aren’t done with those improvements, just wanted to put a message here from NFL Manager Jeanna Thomas about the system:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you don’t want to hear the talking heads babble on about the two teams playing tonight, you can always watch the game on mute and listen to some of our great Steelers podcasts. Check out the playlist below:

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

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

AFC North Recap: Steelers’ division lead grows after Ravens fall to Patriots

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 11/16/2020 - 2:30pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are still undefeated and put some distance between themselves and the rest of the AFC North.

The tenth week of NFL football is behind us, and it was quite the week in the AFC North division. With that said, it is time to see how the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns all did in the week that was.

Time to take a look...

Cleveland Browns - 10
Houston Texans - 3

The weather was certainly a factor for all of the AFC North games this weekend, and the Browns and Texans saw some crazy winds off the shores of Lake Eerie. The weather made this an extremely low-scoring affair, one which was dominated by the team with the better running game. Both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt went for over 100 yards on the ground as the Cleveland defense kept Deshaun Watson and company in check. If you look at the Browns’ upcoming schedule, if they fall off and out of contention they will have no one to blame but themselves.

Pittsburgh Steelers - 36
Cincinnati Bengals - 10

The Steelers dominated the Bengals, even more so than the final score might indicate. The Steelers’ struggled to cash in on quality field position early in the game, and had to rely on Ben Roethlisberger’s arm to win move the football. Not ideal, but on a day which also saw heavy rains before the game and severe wind in the first half, putting up 36 points is still a significant number. You won’t hear anyone apologizing for this win, and the Steelers remain a perfect 9-0.

New England Patriots - 23
Baltimore Ravens - 17

While the Steelers, Browns and Bengals dealt with wind, the Ravens and Patriots played in a downpour which only got worse as the game went on. This game wasn’t pretty, or really fun, to watch, but Cam Newton and the Patriots’ defense made just enough plays to keep their playoff hopes alive, while putting a huge dent in the Ravens’ hopes of winning the AFC North for the third straight year. The loss not only has them tied in second with the Browns, the head-to-head win gives them the advantage right now, but 3.5 games, the head-to-head loss being the half game, behind the Steelers in the division race. It will take more than just a win on Thanksgiving night to overcome this deficit, and the road doesn’t get much easier for the Ravens.

AFC North Standings

Pittsburgh Steelers - 9-0-0
Baltimore Ravens - 6-3-0
Cleveland Browns - 6-3-0
Cincinnati Bengals - 2-6-1

Week 11 AFC North Schedule:

Cleveland Browns vs. Philadelphia Eagles — Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars — Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Baltimore Ravens vs. Tennessee Titans — Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET

A look ahead...

Next three opponents for all AFC North teams:

Baltimore Ravens: vs. Titans, at Steelers (TNF), vs. Cowboys
Cleveland Browns: vs. Eagles, at Jaguars, at Titans
Pittsburgh Steelers: at Jaguars, vs. Ravens (TNF), vs. Washington
Cincinnati Bengals: at Washington, vs. NY Giants, at Dolphins

The Steelers aren’t ready to deem their running game a complete failure

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 11/16/2020 - 1:30pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are struggling to run the football, but those within the organization are no prepared to consider it an issue moving forward.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team who strives for balance on the offensive side of the football. A unit who wants to know they can run, or throw, when they deem in necessary. However, the past few games has been anything but balanced.

Two of the Steelers’ last three wins have been in the come-from-behind variety, which almost always means you are having to throw the football to bring your team back to win the game. However, in Week 10 the Steelers’ rushing attack struggled again for just 44 yards against a Cincinnati Bengals rush defense surrendering over 140 yards per game on average.

Is it time to worry? After Sunday’s win the Steelers rushing attack averages just 101.8 yards per game, which ranks in the bottom third of the NFL heading into Week 11. On top of that, their 3.8 average is the second worst in the league.

Head coach Mike Tomlin still sees the Steelers’ offense as capable of doing what is necessary to win.

“We’re a balanced group. We can to give it to you however you want it.” Tomlin said in his post-game press conference. “If you want to pack a bunch on the line of scrimmage, we’re going to throw it. You play two high safeties, we’re capable of running it. That’s what I mean when I say we strive to be a balanced group. We want to be able to move it however, however we choose, or maybe over commitments and so forth from defenses that dictate it, we’re okay with that too.”

Ben Roethlisberger, who shredded the Bengals’ banged up secondary to the tune of 333 yards and 4 touchdowns, understands the Steelers need to be better running the football.

“I think you have to be able to do it when you need to do it. Obviously, we didn’t run the ball well today, but we did other things well. We put points on the board. We scored when we needed to score. We converted when we had to do that. So, we shouldn’t get so caught up in yards per carry or total yards rushing or things like that because really it comes down to winning the football game first, which we did, and everything kind of falls into place from there.

“There’s going to be games when we need to run it, we need to be balanced, and there’s going to be games when we need to throw it. We just have to be ready to do it whenever we’re called for whichever situation we need to go.”

JuJu Smith-Schuster was also asked about the Steelers’ offense going into a pass-happy approach to win games in recent weeks. He too understands the need for balance between the pass and run.

“At the end of the day, it’s about the balance between running the ball and throwing the ball.” Smith-Schuster said. “In some games, running the ball is more effective than throwing the ball. I think today, throwing the ball was more effective than running the ball. In our situation, they were stacking the box, blitzing guys off the edge, so we opened up the package. Even James [Conner] had a couple catches being in empty set and him being out with the wide receivers. As you can see, it’s all about moving the ball around and spreading out the defense.”

While some fans might want to bemoan the Steelers’ lack of a running game, it seems the players and coaches are more than willing to commit to doing what works. Even if that means using the passing game as the primary mode of moving the football to win games.

And at this point, sitting at a perfect 9-0, who are we to argue with what they are doing?

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC as they turn the page away from the Cincinnati Bengals, and start to prepare for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11.

Joe Burrow is looking forward to his next shot against the Steelers defense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 11/16/2020 - 12:30pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers dominated the Bengals’ rookie quarterback, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t looking forward to his next game vs. the elite unit.

Pittsburgh Steelers fans can say a lot about Cincinnati Bengals’ rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, but you can’t say he lacks confidence.

The top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Burrow struggled against the Steelers’ defense on Sunday at Heinz Field in Week 10. Coming off a bye week, and an extra week to prepare, the Bengals’ offense failed to convert on a single third down throughout the four quarters of play. Burrow took the blame for the offense’s failures Sunday.

“I missed throws.” Burrow said when referencing their struggles on third downs. “That’s all it came down to. You’re not going to be able to win football games against a team like the Steelers as good as they are when your quarterback plays like I did in the second half.

“I just missed throws, throws I always make. I’m not really sure. I’m excited to get back to practice and get that fixed.”

Burrow has been impressive in his first season as a professional, but the two teams he has struggled with the most have been the Steelers and the Ravens, two of the top defenses in the league. Despite his struggles, the former LSU standout is excited for the challenge of facing the Steelers defense again in Week 15.

“Absolutely.” Burrow said in referencing the losses to Baltimore and Pittsburgh a measuring stick games for his progress. “They’re the two best teams in the division, teams that we’re striving to be, teams that are really, really good year in and year out, and that’s what we’re chasing. I think you never want it to happen, but in my mind we got two of those out of the way. Now I’ve played them one time, and I’m excited to play them the next time.”

So, what was it the Steelers did to stymie the Bengals’ offense? According to Burrow, nothing special.

“No, they just have really good players and have a really good plan. They do what we expected them to do. They played we call it two carry and 3D and they’re really, really good at it. They have good players, they have good rush, and we moved the ball for three or four straight drives there in the first half.

“Like I said, I thought we got our rhythm and then we came out in the second half flat and I didn’t play very well. If I played better in the second half, I think we’d have a chance at the end. I missed a throw down the sideline there on the double move. That was a big play. I needed to hit that one. And then I missed TB [Tyler Boyd] on the sail route on the sideline that we ended up challenging, and he kind of bobbled it but that was a terrible throw from me that TB almost made a great play on. If I hit those two, I think the game is a little different.”

Throughout it all, Burrow went from not losing a game his senior season at LSU, en route to a National Championship and a Heisman Trophy, to struggling in Cincinnati at the game’s highest level. Of course, some struggles were expected, but maybe not to this extent.

“This is not fun, obviously, but there’s no — it’s not demoralizing in the locker room. We knew we had a chance in that game if I play better, if we play better in a couple spots. We’re in that game until the end.

“So you hear me talk and I’m not too down in the dumps because I know I’m not going to play like that very often. I might play like that hopefully never again but maybe once a year. There’s no — we’re not down in the dumps or anything like that. I’m excited to get back to work.”

One thing is for sure, Burrow doesn’t lack confidence and also has taken this loss and put it on him. A good sign of leadership, but I’m not sure if there are many quarterbacks who would raise their hands when thinking about having to play the Steelers’ defense twice a season.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11.

The Steelers were all business in their win over the Bengals in Week 10

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 11/16/2020 - 11:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers simply took care of business in a very methodical way in Sunday’s 36-10 victory over the Bengals at Heinz Field.

The Steelers rushed for 44 yards. There, that’s about the only negative thing you could say about Pittsburgh’s 36-10 victory over the Bengals at Heinz Field on Sunday evening.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 27 of 46 passes for 333 yards and a whopping four touchdowns—including two to rookie receiver Chase Claypool, one to second-year receiver Diontae Johnson and one to fourth-year receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.

As for the defense, it registered four more sacks—including two by T.J. Watt—and two more takeaways. The Bengals were 0-13 on converting third downs on the day and would have been limited to a bland seven points if not for a pesky successful fake punt that kept a drive alive late in the fourth quarter.

One week after looking rather vulnerable against Garrett Gilbert, the Cowboys’ fourth-string quarterback, Pittsburgh’s defense looked simply marvelous against Joe Burrow, the 2020 number-one overall pick and an apprentice golden boy slinger.

In many ways, it was Burrow’s worst performance of 2020, and maybe that’s because it may have been the best the Steelers’ defense has looked through nine games.

Back to the offense. It frustrated early on, failing to look totally explosive right out of the gate. But Randy Fichtner’s unit really hasn’t seemed explosive in 2020, as the 5.7 yards per play on Sunday will attest. However, the offense has been incredibly efficient, as those 5.7 yards per play against the Bengals on Sunday will attest.

The Steelers simply have too many weapons on offense to totally shut it down for four quarters. Remember the Tom Brady-led Patriots and how it felt like death by a thousand cuts whenever the Steelers faced them? That’s how Pittsburgh’s offense feels in 2020 behind a returning Roethlisberger, who seems more surgeon than gunslinger at the age of 38.

In many respects, it was Pittsburgh’s most impressive win of the 2020 campaign. Think about it, you’re coming off a three-game road-swing—including two very physical matchups against some of the best teams the AFC has to offer. Early in the week, you have one player test positive for COVID-19—tight end Vance McDonald—and four others that must spend time in the COVID protocol—including Roethlisberger and inside linebacker Vince Williams. You talk about a recipe for a trap game, a letdown. Yet, the Steelers simply took care of business for four quarters. It wasn’t always a work of art, but it was never ugly. Pittsburgh stayed within the lines and reminded the Bengals that the rivalry still wasn’t there. Roethlisberger reminded Burrow that he still has something to say about the quarterback hierarchy in the AFC North.

Most importantly, the Steelers showed the rest of the NFL that if it’s expecting them to falter, it’s probably not going to happen against a team like Cincinnati. It may not even happen against the Ravens or Bills.

These 2020 Steelers are focused. These 2020 Steelers are all business. Maybe that’s why these 2020 Steelers are 9-0.

Steelers Podcast: The truly scary aspect of the 2020 Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 11/16/2020 - 11:00am

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

The Steelers are 9-0 after a decisive victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. However, the most impressive thing about the perfect record is that the Steelers haven’t been as impressive as they could be. The black-and-gold hasn’t hit full throttle yet. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC co-editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • The true potential of the 2020 Steelers
  • 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.

Winners and Losers after the Steelers 36-10 win over the Bengals

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 11/16/2020 - 10:00am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

After every game there are players who play well, and those who don’t. This is where the ‘Winners and Losers’ column comes from.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they played the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10 of the regular season. After the AFC North game on Sunday, it is time to see who performed well, and who left a lot to be desired.

Improvement was evident in some ways, and hopefully will continue, but the judgement process must go on. Players who play well can be considered ‘Winners’, while those who left plays on the field can be deemed ‘Losers’. It may sound harsh, but it is the crux of this exercise.

Let’s check in to see who fell on which side of the ledger after Week 10...

Winners

Ben Roethlisberger
Stat Line: 27-46, 333 Yards, 4 TD, 0 INT, 0 sacks, 110.1 Rating

I have to be honest here. I actually had a gut feeling Roethlisberger would come out and play well. How did I have this feeling? We’ve seen this type of stuff from Roethlisberger before. Not practicing all week, the issues/fears of him potentially being COVID positive put Roethlisberger in a tough spot. When his back is against the wall is usually when he plays his best. Turns out my gut was right, and Roethlisberger played arguably his best game of the season in Week 10 vs. Cincinnati.

Diontae Johnson
Stat Line: 6 Rec., 116 Yards, 1 TD, 19.3 average, 46 yard long, 11 targets

What is really crazy about this stat line is the vast majority of this production came in just one half of football. Johnson is a lethal weapon for the Steelers’ offense, and when he has the football in his hands he is almost guaranteed to make the first defender miss. Johnson is just another tremendous weapon the Steelers have in their passing attack, and he took advantage of his opportunities Sunday.

Joe Haden
Stat Line: 4 tackles, 3 solo, 3 Pass Defenses

Haden doesn’t get the love he probably deserves, but he made his presence felt early and often vs. Joe Burrow and the Bengals on Sunday. His breaks on passes this season has been tremendous, and it is time he gets the recognition he deserves. Haden is now the grizzled veteran in the secondary, and he seems to be embracing that role just fine in 2020.

Cam Sutton
Stat Line: 2 forced fumbles in the past 2 games, 5 tackles, 5 solo, 1 TFL

Entering this season there was a discussion of who would the Steelers look to keep after the 2020 season. Mike Hilton or Cam Sutton? Hilton’s absence has been felt during the past four games he has missed due to a shoulder injury, but Sutton has stepped up and made plays in his absence. None larger than the two forced fumbles he has caused in consecutive games. What was shocking to me was I had him on the winners list before looking at his complete stat line. A great day at the office for Sutton.

Chase Claypool
Stat Line: 4 rec., 56 yards, 14.0 average, 2 TD, 15 long, 10 targets

What might be the most impressive thing about the rookie wide receiver out of Notre Dame is his ability to compartmentalize his mistakes. Claypool had some drops in the game Sunday, and has had this share during his rookie campaign, but it never cracks his confidence. Claypool’s 7 receiving touchdowns on the season has him tied for 5th in the league, and just two behind league leaders Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill. Pretty impressive stuff for the young wide out.

Ray-Ray McCloud
Stat Line: 4 punt returns, 60 yards, 15.0 average, 42 long

By my record, McCloud should have three return touchdowns this season, but he just always seems to get caught up at the last moment. That shouldn’t take away from the impact he has had on the return game this season since taking over full time in lieu of Diontae Johnson. Ray-Ray is going to break one at some point, and hopefully that will be soon.

Jordan Berry
Stat Line: 7 punts, 345 yards, 49.3 average, 1 touchback, 4 inside 20, 62 long

I’m not sure how I feel about Berry being in the winners column, but if I am going to bash him for his poor performances, I have to acknowledge the good ones too. Berry had, in my opinion, his best performance of his career Sunday. Some will say he was aided by the wind, I honestly don’t care. He showed both some finesse and strength in his punts, and that is what you want from your kicker, the ability to flip the field and give offenses a long field to operate. Job well done for the Australian.

3rd Down Defense
Stat Line: Bengals 0-for-13

I can’t say I’ve ever seen a stat line like the one above. An offense who doesn’t convert a first down in four quarters. NOT ONE! Incredible, to say the least, and the Steelers’ defense played their best on third downs on Sunday. A nice change from their third down struggles against the Cowboys in Week 9.

Red-Zone Offense
Stat Line: Steelers offense 4-for-5 in red-zone

Speaking of efficient, the Steelers’ red-zone offense was the epitome of that. 5 total trips, and 4 of them resulting in touchdowns? That’s some good work there, and reminiscent of the 2018 offense which led the league in red-zone efficiency. This statistic, red-zone efficiency, will be a key metric for the Steelers down the stretch. Scoring touchdowns, and not field goals, is what separates the contenders from the pretenders.

Losers

3rd Down Offense
Stat Line: Steelers offense 6-for-16 on 3rd downs

The Steelers’ offense was great in the red-zone, but not so much on third downs. I might have to be more specific here and talk about first half third down efficiency. Nonetheless, if there is one area of the offense which can improve, it would be on third downs. Finishing the day with a 37% conversion rate just isn’t going to cut it.

Rushing Offense
Stat Line: 44 yards rushing, 2.2 average

The Steelers got away from the run, but it wasn’t as if they didn’t try. I have to question the style of runs and what they saw in the Bengals’ defense which they felt the stretch outside runs would be more successful than the runs up the middle. Nonetheless, another day where the Steelers couldn’t even entertain the thought of being balanced offensively. Is this the new norm in Pittsburgh, or will they figure it out? Only time will tell...

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