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NFL Odds and Predictions: Picking all the Wildcard games against the spread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/04/2020 - 8:19am
Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

BTSC’s Jeff Hartman and Dave Schofield pick this weekend’s NFL playoff games both against the spread and over/under point totals

It what is the epitome of an up and down season for the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers. After starting with the low at 1-4 and losing Ben Roethlisberger for the season, the Steelers went 7–1 over the next eight games. Unfortunately, finishing up 0-3 left the Steelers out of the postseason and moving towards 2020 while 12 other teams push forward towards the Super Bowl. But even though the Steelers season is over, there are still games to be played which means predictions will continue.

For the 2019 NFL regular season and postseason, both Jeff Hartman and myself will be picking every game against the spread and the over/under point totals. Please remember we are not experts on betting or any kind of sports gamblers. We are just a couple of Steelers’ fans saying who we think will come through each week.

Last week, Jeff and I finished up the regular season dead even in picking games against the spread. Jeff had a one game lead going into Week 17, but after he went 7-9 while I finished just ahead at 8-8, we are both currently 119-114-6. Jeff held a large 7-game advantage in the over/under on the season, but I finished just ahead this week at 10-6 while he was 7-9. On the season, we are even against the spread while Jeff is up four games in the over/under category.

So here are the picks for the Saturday and Sunday games for Wildcard Weekend of the NFL season. Please feel free to list your choices in the comment section below and play along!

All selections are based off of the consensus data from as of Friday night.

My season of lowered expectations for the 2019 Steelers still ended in disappointment

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/04/2020 - 6:59am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

This BTSC writer continuously adjusted his expectations for the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers team beset by injuries, but somehow still ended up disappointed.

Some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results. By that simple definition, I must be clinically insane, at least when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Every year I promise myself prior to the start of the season that I will keep my Steelers fandom in perspective. I won't allow the results of each game to affect my mindset and wellbeing throughout the week. I tell myself that I refuse to allow the outcome of a game to apparently impact me more than the players that actually played the game and suffered the defeat. They go back to their money and mansions, and life goes on. Why do so many members of Steelers Nation, myself included, allow the results of a game impact our reality? It really is crazy when you think about it. But love isn't always rational.

This year was going to be different. I had this whole Steelers fandom thing under control. After the exodus of their most dominant skill position player, and a slew of new faces in new places, I went into the season with lowered expectations. I expected some difficulties maneuvering through a stacked early season schedule, especially considering the need to develop chemistry with all the youthful additions, but then the unthinkable happened. Down goes Big Ben, and any Super Bowl aspirations with him.

Immediately I adjusted my expectations yet again. I actually felt like a weight had been lifted. Instead of having the bar set far too high in my mind, I didn't even have a bar set at all. I only wanted to see the Steelers compete each week to the best of their abilities, for all the young talent to show improvement as the season progressed, and develop team chemistry with the veteran players along the way. Even through the early defeats, I was pleased with the overall effort and development. I was in a surprisingly good place.

Sure, the turnovers and missed opportunities that directly lead to some of those close losses were tough to stomach. The pass interference challenge actually won by Pete Carroll, one of the precious few successful challenges this season, contributed greatly to the Seahawks victory. A phantom roughing the passer penalty on Adeniyi for a clean hit on Lamar Jackson resulted in overtime, where JuJu's fumble proved costly. James Conner's late fumble against the Niners deep in their own territory cost the Steelers a shot at an upset. Three missed opportunities against eventual double digit win teams. Pretty sure that would come back to haunt the Steelers, but I was still taking it all in stride.

Suddenly the Steelers defense hit their stride and started to display dominant tendencies, the schedule lightened up with some talent deficient opponents, and the Steelers won seven out of eight games in the middle of the season. Again I took the success in stride, realizing the quality of the opponents was playing a huge role in the streak. The total ineptitude of the offense was a constant reminder to temper any expectations, but somehow I got sucked back in.

Sitting at 8-5; with a turnover causing, sack machine of a defense, and a presumably favorable schedule, I started to believe the playoffs was a possibility. I held no delusions about a deep playoff run, but I wanted to see the season extended and the youngsters get the valuable experience. Then my loving wife gave me a early Christmas gift, and jinxed the Steelers.

On the Saturday before the Buffalo Bills game, my wife handed me a new Duck Hodges tee shirt she got me for Christmas. I personally wouldn't have purchased any Duck merchandise till he had ample opportunities to prove himself, but I appreciated the gesture. Admittedly, I was concerned about a possible jinx. That Duck would go down in a blaze of glory, and the shirt would be nothing more than a novelty item. Turns out my concerns were warranted.

Somehow, even with my lowered expectations, I still ended up disappointed with the conclusion of the season. It turns out, no matter how good my intentions, I just can't help myself when it comes to the Steelers. No matter my mindset, my heart is always all in.

I have come to realize a few undeniable truths about my Steelers fandom. I hate losing even more than I love winning. The fact that the last few Steelers teams have been so one dimensional has greatly impacted my ability to enjoy the season. I thought the past few seasons of superior offense/average defense was bad, but this season of dominating defense/no offense was worse.

Even with the defensive struggles of recent seasons, I always believed the Steelers had a chance because of their superior offense. This season's offensive inadequacies quickly resulted in a loss of faith whenever the team faced the slightest deficit. If the defense couldn't create a turnover, resulting in a shorter field, the Steelers struggled to score. As much as I appreciated the outstanding defense, the final few games this season was the most frustrating football I can remember.

Get well soon, Big Ben Roethlisberger! Steelers Nation is rooting for your healthy return in a big way.

Turns out I maybe a dreamer, but at least I ain't the only one.

Podcast: Why dealing in what ifs are for losers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/04/2020 - 5:51am

In a brand new show titled ‘Yeah, I said it’, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers fan base is angry the team is out of the playoffs for the second straight year. And this fact makes people want to find a scapegoat. But while a scapegoat might not be around, some turn to the “what if” game. But do you know who usually plays that game? Losers.

This is where the newest BTSC podcast “Yeah, I Said It” comes in. My co-host on ‘The Standard is the Standard’, Lance Williams tells fans why playing this game can be bad news...this will be good!

Time to deliver the goods on the latest show.

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!

Check out the audio below:

Feel free to give us your thoughts on the topic in the comment section below, and don’t forget to follow us on all our audio platforms by following the links below:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

Black and Gold Links: An inside look as to how the Steelers 2019 season didn’t collapse

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/04/2020 - 5:06am
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially over. After finishing the year 8-8, the Steelers, and their vast fan base, has another long offseason awaiting them. Just because the games are done doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how although the Steelers’ 2019 season should have collapsed early in the didn’t.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers showed their resiliency throughout the 2019 season, and there was a reason why the season didn’t show a team just folding.


By: Tyler Dunne, Bleacher Report

Each week, each player is reminded what’s expected. The standard, as they preach around here, is the standard. As soon as any Steelers player exits the locker room, he sees photos from the previous week’s game lining the hallway. Through the double doors, into the main lobby, there’s a collage of Steelers greatness past plastered on a wall.

The Super Bowl is the bar. Period.

So, here is Bud Dupree. A man accepting that reality.

After taking his daily stroll past those images, the Steelers edge-rusher turns right into the cafeteria, where a skillet sizzles and a few teammates are picking up food to go. He sets down his backpack and then his phone with its faded-red case and cracked screen. It’s 3:45 p.m. on a Thursday. He leans forward in a Jordan brand hoodie and reels off the absurdity in Pittsburgh.

The stars who left. The injuries. The tragedy. It all brought this Steelers team closer together, he begins, and all made them view Mike Tomlin as more than a coach. Rather, a true “mentor.” A father figure.

Then, Dupree is suddenly and seamlessly reliving his own past 12 months. Right here, he realizes just how closely his rise mirrors the Steelers’ rise in a season that should’ve cascaded into chaos long ago.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • How bad was the Steelers’ offense? Yeah, it was bad.

Steelers 2019 offense among most impotent for franchise over past half-century

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

We knew the Pittsburgh Steelers offense this past season was bad. But how bad? One of the worst since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger.

Without Antonio Brown (traded), Le’Veon Bell (free agency) and Ben Roethlisberger (injury in Week 2), the Steelers finished 30th in the NFL in yards (276.8 per game) and 27th in points (18.1). Never before had a Steelers team finished worse than 28th in the NFL in yardage, and only once had one finished lower than 27th in points.

Of course, accounting for expansion, it’s more accurate to say the Steelers finished with the NFL’s third-worst offense and scored the league’s sixth-fewest points. Since 1970, the only Steelers teams to rank lower relative to the rest of the league were the 1989 Steelers (dead last in yardage) and the 1998 Steelers (third-worst in points).

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • A players wants and desires can be two completely different things.

Javon Hargrave wants to return to Steelers, seems resigned to fact he probably won’t

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

At one point during what was a reflective Sunday for Javon Hargrave, the defensive lineman whose fourth NFL season had ended moments earlier slipped up while speaking to media in the M&T Bank Stadium visitors’ locker room.

Asked about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ outlook for 2020, Hargrave’s initial choice of pronoun spoke volumes – so much so that Hargrave seemed to recognize the weight of it and quickly corrected himself.

“Of course,” Hargrave said, “I just know they are going to – well, it’s going to be a back bounce season for us next year.”

From Hargrave’s perspective, will the 2020 Steelers be “they” or “us”? The answer might not be known definitively until March.

Hargrave is tagged for unrestricted free agency, arguably the Steelers’ second-most valuable UFA-to-be behind only Bud Dupree.

But with the Steelers lacking much salary-cap space and likely looking to prioritize shoring up the offense, and with Hargrave being roughly a half-the-defensive-snaps kind of player, the odds would seem to be against the Steelers bringing him back at the salary Hargave will likely command on the open market.

“I don’t know,” Hargrave said when asked if the Steelers seemed interested in negotiating a longterm contract. “I guess we will see in these next few months how it is and how it’s going to go.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

“If there’s any such thing as a Hall of Famer, Donnie’s a Hall of Famer.” @ProFootballHOF

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 3, 2020

The @Steelers' Greatest Moment: The Immaculate Reception

To vote for this as the Greatest Moment in NFL History, go to #NFL100

— NFL (@NFL) January 2, 2020

A lucky #Steelers fan got a visit from Jon Kolb, courtesy of @powerhomesolar1.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 2, 2020

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions: Offseason, Vol. 1

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/03/2020 - 5:43pm
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

There is plenty to talk about regarding all things black-and-gold!

Several people have asked if we could bring back the Friday Night Open Thread. I had moved the event to Saturday morning, but after minimal success, I decided to bring it back to Friday night — with a slight twist.

I liked the Saturday Six-Pack theme, so I decided to just take the six questions and move them to Friday night. Say hello to Friday Night Six-Pack of Steelers Questions and open thread!

The rules haven’t changed...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

  • I’ll ask at least four questions strictly related to the Steelers.
  • The rest of the questions could be about anything.
  • Be respectful.
  • Have fun talking about the Black-and-gold.

That’s it! With that out of the way, it’s time to get this party started. Hey, don’t act like you’ve never done a little Friday night drinking. Here goes:

1. Starting this on a serious note, which Steelers legend deserves to be in the Hall of Fame more? You can only choose one, and you have to explain why you made your decision...

L.C. Greenwood or Donnie Shell

2. The Steelers are out of out, if you are rooting for another team to win it all, who are you rooting for and why?

3. Take your black-and-gold glasses off for a second, and answer if you think Hines Ward will make the Hall of Fame anytime soon.

4. Who do you like to win the Wild Card games this weekend?

Bills at Texans
Titans at Patriots
Vikings at Saints
Seahawks at Eagles

5. Who is your favorite member of the Steelers of all-time?

6. I am not expecting any coaching changes this offseason, but if you were to guess which coach would be let go, who would it be?

No matter what, always remember...



3 members of the Pittsburgh Steelers named to the AP All-Pro first team

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/03/2020 - 12:23pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, and Minkah Fitzpatrick all received first team honors while rookie Diontae Johnson made the second team as a punt returner

The NFL’s Associated Press All-Pro Team was announced on Friday and three Steelers’ defenders made the first team. Defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, edge rusher T.J. Watt, and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick all earned first-team honors.

AP First Team All-Pro:

— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) January 3, 2020

Rookie Diontae Johnson was selected to the second team AP All Pro as a punt returner. Additionally, T.J. Watt was also selected to the second team AP All Pro as a linebacker.

AP Second Team All-Pro:

— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) January 3, 2020

For Cam Heyward, it was his second year as being chosen as first team All Pro. His previous election was in 2017. For both Watt and Fitzpatrick, it is their first selection to the illustrious honor.

The Associated Press All-Pro Team is made up of the top offensive, defensive, and special trams’ players in the NFL at their given positions. On first team, only 11 players on offense are selected with 14 players on defense and five specialists.

Cameron Heyward ha his most tackles in a season in 2019. With 83 combined tackles, Heyward added 9.0 scaks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Heyward joins the RamsAaron Donald as the two selections on the interior of the defensive line.

T.J. Watt turned in such an impressive season in 2019 he is on the short list of names associated with the Defensive Player of the Year. With 55 tackles, 14.5 sacks, two interceptions, and an NFL-leading eight forced fumbles, Watt joins the Cardinal’s Chandler Jones as the other edge rusher as a first-team selection. Watt was also voted to the second team as a linebacker. With the Steelers using a 3-4 base defense, it is sometimes difficult to determine if an outside linebacker should qualify as an edge rusher or linebacker. In Watt’s case, he earned honors for both positions.

Minkah Fitzpatrick joined the Steelers in Week 3 of 2019 via a trade with the Miami Dolphins. While with the Steelers, Fitzpatrick tallied five interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Fitzpatrick also added a touchdown on one of his two fumble recoveries with the Steelers, having a total of three recoveries on the season as he added one in Miami.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for breaking news, player reports, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers.

Despite Week 17 loss, Steelers fan confidence shows hope for the future

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/03/2020 - 11:46am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers finished 8-8 with three straight losses, but the fan base sees promise in 2020.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is over, and it came to a close in a most unceremonious way. After digging themselves out of a 0-3 and 1-4 hole to start, the team was 8-5 heading into the final three games of the season in control of their own playoff destiny.

Then reality crept in and smacked them square in the mouth to the tune of three straight losses to end the year, and have them finish with a mediocre 8-8 record.

What is interesting about this situation is how the fans view the team now that the season is over. The SB Nation FanPulse crew continued to poll fans regarding their overall confidence level, even with the season officially over.

When it comes to the data, the Steelers’ fan confidence had been on on crazy roller coaster ride throughout the 2019 season. Confidence peaked at 83% after the Steelers beat the Rams. This approval percentage was the highest the fan base has recorded since after Week 1 in the preseason; however, it plummeted to 38% after the Week 11 loss to the Browns. Following the Week 12 win over the Bengals, fan confidence rose to a 46% approval rating, and continued to sky rocket to 75% after their revenge win over Cleveland at Heinz Field.

You would think the win over the Cardinals would move the needle in the right direction, but you’d be wrong. In fact, the Steelers’ approval percentage stayed the same at 75%. After the Week 15 loss, confidence dipped to 56%, and plummeted down to 38% following the debacle in MetLife Stadium last Sunday.

What about after the Steelers’ loss to the Ravens in Week 17? That loss technically didn’t end their season, but fans had to be frustrated, right? According to the FanPulse data confidence actually went up to 43% as the team now prepares for another lengthy offseason.

How is this so? What caused the confidence to actually go up?

If I were to put my finger on the pulse of those taking the weekly survey, it would likely revolve around the fact the Steelers are hopeful to get Ben Roethlisberger and company back for the 2020 season. Combine an improved offense with the up-and-coming defense and fans might not be brimming with confidence, but they have hope.

And where there is hope, there is a way...

Do you want to be a part of the BTSC Steelers FanPulse? It is easy to sign up for, and takes mere minutes a week. Simply click HERE and fill out the appropriate information!

Steelers Offseason Needs, Part 2: Offensive Line

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/03/2020 - 10:36am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Did the Offensive Line really underperform in 2019? What would improve it?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ No. 1 need is obvious: a guaranteed, blue chip, future Hall of Fame quarterback who will push Ben Roethlisberger for snaps, even in his rookie year. Picking at #18 in the second round that quarterback will be...[crickets]. Besides, who’s to say Roethlisberger won’t play for another three years? So let’s ignore that position and move on to the next tier of priorities. The most likely targets at 2:18 (49th overall) in the 2020 NFL Draft appear to be a star running back, a star wide receiver or an infusion into the offensive line. Today we look at the offensive line, but if you missed a day of the series, you can check them below:

Part 1: Running Backs


* C-1 Maurkice Pouncey. Age 30, FA 2022. Everyone talks about Pouncey retiring but they forget how young he really is. Centers often play into their mid-30’s. Pouncey could easily play 4-5 more years if he still has the passion.

* C-2 B.J. Finney. Age 28, Unrestricted Free Agent. B.J. Finney fell in the draft because he has 32” T-rex arms. It’s a limitation he’s clearly overcome! I believe Finney could have pushed Ramon Foster for the starting Left Guard position if he wasn’t more valuable as the vital safety net behind Pouncey. More discussion below.

* C-3 J.C. Hassenauer. Rookie, Exclusive Rights Free Agent. The Falcons brought him in as a promising C/G backup, who the Steelers poached when Pouncey got hurt. He was considered a prize UDFA but not much more than that, and at this point we just don’t know any more.

* OG-1a David DeCastro (Age 29, FA 2022). ‘Nuff said.

* OG-1b Ramon Foster (Age 33, FA 2021). More discussion below in both the cap description and the text.

o [OG-3 Matt Feiler]

o [OG-4 B.J. Finney]

* OT-1a Alejandro Villanueva (Age 31, FA 2021). A solid pass blocker but no great shakes in the run game. There’s only so much money a team can spend on any unit, even the OL, and the bottom line is that AV is a mid-level Left Tackle who gets paid appropriately.

* OT-1b Matt Feiler (Age 27, Restricted Free Agent). A solid, mid-level Right Tackle who would probably be even better at Guard. More discussion below.

* OT-3a and 3b Chuks Okorafor (Age 22, FA 2022) and OT-3b Zach Banner (Age 26, Restricted Free Agent). Both young men are viewed as competent backups who haven't been able to beat out Villanueva or Feiler. More discussion below.


* OT-5 Derwin Gray. Futures Contract.

* OT-6 Christian DiLauro. Futures Contract.


* Ramon Foster will have a cap hit of $5.75 Million if he is on the team in 2020. It would cost the Steelers a $1.575 Million dead money cap hit if he is released. The cap benefit would accordingly be $4.175 Million.

* B.J. Finney would be a starter on many teams in the league and is very likely to leave if someone offers him those snaps and the associated money. If he leaves they will need a replacement.

* Matt Feiler and Zach Banner are both RFA’s, which means they will almost certainly be back next year but will hit the market simultaneously with Villanueva if no long term deal gets signed. Feiler, in particular, may be a target for extension talks.

Someone needs to do a full scale film study of the 2019 offensive line because it is really hard to figure out what is going on in 2020, let alone what could improve it. The team’s offensive woes earned the OL a lot of criticism, but both Coach Tomlin and the knowledgeable pundits like Tunch & Wolf have said they didn’t deserve it. I am in the camp that views a good OL as the primary offensive engine, but even the best OL does not live in a vacuum. And there were a few little factors that might be more “explanation” than “excuse” for the OL’s 2019 failure to carry the rest of the offense. Consider:

  • The 2019 QB situation (sufficient in and of itself);
  • The loss of Antonio Brown’s on field production, which let opponents play a lot looser and faster in their secondaries;
  • The injuries to Juju Smith-Schuster;
  • The ineffective TE play;
  • The youth of James Washington despite his improvements;
  • The rookie-level youth of Deiontae Johnson despite his many flashes;
  • The injury to would-be free agent savior, Donte Moncrief; and
  • The untimely death of beloved WR coach Darryl Drake.

[Gasp, gasp, gasp]. You can poo-poo at any one (or few) of those factors, but the combination added up to a perfect storm that allowed opposing defenses to blitz like mad, and to try out every zany stunt, game, and other trick in the book. 3rd-and-long is the hardest job for every offensive line. In 2019 the Steelers OL faced 3rd-and-long defenses on at least half the 1st-and-10’s, and almost every 2nd-and-5-or-more. It must have been a frickin’ nightmare.

And just to put the cherry on this Sundae/y Disaster, Pittsburgh built its running game around players who make five yards out of two, nine out of four, and 15-20 out of seven. They simply don’t have a pure power game to make three yards out of zero, or a lightning-in-the-bottle star who can hit home runs off little screens and outlet passes.

The other criticism fans tend to level has to do with age. That is just as unfair. RB’s get old in their late 20’s. WR’s and explosive pass rushers tend to hit the wall around 30. The big boys on the OL and DL typically last into their mid-30’s, just as good QB’s now last toward 40. The only Steeler lineman who’s really starting to gray is Ramon Foster.

Chips on the table: I have a soft spot for the blue collar, locker room types who put the “T” in Team. I’m under no illusions. “Ramon Foster the Starter” has never been a star on the field, nor even close to a star. But “Ramon Foster the Steeler” has been all but unequaled during his long tenure and deserves a lot of credit for quietly raising all boats. Consider these quotes from that wonderful article on the locker room solidarity that held the 2019 Steelers together:

Guard Ramon Foster has forever cast a Buddha-like presence in this locker room. The 11-year vet is a wise, honest, open book to all...

When Tomlin spotted one young player getting onto the team plane in a flashy jacket more fit for a nightclub, instead of a suit and tie, he nodded to Foster and said, “Mone, let him know.” Foster did. Snapping his fingers, Foster says that player got in line immediately.

That sort of stuff matters. And for the record I don’t believe for a second that Ramon Foster was a true “weak link” for all these years; just the weakest link when compared to the likes of Pouncey and DeCastro. He wasn’t a star, but he didn’t suck. Nevertheless, 2020 looks a lot like it’s going to be the gold watch and move on moment for our beloved Big Ragu. The cap matters; his play really is starting to decline; and the 2019 line did not play well enough to justify extra protection in the name of chemistry and continuity.

So… Assume that Foster is a cap casualty. What happens next? B.J. Finney plays Guard at just a slightly lower level than he plays Center, but teams hate to expose their backup Center and he is ‘only’ an average starter at his best position. Most likely, Matt Feiler would move inside (where he probably belongs), leaving Chuks and Banner to compete for the Right Tackle snaps

That double move would not be a disaster. Chuks did well as a rookie. Many people expected to take over from Marcus Gilbert and said he “must have regressed” in his sophomore year when that didn’t happen. That is faulty logic. It’s much more likely that Feiler stepped up to beat him out. As for Banner, his issue is and always has been weight. During the last offseason this man lost 80 pounds! That isn’t a typo. This supreme act of discipline restored a lot of missing mobility and earned him snaps as an Elephant TE all year long. If he can maintain that discipline, and come back with his body tuned up instead of just slimmer, who knows what he could be? Zach Banner In good shape is a solid peer in the competition with Chuks Okorafor. There is little reason to expect any real decline in overall play as the current OL shuffles to absorb the presumed loss of the longtime LG.

But would these moves make the team affirmatively better? Maaaaybe... I’d give 3:1 odds that Feiler turns out to be a better 2020 Guard than Foster was in 2019, and 50/50 odds that the winning dog of Chuks v. Banner will mature into the 2020 peer of Feiler at Right Tackle. That would indeed be a marginal improvement, especially with Ben coming back and the WR corps progressing. But consider what this unit would look like with a star Right Tackle in the mix instead of a solid one! Or even a young Guard good enough to push Feiler back outside. The OL could transform from a genuine asset into a powerhouse generator of offensive might. And it would definitely help with the looming 2020 cap crunch as so many players come into contract years together.

All of which means that Foster’s departure would yield a pure BPA situation from the draftnik’s point of view. A steal at Tackle would be fantastic; a steal at Guard would be just as fantastic; and filling the pipeline later on would be quite acceptable. But some sort of OL pick will be required, at some point in the draft. Less so if Derwin James has been secretly blowing the coaches away in practice, but we’ve hear nothing yay or nay on that possibility.

Next up: what happens if B.J. Finney leaves too? This is just as likely and maybe a little scarier because Pouncey has a history of missing games. Teams protect their backup Centers precisely because weakness at that position is extremely hard to cover. Can Hassenauer do the job? We simply don’t know. But if Finney leaves the team will, at the very least, need to bring in someone who can compete for the backup position – and ideally someone who can compete for Guard snaps if he doesn’t succeed at Center. As noted above, a good Guard would help this team a lot by competing with Chuks and Banner to see where Feiler ends up.

For that matter, a good C/G pick would free Finney up to take the LG position, push Feiler back outside, etc. Again, it is a question of BPA. If Finney leaves and Foster stays, the team needs a backup Center to compete with Hassenauer. If Foster leaves and Finney stays, the team can use an offensive lineman at any position, but can afford to go pure BPA. And if both Foster and Finney leave, the team will have an actual need for OL depth, can still afford to go BPA at any position, but will have to put a finger on the scale in favor of a high quality C/G.

[Whew]! My brain hurts. But at least one thing has now become clear. The Steelers are not in desperation mode on the Offensive Line. They can afford to go BPA, will benefit most from going BPA, and won’t face disaster if the best players turn out to be in some other position group. So let’s have a look at what the OL draft options are going to be in the 2-4 range. It turns out they are pretty darned good, particularly at Tackle.

What follows are some very, very initial grades and descriptions of the OL class. I want to emphasize that these are PRELIMINARY AND FOR THE SAKE OF DISCUSSION. I have watched no film of these players and only a game or two in which some of them appeared. Almost all the descriptions are summaries of what I found with a quick scan of the Internet. Please consider yourselves invited – actively requested – to make corrections and suggestions in the Comments, and to provide links that we can add to the few I’ve included.

It should also be noted that, unlike RB, the Steelers may well be interested in developmental prospects. The O-Line part of our Big Board will accordingly end up being very, very deep. This list includes only those with a Round 1-3 grade for the Tackles (there are a ton of them!) and Round 1-4 grades for the Centers and Guards. Feel free to mention any missing names that you’d put into either of those categories.


1:20 – C/G Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin. (RS Junior). 6’3”, 321 lbs. Ain’t Gonna Happen. Name a better factory for linemen than Wisconsin. [Crickets]. Name the leader of the Wisconsin OL. You got it. A marvelous technician who’s only flaw is the lack of shining athletic brilliance in any one area. He could probably start at Guard as well as he could at Center.

1:20 – C/G Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma. (RS Sophomore). 6’5”, 316 lbs. Mean, nasty, smart, strong, young, and backed up by a solid wrestling background. Does that cover every base the Steelers look for, short of brilliant mobility to pull at the level of a Pouncey or Dermontti Dawson? Indeed it does. He’s another “Ain’t Gonna Happen” prospect who could probably start at Guard as well as he could at Center.

2:24 – C Nick Harris, Washington. (Senior). 6’1”, 302 lbs. Comes to the NFL with a description that basically matches where B.J. Finney is as a multiyear veteran. Smart, savvy, strong, good mover, limited only by length and overall size, etc. But he will be a rookie with all the reasonable hopes that he might grow into more than that. Suited better to be a Center but talented enough to back up at Guard as well.

3:12 – C/G Darryl Williams, Mississippi State. (RS Senior). 6’3”, 310 lbs. Described as a solid prospect who does everything well but needs to grow into NFL strength. His floor (after a year of professional strength training) looks like B.J. Finney Mark II, which is not at all bad regardless of whether Finney stays or goes.

4:01 – C/G Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU. (RS Junior). 6’4”, 315 lbs. He’s got all the raw physical talent you want but lacks pro-level technique in various ways, and questions exist about his ability to call protections at an NFL level. Redshirt year will be required.

4:16 – C/G Jake Hanson, Oregon. (RS Senior). 6’5”, 295 lbs. Think of the stereotypical coach’s son but playing at Center. What he lacks is the model size and strength to go with his solid technique and smarts.


4:01 – G Solomon Kindley, Georgia. (RS Junior). 6’4”, 336 lbs. A road grader who pass blocks well and plays for a traditionally run-first program.

4:16 – G Shane Lemieux, Oregon. (RS Senior). 6’4”, 316 lbs. He moves irresistibly in one direction – forward. Ideal if the Steelers want a power player to dig opponents out while DeCastro handles the pulling. The wrong guy if you want to share the pulling duties.


0:00 – OT/G Andrew Thomas, Georgia. (Junior). 6’5”, 320 lbs. Top 10-15 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.

0:00 – OT/G Jedrick Wills, Alabama. (Junior). 6’5”, 320 lbs. Top 10-15 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.

0:00 – OT/G Tristan Wirfs, Iowa. (Junior). 6’5”, 322 lbs. Top 10-15 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.

1:25 – OT/G Alex Leatherwood, Alabama. (Junior). 6’6”, 310 lbs. Round 1 talent with superb athleticism but technical flaws that will drop him toward the back of Round 1 in this loaded class. Ain’t Gonna Happen in the middle of Round 2.

2:12 – OT/G Mekhi Becton, Louisville. (Junior). 6’7”, 369 lbs. A gigantic grizzly bear of a Right Tackle with the ability to move inside, where he should be a dominant Guard if the height does not get in his way. Becton also has the length but might lack the feet to be on the blindside. Time will tell. The technical knock is that he’s shown signs of hesitation that probably result from insecurities about basic technique. That, and the physical maturity to move from a college behemoth to an NFL athlete, are among the easiest “fixes” for OL prospects. He might not splash in his rookie year but watch out for what happens next!

2:12 – G/T Trey Smith, Tennessee. (Junior). 6’6”, 325 lbs. This grade is wrong but I have no way to guess in which direction! Forget 2:18; Trey Smith would be great value a full round higher than that if there was no medical red flag. But there is. Twice (I believe) he has been diagnosed with blood clots in the lungs. It is a problem that could theoretically be fatal if one broke free and traveled up to the brain. Imagine someone standing up from a play, getting a confused look in his eye, and then dropping down forever... Brrrr. That said, the condition vanished both times just as mysteriously as it managed to show up, and a battery of ultra-cautious doctors cleared him to play. No one knows why the problem happened in the first place. No one can predict whether it will recur. You tell me how big a discount that requires.

Every other thing you look at is solid gold. Trey Smith is a downright monstrous Guard who is generally accounted as the best run blocker in the class, and has both the mobility and length to flex out toward Right Tackle. A foundational building block for any offensive line. But that’s not all! On top of all that, “Trey Smith is a good book waiting to be written, an inspirational movie to be made.” Heck, he is one of the three finalists for the Jason Witten Man of the Year Award! So he is a locker room foundation piece as well as one on the O-Line. Unless, of course, ... you know.

2:24 – OT/G Lucas Niang, TCU. (Senior). 6’7”, 328 lbs. Another classic Right Tackle prospect with the ability to be a dominant Guard if he moves inside. Walter Football cites rumors concerning work ethic but that isn’t the most reliable source.

3:01 – G/OT Hakeem Adeniji, Kansas. (Senior). 6’4”, 310 lbs. Played OT in college and has the mobility to do it in the pros too, but might have to become a pulling Guard because he’d be on the smaller side for modern Tackles. No real negatives except a need to improve just a bit across the board.

3:24 – OT/G Jack Driscoll, Auburn. (RS Senior). 6’5”, 294 lbs. He started at U. Mass, transferred to the SEC based on his development, and then won the Right Tackle job for a very good program. And did okay there. But he is, nevertheless, severely undersized for the NFL and sort of a square peg who’s hard to fit in any particular hole. One can speculate about a different position… but one has to speculate.


2:12 – OT Austin Jackson, USC. (Junior). 6’6”, 310 lbs. Round 1 feet and length, but will need a redshirt year to build his strength and ground his technique. Might have issues moving inside to Guard.

2:24 – OT Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn. (RS Senior). 6’7”, 305 lbs. A second tier blind side protector who could develop into a shut down guy if everything goes just right. Long, smooth, and mobile but not as straight up powerful as the Right Tackle prospects, and probably unsuited to move inside. A higher pedigree version of Chuks Okorafor?

2:24 – OT Trey Adams, Washington. (Senior). 6’8”, 314 lbs. A Round 1 talent with prototypical length, excellent strength that solves any leverage issues, and enough mobility to project as a solid NFL starter at either Tackle spot with upside if he can learn enough technique to handle pure speed rushers. Probably not a Guard simply because he is so long. The issue, once again, is health. As discussed in this article, Adams has tenaciously fought back to overcome both a 2017 ACL tear and a 2018 disc surgery. If the team doctors say “go for it,” don’t be surprised if the Steelers do just that.

3:01 – OT Samuel Cosmi, Texas. (RS Sophomore). 6’7”, 300 lbs. A long, lean, athletic blindside protector who will need a redshirt year with professional trainers to build up his grown-man strength. If he does that, and also firms up his technique in all the little ways he should be able to, Cosmi could be a long term pass protector just about anywhere. Another athlete in the Chuks Okorafor mold.

3:24 – OT Josh Jones, Houston. (RS Senior). 6’7”, 310 lbs. A toolsy prospect with good length, experience, and athleticism. But he’s also never “arrived” in a dominating way and has numerous technical problems his NFL coach will have to address. There is real gold in them thar hills but the team that drafts him will have some digging and refining to do before it’s ready for the display case.

For those less familiar with the offseason discussions than the rest of us, the annual BTSC Big Boards are organized by Highest Value (“HV#”) to the Steelers. Great players for other teams get downgraded here, as do positions where Pittsburgh has limited “want.” An HV of 1:25 means the player is a reach for the Steelers at any point before Pick # 25 overall but good value at any point from the end of the 1st on. Getting that player in the early 2nd would be fine, while getting him late in Round 2 would almost be a steal. Yes, this system results in a certain amount of grade inflation for positions of need because we are talking about the “highest” grade, not the one where a player is expected to go; but grades are never pushed up just because of need. Players with the same HV# are organized alphabetically.

Rounds are subdivided as follows:

  • 1st Round grades: 1:01, 1:05, 1:10, 1:15, 1:20, or 1:25.
  • 2nd & 3rd Round grades: Early (#:01), Mid (#:12), or Late (#:24).
  • 4th to 7th Round grades: Early (#:01) or Late (#:16).

If the Steelers want to use the franchise tag on Bud Dupree in 2020, it could get a little complicated

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/03/2020 - 9:00am
Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Dupree could make an argument as to which defensive position he is classified when it comes to his salary under the franchise tag

It might be the single highest priority for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2020 off-season. 2015 first-round draft pick Bud Dupree had a breakout year in 2019 and is now scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. Even head coach Mike Tomlin admitted in his final press conference of the season that keeping Dupree is a high priority for the Steelers.

But can the two sides reach a deal? And if they can’t, are the Steelers prepared to use their other options in order to retain Dupree for 2020?

Some have speculated that the Steelers would be willing to use the franchise tag on Dupree for the 2020 season in hopes of signing him to a long-term deal. The only issue is if the Steelers can afford to pay Dupree the high one-year salary which will really hurt the salary cap situation for next season. It’s not beyond the realm of possibilities as the Steelers are bound to make other moves in order to save some cap space. But there is one more issue which will need clarification before the Steelers are ready to use the tag on Dupree.

It all comes down to this…

What position is Bud Dupree classified when it comes to the franchise tag?

The first thought would be Dupree is listed as an outside linebacker so that would be which tag number he would be associated with. But according to the NFL’s collective-bargaining agreement, there is no distinction between the different linebacking positions. The positions used on defense are the following:

Defensive Tackle
Defensive End

At first look, it might not seem to be a big deal as to what position Dupree is classified. But the truth is, it’s a difference of just over $3 million for a season according to If Dupree were deemed a linebacker, the franchise tag amount is an estimated $16.266 million in 2020 while a defensive end would bring $19.316 million with the franchise tag.

The Steelers have worked how they classify a player in their 3-4 defense to their advantage in the past. In fact, Cameron Heyward struggled to make the Pro Bowl being listed as a defensive end as he was going up against the likes of players such as J.J. Watt. It was hard to have equivalent statistics for Hayward as a defensive end as he was not asked to do the same thing as a defensive end by rushing off the edge. Once the Steelers classified Heyward as a defensive tackle, which is the more comparable position based on what Heyward is asked to do in the Steelers’ scheme, he has been awarded with both Pro Bowl and All Pro honors.

So does Bud Dupree have a legitimate argument that he should be classified as a defensive end rather than a linebacker? A case could be made either way, so here are the arguments for both sides:

He’s a Linebacker

It’s very simple. He’s listed as an outside linebacker for the Steelers 3-4 defense. He played all of his snaps in 2019 from a standing two-point position rather than as a down lineman as many defensive ends do in a 4-3. Also, his counterpart T.J. Watt was just elected to the Pro Bowl as a linebacker. If the NFL classifies Watt as a linebacker and Dupree plays the same position on the other side, he must be a linebacker as well.

He’s a Defensive End

Bottom line, Dupree is an edge rusher. And in a 4-3 defense, edge rushers are called defense ends. Linebackers generally rush the passer mainly in a blitz. Dupree plays on the line of scrimmage, and not off the line of scrimmage like a 4-3 linebacker. How the team classifies Dupree is relative as some NFL sites such as Pro Football Reference list Dupree as a defensive end.

So is Dupree a linebacker or defensive end? Even though the Steelers play a 3-4 base defense, I have to admit it is a strong argument that what Dupree is asked to do and his function on the team better aligns with a 4-3 defensive end rather than a linebacker. As much as I would like to save the money in order to franchise Dupree, it feels too much like the right thing to do is to say he is a defensive end because he is an edge rusher.

Hopefully classifying Bud Dupree’s exact position in order to determine the franchise tag will not come into play. The ultimate goal would be for the Steelers to sign Dupree to a multi-year deal where money can be deferred over extensive time. But if the Steelers have to use the tag in order to extend negotiations with Dupree, it could turn into a situation which is too good for Dupree to pass on a one year deal at that price.

So what does BTSC think? Make sure to give your answer in the poll below.

Steelers Positional Spending: Did the team get the best bang for their buck?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/03/2020 - 7:45am
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Taking a look at where the Steelers put the most money, and if it paid off for them.

Now that the NFL’s playoff brackets are set and the Pittsburgh Steelers are not included, it is time to do a bit of a year in review, with a twist. Below is a breakdown of how much each positional group cost the Steelers in 2019 and where they rank compared to the rest of the NFL in terms of cap space used.

(All numbers provided by Over the Cap and does not include dead cap space.)




Rank: 5

Note: Steelers had second-fewest passing yards in the NFL in 2019.

Running back


Rank: 32

Note: Steelers were 29th in total yards rushing in 2019.

Wide receivers


Rank: 31

Note: The rank shows how young our wideouts are but is not indicative of their potential.

Tight ends


Rank 12

Note: Vance McDonald was 40th of all tight ends with 19.5 yards per game and tied for 20th with 38 receptions. He rarely pass blocked but was not very effective run blocking.

Offensive line


Rank: 11

Note: The offense was 27th in total points and 30th for total yards. The line looked a bit old this year and ineffective opening up running lanes.

Total offensive spending


Rank: 23

Note: You get what you pay for?


Defensive line


Rank: 11

Note: The line was excellent even without Stefon Tuitt for much of the season.

Linebackers (ILBs and OLBs are all lumped together.)


Rank: 7

Note: The Steelers OLBs were worth every penny, ILBs as a whole, not so much.



Rank: 28

Note: Two first-rounders top this bunch and are worth the very low cost.



Rank: 16

Note: Haden came to life during the 2019 season with five interceptions but the true difference-maker was free agent acquisition, Steven Nelson. This figure will go up in 2020 due to increases in their salaries and the likelihood that Mike Hilton receives an RFA tender.

Defense total


Rank: 11\

Note: Worth every penny. Tied for fifth for points surrendered and fifth in yards given up. Second with 20 interceptions to go along with 54 sacks that led the NFL. An interesting tidbit I found on PFR is that 19.8 percent of all opposing drives, tops in the NFL, ended in the Steelers taking the ball away.

My list of best to worst bang for our buck by position.

1: Safeties were dirt cheap compared to their stellar production.

2: The cornerback group was solid in the second half of the season while Nelson was absolutely dominant in coverage.

3: Linebackers were tough to put this far down due to the production of Watt and Dupree. I knocked them further down the list because of the big issues of Barron and Bush.

4: The defensive line was excellent against the run and would have been even better had Tuitt stayed healthy.

5: Wideouts were dirt cheap because of their rookies contracts. Smith-Schuster might have had a season to forget and Washington flashed but the real surprise for me was Johnson. He beat my expectations and really showed great route running ability.

6: The running back group could not generate much on the ground and mostly receiving the ball for huge chunks out of the year.

7 Pittsburgh’s offensive line was a liability after years of being an asset especially pass blocking. Rarely were there gaping holes let alone cracks for back to fit through.

8: McDonald’s was vastly overpaid for his production. Was the lack of production his fault alone? Nope, especially given the number of snaps he spends running routes.

9: Take Big Ben’s huge cap number out of the equation and I would be happy with the cap hit compared to production. ($1.3 million for Hodges and Rudolph.)

Poor quarterback play assisted by a porous and unproductive run-blocking line stagnated the Steelers offense once Roethlisberger went down for the season. Will the offense be able to return to the 2018 form in 2020?

The defense was dominant much of the season while being a turnover machine. This defense should remain largely intact next season where hopefully a functional offense will allow the unit to take more chances than in 2019 and be even more dominant.

How do you rank the Steelers positional spending in 2019? Let us know in the comments section below.

The complete list of Steelers’ free agents heading into the 2020 off-season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/03/2020 - 6:45am
Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Some will stay while others will go, but the following players from the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers roster will have to determine their status with the team

With the Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season coming to a close, there are a number of players whose contract status is in the air for the 2020 season. Here is a list of which players are unrestricted free agents (UFA’s), restricted free agents (RFA‘s), or exclusive rights free agents (ERFA‘s).

Unrestricted Free Agents

An unrestricted free agent is a player with four or more accrued seasons whose current contract expired at the end of the season with their team. These players are free to negotiate a deal with the team in which they were under contract up until free agency begins on March 18 at 4 PM. Players may negotiate with new teams 48 hours prior to the start of free agency but contracts will not become official until the new league year begins. The only option a team has in retaining a UFA is the sign them to a new contract or to use the franchise or transition tag.

The following Steelers are set to become UFA’s for 2020:

G B.J. Finney
CB Artie Burns
ILB Ryan Shazier
OLB Bud Dupree
FS Sean Davis
DT Javon Hargrave
TE Nick Vannett
LS Kameron Canaday
ILB Tyler Matakevich

Restricted Free Agents

When if comes to restricted free agents, it gets a little more complicated. The following is an explanation as to what qualifies as a RFA and their designation according to

Restricted free agent (RFA): A player with three accrued seasons and an expired contract. RFAs are free to negotiate and sign with any team, but their original team can offer them one of various qualifying offers (“tenders”) that come with the Right of First Refusal and/or draft-pick compensation. These amounts change by a minimum of 5 percent and a maximum of 10 percent (based on the salary cap) each League Year. Tenders are classified as follows:

First-round tender: If the player’s original team decides not to match an offer sheet signed with another team, it is entitled to a first-round draft pick from his new team.

Second-round tender: If the player’s original team decides not to match an offer sheet signed with another team, it is entitled to a second-round pick from his new team.

Original-round tender: If the player’s original team decides not to match an offer sheet signed with another team, it is entitled to a pick in the round the player was originally drafted in.

Right-of-first-refusal tender: Team has the right to match any offer sheet signed with another team, but there is no draft compensation tied to this tender.

The projected value for RFA’s are listed below courtesy of

2020 Projected RFA Tenders

Type Amount
First Round $4,667,000
Second Round $3,278,000
Original Round $2,144,000

The following Steelers are set to become RFA’s for 2020:

RT Matt Feiler
CB Mike Hilton
DT L.T. Walton
WR Amara Darboh
FS Jordan Dangerfield
T Zach Banner

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

An exclusive rights free agent is any player with less than three accrued seasons whose contract expired at the end of the season. With these players, if their current team offers them a one-year contract for the league minimum, they are not free to sign anywhere else. They must sign their contract or not play in the NFL.

The following Steelers are set to become ERFA’s for 2020:

S Marcus Allen*
DE Lavon Hooks
OLB Tuzar Skipper**
C J.C. Hassenauer

*Reportedly signed his tender
**Signed a two-year deal

Podcast: Will the Steelers have their prayers answered vs. the Ravens in Week 17?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/03/2020 - 5:34am

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

The 2019 season is now over, and with the Pittsburgh Steelers now in the offseason, it is time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview. On this show Jeff Hartman, Dave Schofield and Bryan Anthony Davis break down all things Steelers leading into the offseason.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Around the Horn Segment
  • Steelers Stat Geek
  • Recapping 2019
  • Predicting the Wild Card round of games
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, Bryan Anthony Davis and Dave Schofield 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
Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Black and Gold Links: Is there a spot on the Steelers defense for Justin Layne in 2020?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/03/2020 - 4:28am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially over. After finishing the year 8-8, the Steelers, and their vast fan base, has another long offseason awaiting them. Just because the games are done doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at whether or not there is a spot on the 2020 Steelers defense for Justin Layne...

Let’s get to the news:

  • Justin Layne made the 2019 roster as a rookie, but was strictly a special teams player. Will there be a spot for him on the defense in 2020?

After earning his way into Steelers lineup late in 2019, Justin Layne aims higher in 2020

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

When the Pittsburgh Steelers coaching staff made the conscious decision to activate cornerback Justin Layne for the final six games of the season — choosing the rookie over veteran Artie Burns — it was a landmark moment in Layne’s young NFL career.

After all, it signified that the Steelers viewed the third-round pick as a legitimate option to play in a regular-season game (his previous activations were because of injury elsewhere in the lineup).

But to Layne, it wasn’t a banner day when he was “given a hat” for the Nov. 23 game at Cincinnati, nor for any of the five games that followed. It was mere confirmation of what he believed all along.

“It didn’t really mean anything to me — me getting a hat, me personally, that’s expected,” Layne said. “I know what type of player I am. But it’s just how the eggs laid. Only so much you can control — but I know I am definitely good enough to get a helmet every week. It’s just learning and trying to figure out where I fit in at.”

That will be one of the questions to be answered at this coming summer’s training camp — where Layne fits in among a crowded Steelers secondary. Third-round picks aren’t taken to be backups, but with well-paid veterans Joe Haden and Steve Nelson entrenched as starters on the outside, Mike Hilton a good fit for the slot and Cameron Sutton a reliable, jack-of-all-trades reserve, there isn’t much room for Layne.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • After Mike Tomlin’s end of the year press conference, should fans have hope?

How much of Mike Tomlin’s season-ending press conference should give Steelers’ fans hope?

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Fellow TribLive columnist Kevin Gorman joins me for our last wrap up of Mike Tomlin’s weekly press conferences in 2019.

Given that the Steelers have been eliminated short of the playoffs for a second straight year, the next time we do this may be August in Latrobe, and the “Hard Knocks” cameras could film us.

Don’t laugh. The HBO all-access training camp show may be descending on Saint Vincent College. We toss around that idea to start this podcast.

Kevin and I may not even talk during the NFL Draft weekend in April because the Steelers hardly have any picks in the first 100. We discuss that problem.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Some tough decisions loom for the Steelers.

Steelers have tough decisions with free agents Bud Dupree, Javon Hargrave and others

By: Brooke Pryor, ESPN

By the time the cameras reached him inside the cramped visitors locker room at M&T Bank Stadium, Bud Dupree’s jersey was already off.

With free agency looming after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 28-10 season-ending loss to the Ravens, the linebacker might never put on another black-and-gold one again.

With 10.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, the outside linebacker had a breakout season, in a contract year, playing opposite of T.J. Watt. Now, the Steelers are faced with a difficult decision: apply either a franchise or transition tag, sign Dupree to a new contract, or break up the dynamic duo that made the Steelers’ defense so formidable.

“I will really, really hope that we can keep Bud,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “He’s playing amazing ball, him and T.J., I mean, they’re dominant linebackers in the league. You never know how the money works. He might’ve just played himself into crazy numbers per year. He deserves it all. I hope that the Steelers can finesse it, figure it out because if we can keep those two dudes, it’ll be sick.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

"Donnie was a splash play kind of guy.”

John Stallworth on Donnie Shell, a Finalist for enshrinement in the @ProFootballHOF as part of a special Centennial Class of 2020.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 2, 2020

Retweet and use #WPMOYChallenge + Pouncey for a chance to win this football signed by @MaurkicePouncey! #WPMOY

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 2, 2020

We can always count on you to be behind us.

To the best fans in the world, thank you.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 31, 2019

Troy Polamalu and Alan Faneca finalists for 2020 NFL Hall of Fame class

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/02/2020 - 6:13pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers have 2 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2020.

Two former Pittsburgh Steelers players are finalists for the 2020 NFL Hall of Fame draft class. Safety Troy Polamalu is a finalist in his first year eligible while guard Alan Faneca is a finalist for the fifth straight year.

S Troy Polamalu has been selected as a #PFHOF20 Finalist!

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 2, 2020

Playing his entire career in Pittsburgh, Troy Polamalu was drafted in the first round by the Steelers in 2003. In his 12 year career, Polamalu was named to eight Pro Bowls as well as being selected first team All Pro four times. Polamalu was also voted the Defensive Player of the Year in 2010.

G Alan Faneca is a #PFHOF20 Finalist!

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 2, 2020

Guard Alan Faneca was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the 1998 draft. After playing 10 years for the Steelers, Faneca followed up with two years playing for the New York Jets before his final year in 2010 with the Arizona Cardinals. Faneca was named to the Pro Bowl nine times, seven of which came with the Steelers. Faneca was also a six time all pro all while he was playing in Pittsburgh.

The five finalists for the induction into the Hall of Fame will be announced on Saturday, February 1 along with 10 senior players, three contributors, and two coaches in a special 20-person induction class.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for breaking news, player updates, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers.

BTSC Bookie: Betting each of the NFL wildcard games

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/02/2020 - 1:58pm
Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for the BTSC community to show they could cash in betting on NFL football games, this time on playoff games

It is time for the Wildcard Weekend installment of BTSC Bookie! This is a chance for the BTSC community to collectively choose games in which to place an imaginary wager of “BTSC Bucks.” Each week I will remind everyone of the rules before voting on specific bets and the type of wagers we want to do next week.

Before I get into the procedure of things, I want to remind everyone that gambling addiction is a serous problem numerous people face. Like many things in life, gambling can be a fun and safe exercise if done in moderation, while obsessive gambling can have destructive and life-altering consequences. If you or anyone you know is suffering from a gambling addiction, help is available HERE.

The Process
  • We will start with $500 in BTSC Bucks for the season. If we bust, we may borrow from the BTSC Bookie, but will have to pay 20% interest each week it isn’t paid. It’s a steep price, but there are consequences to failure.
  • Games this week will be betting in various options for each wildcard game.
  • There will be 6 betting options for users to place a vote on each playoff game. The values are as of Tuesday evening and they are locked in throughout the voting. The polls will run until Saturday night at 4:35 PM. The top result for each game will have a $50 wager placed.
  • Games will have all the different lines as an option.
Last Week’s Wager

For Week 17, we finished the regular season strong. The first option of $100 was the Baltimore Ravens staying within 2 points of the Steelers for a payout of -110. With the Steelers falling 28-10, we earned an extra $90.91 toward our season total. The second choice was $50 on the Kansas City Chiefs to win by 8.5 points over the Los Angeles Chargers for a payout of -110. With Chiefs winning by 10 points, it gave them the number two seed in the playoffs and earned us $45.45. The final wager was on the Indianapolis Colts to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars, and since the Colts fell in decisive fashion the specifics are not as important as our loss of $25. So for the week we earned $111.36 which gave us a regular-season total of +$742.40.

Week 16 Balance: $1,131.04 Week 17 Net Gain/Loss: +$111.36 Week 17 Total: $1,242.40 Wildcard Options

Here are the options for the Wildcard Weekend betting exercise. Each game will have both options for betting against the spread, the moneyline, and over/under. If you want to play your own game, leave your choices in the comments below and keep track of your total throughout the season.

For this week, payouts are listed in parenthesis. We will place a $50 on the top vote getter for each game for a total of $200. If you wish to vote more than once, clear your “cookies” on your browser and vote again.

The decisions to be made on the Steelers’ big-name free agents aren’t really difficult

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/02/2020 - 11:57am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers who are set to becoming unrestricted free agents don’t make for ridiculously tough decisions heading into the 2020 season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, along with 19 other NFL franchises, are onto the offseason and the preparations which take place during this time. Some of the biggest decisions a team has to make in the offseason is what to do with players who could stay or go via free agency.

Are they worth the money?

Would their pay match their production?

Or is it best to just let the player walk and find new pastures next season?

For the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs) there aren’t as many tough decisions as many might think. During this brief exercise, keep in my the Steelers will have roughly $5 million in salary cap space once Ben Roethlisberger’s 2020 contract kicks in. How do you play? You look at the player, think about overall value to the team, salary cap implications and then predict whether the player will stay, or go.

Stay or Go?

B.J. Finney

Finney is an extremely versatile player for the Steelers, but as a perennial backup since being undrafted out of Kansas State, Finney will want a place where he can start. Can’t blame him for that, and would be shocked to see him back in 2020.


Vance McDonald

The Steelers have a Club Option on McDonald’s deal next season, and while I can’t seem to find how much this option for 2020 would cost the team, there is no way I am paying him anywhere near the $6.5 million he cost the team in 2019. McDonald showed a ton of frustration this season, and I see the Steelers moving on.


Artie Burns

Might be the easiest decision of them all. Burns already packed up his stuff and told teammates goodbye.


Sean Davis

Another easy decision. With Minkah Fitzpatrick on the team there is no need for Davis. However, the former 2nd round pick will find a home somewhere. Just not Pittsburgh.


Bud Dupree

I would love to keep Dupree, but am not sure how the Steelers could afford him and still be able to keep other players. As was mentioned on our Standard is the Standard podcast, you can hear it in the player below, do you really want to tie up a large chunk of your eventual cap space in your edge pass rushers, when T.J. Watt gets done with his rookie deal? I would franchise tag Dupree, and if you can’t come to terms on a long-term deal you get him for one more year before letting him walk.


Javon Hagrave

I don’t see how there is any way the Steelers can keep both Dupree and Hargrave. I feel it is a one or the other situation. In this regard, the Steelers let Hargrave walk. Hopefully Hargrave finds a team who is going to utilize him better than the Steelers have.


Ryan Shazier

Shazier’s contract from 2018 tolled to 2019, and the Steelers didn’t have to make the extremely tough decision last year. But they will this year. Shazier is part of the family, but will the Steelers sign Shazier again to a veteran minimum deal, then place him on the Reserved/IR list? Or will they try to hire him as someone on staff? The toughest decision on the list, in my opinion.

Stay, somehow

Kameron Canaday

Are long snappers a dime a dozen? Don’t tell that to the fans who are still bitter over the Colin Holba draft pick, but Canaday seems to do a good job with the duties. No need to change things up just yet.


So, what do you think will take place between these UFAs? Let us know in the comment section below!

JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 2019 season defined more by injuries than production

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/02/2020 - 10:37am
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

In a year where Smith-Schuster was supposed to step up, his statistics were cut in half

It was supposed to be his year to step up into the number one receiver role for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unfortunately, several different circumstances did not play out in favor of wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2019. Be it injury or an ever-changing quarterback situation, Smith-Schuster saw his numbers cut in half from his 2018 totals rather than being able to built upon them.

In a season where Smith-Schuster was elected to the Pro Bowl as well as being named team MVP, JuJu had 1,426 yards on 111 receptions with seven touchdowns in 2018. With the departure of Antonio Brown, it was Smith-Schuster’s chance to slide into the Steelers number one receiver role and show he could be the guy to lead the way.

Dealing with nagging injuries all season before missing a four-game stretch in November and December, Smith-Schuster came up extremely short of his expectations for 2019. With only 552 yards on 42 receptions with three touchdowns, Smith-Schuster failed to lead the Steelers in any of these three categories. JuJu was third on the team in receiving yards behind Diontae Johnson (680) and James Washington (735). As for receptions, Smith-Schuster was once again behind Johnson (59) and Washington (44) as well as running back Jaylen Samuels (47). As for receiving touchdown, JuJu was tied for second behind Diontae Johnson (5) as his three touchdowns matched James Washington, James Conner, and Vance McDonald.

In his end-of-the-year press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about how he would evaluate JuJu Smith-Schuster’s season.

“I haven’t met with him yet,” Tomlin explained, “so we will develop a mentality in that regard. Injuries are a part of the game. He knows that, I understand that. We don’t waste any time worrying about that.”

Although Smith-Schuster did not miss a game until the end of November, he sustained a toe injury during Week 1 which hindered his availability early in the season. As is the case with many NFL injuries, sometimes they can linger as players attempt to play through the pain in order to stay on the field. So while Smith Schuster did not miss time until after sustaining both a concussion and a knee injury against the Cleveland Browns in Week 11, injuries did play a factor throughout his entire 2019 season.

While his on-field production took a hit this season, Coach Tomlin did expound on Smith-Schuster‘s contributions in other ways.

“I like the way he grew as a leader. I like some of the leadership presence that he provided even when he wasn’t participating for young guys in his position group like James Washington and Diontae Johnson. I thought he took a step in those ways.”

But as we all know, the ultimate evaluation for many players in the NFL comes down to numbers. For teams, success is measured in wins and losses. As for individual performances, wide receivers are expected to produce catches, yards, and touchdowns. And in those aspects, Smith-Schuster’s 2019 season was a disappointment.

“In terms of production,” Tomlin continued, “in terms of the receiver position, a lot of those things are defined by variables that, at times, are out of your control. We are not going to worry too much about that. It was what it was. I’m sure it was a disappointment for him. It was a disappointment for us, collectively talking about 2019. We will absorb it, be accountable for it and move forward for 2020.”

With the Steelers 2019 season concluded, all Smith-Schuster can do now is look to improve for 2020. With his young receiving corps getting valuable experience this past season along with the anticipated return of Ben Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster will need to shake off his 2019 woes if he hopes to lead the Steelers back to the playoffs in 2020.

No members of the Steelers scheduled for surgery this offseason is tremendous news

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/02/2020 - 9:07am
Photo: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had their share of injuries in 2019, but the fact no player will need offseason surgery is a positive.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 season came to a disappointing halt with an 8-8 record after losing three straight games to close out the campaign. If there was a theme throughout the season for the black-and-gold, it was like adversity through injury.

Whether it was Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow injury, Stephon Tuitt’s pectoral injury, both season-ending injuries, or James Conner’s inability to stay healthy and JuJu Smith-Schuster missing time for both a concussion and knee injury.

There were injuries across the board, and the team now turns to the offseason to rest and rehabilitate. Thankfully, there are no additional surgeries on the docket for any player this offseason.

This per Mike Tomlin in his end of the season press conference Tuesday:

“From a health standpoint, there probably is not a lot of new things to discuss with you guys as I stand here today. Many of the surgeries and things that need to transpire already have and you guys have gotten updates along the way about guys who have been injured. We are starting the process of exit physicals. We have had some minor injuries and so forth as it relates to game 16. Ankles and so forth. Nothing that appears to be surgical at this time. The rehabilitation element of it is not under any type of a clock. I don’t think any of the things that happened this past weekend is worth mentioning in this setting from a surgery standpoint. Not any surgery schedule based on information that we have here.”

Having players who don’t have to worry about something like a shoulder injury, the recovery and rehab, means the team can continue to work on improving themselves this offseason to make 2020 a better year than 2019. But there are some players who are still having to forge their way through rehabilitation of some kind.

“Obviously, some guys who have gone through some health things like Ben [Roethlisberger], who are in the process of rehabilitation, will have some significant updates along the way.” Tomlin said Tuesday. “Check ups that allow them to move in different areas of rehabilitation. We are going to get some clarity about some of those things I am sure in the upcoming days and weeks, whether you are talking about Ben or Stephon Tuitt and guys like that or others. I don’t have a lot of clarity on those kinds of things in terms of their next significant update and what that might mean, but I will be gaining some of that.”

Getting all players back and healthy for 2020 is paramount for the Steelers, but that isn’t the challenge. The challenge is clearly keeping them healthy. In the physical game of football that is a near impossibility, but when you look around the NFL and see other teams who are staying relatively healthy you have to wonder if there isn’t something the Steelers could be doing better to keep their players available for more of the 16-game season.

Either way, the team now has another lengthy break to not just lick their wounds, but to mentally prepare for the next grueling season which will start in the early spring with minicamp, then pick up again when the boys go back to Latrobe, PA for training camp.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they head into the offseason.

Analyzing Devlin Hodges’ Rookie Season, Part 1: The Numbers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/02/2020 - 7:45am
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Devlin Hodges season can really be boiled down to a few key stats.

With the final game of the season in the books I sat down to do an analysis of the week 17 matchup against the Ravens, and when I got done looking at the game, I had a Devlin Hodges film room worth of clips, and a lot of it was about the situations he was in, and the way Baltimore defended him. So instead of just looking at the film, I want to start by showing the final numbers on Devlin Hodges, and specifically where Devlin Hodges was the strongest and where he was the weakest. Part 2 will look at the film and dig into my thoughts on why Devlin Hodges got these results, and what his potential is for the future.

Devlin Hodges, the game manager

Devlin Hodges, even as a rookie that wasn’t being prepared to start until he was the starter, is a solid game manager. Hodges completes a high percentage of short passes, and converts a high percentage of shorter yardage 3rd downs.

With a tied score or a lead, Devlin Hodges completed 53 of his 71 short pass attempts for a 74.6 completion percentage. That ranks 5th in the NFL among passers with 50+ attempts. His efficiency drops off substantially when the Steelers were trailing though, with 57.9% completions, which ranks 42nd among NFL QBs with 50+ short passes when trailing.

On third downs, with 7 or fewer yards to go, Devlin Hodges threw 25 passes, and was sacked once. He converted 14 of those 26 attempts for first downs, giving him a 53.85 conversion rate, good for 6th in the NFL (among passers with at least 10 attempts). On third and 8+ Hodges threw 35 passes and was sacked once. He converted 6 of those 36 attempts for a 16.7 conversion rate. The only players with 25+ attempts and a lower percentage of 3rd and 8+ conversions were Kyle Allen and Dwayne Haskins. If you drop into the lower number of attempts the ghost of Eli Manning and the secret to getting a #1 pick Josh Rosen show up, along with a host of QBs that played for a very short time before being replaced.

A decent number of rookies were close to Devlin Hodges on longer third downs, with Daniel Jones and Kyler Murray both right around 20%. While Hodges was behind other rookie QBs in converting third and long, he was the #2 rookie in the NFL at converting 3rd and 7 or less, with Daniel Jones coming in at 5th overall.

When the Steelers were able to set Devlin Hodges up with short third downs he was able to convert those downs at an elite level. But when they couldn’t keep it reasonable he was among the worst in the NFL. Which, when you look at Daniel Jones stats in the same situations, doesn’t look bad at all.

Small victories, big failures

Devlin Hodges only attempted 14 redzone passes this season, converting 6 of them for 2 TDs and 1 INT. That’s not great, but what is quite good is his first down percentage. With 0 sacks and 6 passing first downs in the redzone, Hodges ranks 3rd in the NFL in first down percentage in the red zone.

But first downs, while good, are not TDs. And while Devlin Hodges may rank highly in converting first downs when it’s third and short or in the red zone, his TD rate in the redzone is awful, ranking 41st out of 45 QBs with at least 10 redzone attempts.

Again we see Devlin Hodges as a player that can win the small, easier battles, but can’t get the offense big plays.

This continues when you look at Hodges TD and INT rates for the season. Hodges passed for 5 TDs and 8 INTs this season. With 160 pass attempts, that’s a 3.1% TD rate and a 5% INT rate. Among qualified leaders (224 attempts) only Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton rank lower on TD%, while Hodges 5% interceptions is worse than every qualified passer. The most attempts with a higher INT rate comes from Bryan Hoyer, who threw 4 interceptions in his 65 pass attempts.

So while Hodges was efficient at converting reasonable situations for first downs, he was never a QB that was making big plays, and he was a QB that was making big mistakes.

Looking forward. . .

While there is a lot to draw from Devlin Hodges stats, statistics cannot tell the whole story. Especially when we are forced to rely on smaller sample sizes. In the second part of this Devlin Hodges rookie season wrap-up, we are going to look for reasons why these stats are what they are, and how opposing defenses attacked Devlin Hodges to exploit his weaknesses.

Chris Boswell’s extra points stat tells you all you need to know about the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/02/2020 - 6:32am
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

In one respect, Steelers kicker Chris Boswell’s perfect conversion rate on extra points in 2019 was a great indicator that he’s back to his old self after struggling mightily in 2018. But in another respect, the fact that he only attempted 28 the entire season tells you all you need to know about how awful the Steelers offense was.

It was a bounce-back year for Steelers kicker Chris Boswell, a player who had such a horrid 2018 (he missed a total of 12 kicks—including seven field goal tries and five extra point attempts), he should garner strong support for Comeback Player of the Year for 2019.

That’s right, whatever it was that ailed Boswell in 2018—many said it was his confidence, while others claimed it was a groin injury—disappeared in 2019, and he was back to his old, mostly automatic self.

Yes, the man who averaged nearly 89 percent on field goal attempts from 2015-2017, before dipping down to a cut-worthy 65 percent a year ago, bounced back to convert 93.5 percent of his field goals this season (29-31).

As far as his extra point tries? He was perfect. You read that right, Boswell did not miss on a single extra point try the entire year. So at least we know he’s back to his old self in that regard, as well.

Or do we?

Maybe Boswell didn’t have enough opportunities to screw up his share of extra points in 2019. Why? He only attempted 28 of them.

Twenty-eight extra points. Just let that number sink in for a moment.

Boswell may have missed five extra points in 2018, but he still converted 15 more than he did this season. And if he missed five a year ago, that obviously means he attempted 48.

This is just my long-winded way of saying that Boswell’s paltry number of extra point tries is perhaps the most telling statistic for how awful the team’s offense was in 2019.

All-in-all, the Steelers scored 29 touchdowns in 2019. In 2018, the team total was 54.

Of Pittsburgh’s 29 touchdowns in 2019, 25 of them came via the offense. In 2018, that number was 51.

To break down that math, the Steelers offense scored less than half as many touchdowns in 2019 as it did in 2018.

How in the blue heck did this team manage to win eight games, especially when you consider the defense, a unit that clearly took a giant step forward in 2019, scored just as many touchdowns as it did in 2018?

Years from now, when people Google Boswell’s career stats, and they see that his 28 extra point tries in 2019 were well-below the 37.5 he averaged in his previous four seasons, they may come to the conclusion that he was hurt or that the Steelers went for two a lot.

In many ways, you could say 2019 was Boswell’s best year, and in terms of what he meant to a severely limited Steelers offense, one might say he was invaluable in helping keep the team afloat and alive for the playoffs the entire season.

But is Boswell truly back, or was the Steelers offense so bad in 2019, his limited extra point tries were too small a sample-size to really know for sure?

That last paragraph was just a joke, but it sure would have been nice to see Chris Boswell get a chance to kick more extra points in 2019.


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