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Mason Rudolph is right, he should get first crack to become the Steelers next QB

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/09/2021 - 2:00pm
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The quarterback has improved with every start he has been given.

On Tuesday it was Mason Rudolph’s turn to take to the podium and answer reporter questions at Organized Team Activities (OTAs). After he was asked if he sees himself as the Steelers next quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger, he answered the question the way anyone should answer it by saying he does see himself as the Steelers’ next guy. Unfortunately, that response sparked anti-Rudolph sentiment across Steelers social media, and brought up the nauseating debate about whether or not Rudolph should be the guy.

Mason Rudolph says it's his goal to be the Steelers' starter in 2022.

"That's my goal, to be a starting quarterback in this league, and for my team."

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) June 8, 2021

In my opinion, Mason Rudolph has already done enough to earn the very first start in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era. Before I even get to why Rudolph deserves the shot, fans should understand there is no one else better than Rudolph who will become available, and the Steelers won't pay the extreme price for anyone that does. On top of that, the Steelers won't be bad enough to draft a quarterback who can start right away, so even a first round pick would ride the pine for a while.

As for Mason Rudolph, the last number of games he played were his best. Quite simply, he has gotten better with each passing start and I believe he hasn't played his best football yet. He get’s a bad rap for the 2019 season in which the Steelers had just lost Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell. On top of that, Ben Roethlisberger took every snap at training camp. The offense was in complete disarray and lacked an identity, it didn't help that Randy Fichtner was in charge of leading the offense.

Just take a look at what Rudolph was able to do in Week 17 of the 2020 season. The Cleveland Browns were fighting for a playoff spot and the Steelers were resting players. With a less than full powered offense, which already didn't have a running game, the Steelers very nearly knocked off the Browns. Rudolph put up 315 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the day, and he did it with some of the prettiest deep balls we saw throughout the 2020 season.

By no means am I saying Rudolph will be a Top 10 quarterback in this league, but we are in a weird era where any time a quarterback’s contract is up they demand to become the highest paid player in the league. This mindset crushed the Rams and forced them to deal Jared Goff for Matt Stafford. Having a cheap, average quarterback could allow the Steelers to load up their roster, and try to win a title that way. If he fails, the Steelers can go another way without financial repercussions.

But what do you think? Will Mason Rudolph get the first start following Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement? Tell why or why not in the comments below.

Minkah Fitzpatrick won’t let new faces in the secondary change expectations

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/09/2021 - 12:30pm
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro safety sees the Steelers’ secondary as different, but not necessarily worse.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense lost some talent this past offseason. Players to the point where you could question whether the unit will be better as a whole. Gone is Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson, those last two names putting a dent in a once strong Steelers’ secondary.

Even though there are new players in new positions, the expectations for All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick do not change. Fitzpatrick spoke to the media Tuesday after Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and talked specifically about how it isn’t about who is out there, but overall execution of the plays.

“Something that we did well last year was our overall execution, but at the same time it was something we could have worked on toward the later part of the year,” Fitzpatrick told reporters. “No matter who is out there, as long as we execute and play at a high level, we will be good. If it’s young guys, if it’s old guys, if it’s new guys, as long as we go out there and are on the same page, it’s hard to beat us. We are all athletes. We can all cover, we can all jump, we can all catch. The only way teams can really beat themselves in the league is they don’t execute.”

When pressed on the topic, with players like Cam Sutton, Justin Layne and James Pierre possibly stepping into larger roles in 2021, Fitzpatrick did not flinch.

“It’s the overall execution,” said Fitzpatrick. “It doesn’t matter who is out there, they’re going to have to execute our game plan. We have a simple game plan. It works. We just have to go out there and play hard.”

Fitzpatrick, who just had his 5th year option exercised by the Steelers, is still considered a young player, but he is ready to step up into a leadership role in 2021. It isn’t as if the Steelers are in desperate need of leaders on defense, but Fitzpatrick absolutely could be a player who would have others follow his work ethic and play on the field.

“I would say for me, we’re a younger team this year, a newer team, so just stepping up leadership, being more vocal, pulling guys, making them do extra whether it be film or today after practice doing extra, going that extra mile,” said Fitzpatrick. “Also, for me personally, mastering the fundamentals of this game. That’s what makes great players great and elite players elite. The people who master the fundamentals and don’t stray away from it. What coach said today, the things that make you a great college player are the same things that make you a great NFL player. Guys stop doing it because they get complacent, they get tired. That is what really separates the great from the elite. Just continue to work on those fundamentals.”

This offseason, maybe more than most, Fitzpatrick realizes this starts in OTAs. It starts with the fundamentals, team building and putting the foundation together for what is hopefully a championship season.

“Just the fundamentals of how we play, just establishing that as a team,” said Fitzpatrick of why OTAs are important. “This season there are a lot of new faces. When you come out here early you get to set the tone of this is the standard of this is how we operate, how we communicate. From the point where we step in the door even to when we go out to dinner at night, this is how we operate. It’s good to have us in the building.”

Will the work pay off? Will Fitzpatrick become the vocal leader he wants to become? Only time will tell, but if there is a player on the Steelers’ defense who can step up and become more of a leader, it would be Fitzpatrick. Hopefully it pays dividends by way of victories, a playoff berth and a long playoff run.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the rest of the offseason, and the 2021 regular season.

Steelers OTA Tracker: Compiling various reports from Day 8 of Steelers team activities

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/09/2021 - 12:04pm
Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex preparing for the 2021 season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are continuing their third week of organized team activities on Wednesday. With the workouts being volunteer, and the NFLPA encouraging players to not participate, exactly who and how many players showing up for the Steelers each day remains to be seen.

With limited access to information during these workouts, we here at Behind The Steel Curtain are doing our best to compile the information into one spot as to what is going on at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex as the Steelers begin their on-field preparation for the 2021 season. Below is a compilation of information from various Steelers beat reporters who have limited attendance during the workouts. Information will come in chronological order from top to bottom to the best of our ability.

JuJu Smith-Schuster on how he expects to cash in next year in free agency after the pandemic and the suppressed WR market of 2021

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) June 9, 2021

Devin Bush on why he chose to rehab his injury in Pittsburgh this offseason

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) June 9, 2021

Want some dirt on the Steelers offense? They’re shoveling. Get it?

— Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) June 9, 2021

Big Ben talking smack during trash can contest

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) June 9, 2021

The Steelers running back drills are so much fun that even Mike Tomlin got in on them today.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) June 9, 2021

JuJu Smith-Schuster sounded like a guy who isn’t going to be around next year and he basically didn’t hide that belief of his.

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) June 9, 2021

Podcast: The top of the charts for the 2021 Steelers roster

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/09/2021 - 11:00am

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

Every season, the cream of the Steelers rises to the top. There’s always room in the mug and an overglow is fine. What Steelers’ players will occupy the top of the roster and who will remain there? This will be just one of the subjects that will be discussed in the latest installment of the BTSC family of podcasts, The Scho Bro Show.

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

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Steelers Q&A

The fellas 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.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Steelers Vertex: Loss vs. gain at outside cornerback

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/09/2021 - 10:02am
Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers made the choice to let one starter go as a salary cap causality and specifically chose to retain a player who will get the chance to land the position.

With changes in the Steelers roster from 2020 to 2021, we’re going to highlight players lost at a position and the production of the assumed replacement. This week we looking at the loss of Steven Nelson and the retention of the player expected to get the first crack at the outside cornerback position in Cameron Sutton. While other players such as James Pierre and Justin Layne and may be in the mix for the job, we have already covered the differences between those two players previously.

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.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

When it comes to the stats for Steven Nelson and Cameron Sutton, particularly in 2020, the biggest difference comes in playing time. While Steven Nelson saw his fewest number of snaps played in the last three seasons with 907 defensive snaps which were 88% of those by the Steelers, Sutton played 548 snaps, more than twice as many as he played the previous year, which equated to 53% of the Steelers defensive snaps. Steven Nelson started all 15 regular-season games in which appeared for the Steelers in 2020. As for Cameron Sutton, he appeared at all 16 games and had six starts on the season between filling in for Nelson, Joe Haden, and starting in sub packages. Both player started in the Steelers Wild Card Game against the Cleveland Browns.

Steven Nelson had 48 tackles in 2020 while Cameron Sutton finished with 30 tackles. These numbers pretty much fall in line with the amount of snaps they played. One area of difference is Steven Nelson was credited with a percentage of 7.7% pf missed tackles according to Pro Football Reference. Cameron Sutton on the other hand, he had a missed tackle percentage of 14.3%. The physicality each of these players brings is likely the contributing factor in this statistic and will be covered more in the film section.

When it comes to the advanced statistics, Steven Nelson finished 2020 surrendering 57 completions on 98 targets for a completion rate of 58.2% with two interceptions, nine passes defensed, one fumble recovery, and was credited with a debatable seven touchdown surrendered according to PFR. Nelson was also never sent on a blitz and therefore had no pass rushing statistics.

As for Cameron Sutton, he surrendered 34 completions on 56 targets for a completion percentage of 60.7%. Sutton also had one interception and eight passes defensed on the year and was credited with giving up one touchdown. Sutton was also sent on a blitz seven times in 2020 where he was credited with two pressures, one quarterback hurry, and 1.0 sacks. Sutton also forced three fumbles and had one recovery.

The biggest number difference between these two players is salary. Cameron Sutton is set to make $9 million the next two seasons with the Steelers. His salary cap number for 2021 is only $1.7 million as a Steelers added three void years to Sutton‘s contract. Sutton’s $3.5 million signing bonus came with a $1 million base salary for 2021 and $4.5 million for 2022. Steven Nelson‘s dead money hit with the Steelers of $6.17 million is almost as much as Sutton‘s cap number is set to be for the next two season combined. Nelson was due to make $8.25 million with the Steelers in 2021 as his base salary, so the savings with Sutton is significant.

Now that we know the statistics both players had a 2020 as well as the salary cap savings, what does the film show as to how much the Steelers can expect from Sutton versus Nelson based on the price?

The Film Line:

Steven Nelson was a key addition to the defense in 2019 as he and Joe Haden were likely the best cornerback tandem for the Steelers since Ike Taylor was still playing at a high level. While some metrics look at his 2020 season as being worse than 2021, a lot of that was caused by Nelson taking on tougher assignments and getting less help than in 2019. Nelson showed the same skill set as he did in 2019, and improved on some of the weaker areas of his game.

Week 10, third quarter, 4:13. Steven Nelson is the cornerback to the bottom of the screen.

Nelson is a really strong deep cover corner, in man and in zone. In cover-3 here he stays with his receiver enough to give him this shot at an interception that ended up incomplete.

Week 14, second quarter, 1:55. Steven Nelson (#22) is the cornerback.

In man against Stefon Diggs in week 14 Nelson is able to stay with Diggs’ route and stays close enough off contact to play the catch and body of Diggs to keep Diggs from making a great play.

Week 15, first quarter, 9:35. Steven Nelson is the cornerback.

Tee Higgins (#85) has a 5 inch and over 20 lb. advantage on Steven Nelson, but Nelson is able to physically cut off Higgins’ route and force an incompletion. Defending these short routes while mostly on an island with his receiver was the #1 improvement I saw on film from 2019 for Steven Nelson. In 2019 he gave up a lot of underneath yards while locking down the deep routes. In 2020 he took those underneath routes away. He was targeted deep more because of it, but gave up the same yards per target on those deep balls as he did in 2019, and the overall pass defense was better for it.

The best way to show the main difference between Cameron Sutton and Steven Nelson is to go back to Week 14 against Buffalo.

Week 14, third quarter, 11:42. Cameron Sutton is the cornerback.

Cameron Sutton came into the NFL a dynamic corner who had one glaring weakness. He could cover almost anyone, was great in zone and was a ball hawk. He also struggled mightily anytime the game got physical. A pretty big problem in NFL football.

Sutton has improved immensely in his physicality, but there are times where he can still be exploited, that play against Diggs was the worst example, but there were others.

Week 13, fourth quarter, 3:10. Cameron Sutton is the cornerback.

Like this tough catch by Cam Sims, Sutton has his man blanketed but when he turns to look for the ball, Sims creates separation with his arm and is able to make the catch. It doesn’t show up a lot, Sutton really has improved in this area, but if he is the starter in 2021, teams will be looking to attack him this way.

Week 13, first quarter, 6:16, Cameron Sutton (#20) is the cornerback.

Sutton’s vulnerability to physical receivers is one of the reasons you see him bail off the line of scrimmage right before the snap so often. This play shows why he can get away with it. Sutton is able to make up the ground between him and Cam Sims and knock the ball away on this play. You can see Sims was looking to run into Sutton and physically create the space to make the catch, but with a little extra space he can’t, and Sutton wins the play.

Week 13, fourth quarter, 10:45. Cameron Sutton is the cornerback to the top of the screen.

That drop also sets Sutton up to shut down deep routes. On this play Sutton’s receiver is locked down and there is no window for the quarterback to throw into.

The Point:

Steven Nelson was a better cornerback than Cameron Sutton in 2020. They were close in deep cover, both man and zone, but Nelson was better in short coverage and in run support largely because he’s better when teams get physical with him. While there is very likely going to be a drop-off from Nelson to Sutton, it isn’t as big as the gap in the two players’ salaries. Reports say Nelson is looking for higher-end starting cornerback money, and he is still a free-agent. Cameron Sutton signed a two-year deal for significantly less than the Steelers cap hit would have been Steven Nelson for this season. How the Steelers cover for that small drop-off will be something to watch for this season.

Film Room: Subtle improvements will allow the Steelers to remain an elite defense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/09/2021 - 8:30am
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense is already good, but could it stay that way without some key players missing in 2021?

The Pittsburgh Steelers finished near the top of the NFL in a host of defensive categories in 2020. They were 1st in DVOA, 1st in sacks, 1st in quarterback pressures, 2nd in takeaways, 3rd in total yardage and 3rd in points per game. Pretty impressive stuff. By just about any metric, the Steelers fielded an elite defensive unit.

One issue dogged them down the stretch, however. While the offense rightfully shouldered much of the blame for the team’s late-season collapse that saw an 11-0 start transform into a 1-5 finish, including an ugly playoff exit at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, the defense faltered as well. They contributed to the collapse by displaying a penchant for fundamental breakdowns that often led to big plays. This article looks at some of those breakdowns and how the Steelers might correct them to remain an elite unit in 2021.

For all the Top 5 numbers the defense registered in 2020, one area where they were just mediocre was in the category of allowing explosive plays. The metric for explosive plays varies but it is generally defined as those of 20+ yards. Pittsburgh’s defense ranked 11th in the league in allowing explosive pass plays and just 19th in explosive runs. Many of these plays occurred down the stretch, where flaws in positioning, tackling and execution increased their prevalence.

In December, the Steelers dropped a 26-15 contest to the Bills. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs had a big night for Buffalo, catching 10 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Diggs led the NFL in receptions in 2020, so it was not surprising he did well. But the Steelers assisted by committing fundamental breakdowns that made his job easier.

Here’s an example. In the 3rd quarter, trailing 19-7 and badly in need of a stop, the Steelers lined up on a 1st and 10 play in a thinly-disguised cover-2 look. Safety Terrell Edmunds (aligned at the 50 yard line to the boundary in the photo below) crept into the box before retreating to his half-field responsibility at the snap. Corner Cam Sutton (circled) shaded Diggs at the line of scrimmage and played a funnel technique, forcing Diggs to release inside and then waiting for a route to attack the flat. Linebacker Ulysses Gilbert III (also circled) was responsible for the hook-curl zone, meaning any intermediate route that attacked between the numbers and the hash.

Buffalo ran a slant-flat concept with Diggs breaking inside and the H-back chipping pass rusher T.J. Watt before releasing outside. While Sutton did his job by funneling Diggs and sitting, Gilbert was far too aggressive attacking the chip-release. He chased the H-back, putting two defenders on the flat route and no one in the hook-curl zone. This opened a big window for quarterback Josh Allen, who threw a strike to Diggs for a 23 yard gain. The play kick-started a scoring drive that put the Bills ahead 26-7, ending any hopes of a Steelers’ comeback.

Gilbert’s presence in the lineup that week was necessitated by injuries at linebacker to Devin Bush, Vince Williams and Robert Spillane. He logged just 33 defensive snaps all of 2020. That inexperience was costly here, as it resulted in the poor execution of a simple scheme.

The following week, the Steelers played their worst game of 2020 on the road at Cincinnati. The Bengals were quarterbacked by Ryan Finley, who was making just his fourth career start and had never won a game as a starting quarterback. Finley and the 2-10 Bengals shocked Pittsburgh, winning 27-17.

The play that most typified Pittsburgh’s performance that night was a simple zone-read from Cincinnati. On zone-read, the line blocks inside zone, the running back aims for the playside A-gap and the quarterback reads an unblocked edge player. If the edge sits and waits, he gives the ball to the running back. If the edge comes down aggressively, he pulls the ball and goes.

Here, the line blocked zone to the right and Finley read the edge player to his left (Alex Highsmith, #56). When Highsmith chased the back, Finley pulled the ball and went 23 yards untouched into the end zone:

Defending zone-read is a matter of discipline. The edge player has to respect the quarterback’s ability to run. Clearly, Highsmith did not. No doubt Cincinnati’s coaches had seen him come down like this earlier in the game and waited for an opportune moment to have Finley pull the ball and go. It was a nice call by the Bengals that exploited the young linebacker’s aggressiveness.

Highsmith was not the only one to execute poorly, however. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick put himself out of position by getting lazy with his eyes. Fitzpatrick was not a run-fitter in the box here and should have been conscious of the play spilling out the backside. He got caught watching the flow, however, and could not recover. Slot corner Cam Sutton, meanwhile, who was just out of the frame, got run off in coverage without looking back to find the football. Sutton locked on his receiver and followed him all the way to the end zone without ever realizing the play was a run.

The following week against Indianapolis, poor execution again cost the Steelers a big play, as receiver Zach Pascal got behind the defense for a 42 yard touchdown catch from Phillip Rivers.

Look at the pre-snap frame of the play below. Pascal is at the top of the screen with corner Joe Haden shading him outside. Fitzpatrick is circled in his safety position near the 30 yard line. Haden’s alignment, coupled with Fitzpatrick’s depth, indicated this was some sort of bracket coverage where Haden would take away any deep outside route while funneling any deep inside route towards Fitzpatrick:

As the play progressed, Pascal remained vertical as he crossed the 30 yard line, with Haden attached to his outside hip. Fitzpatrick angled towards him but also read the tight end, who began to break towards the middle of the field from the right hash at the 34. Fitzpatrick had to make a choice, then, on whether to keep getting depth to help on a possible inside break from Pascal or to pick up the tight end as he cleared the linebackers and crossed the field:

Because there were five pass rushers coming for Rivers, Fitzpatrick expected the football to come out fairly quickly. Thus, he made the logical choice to leave Pascal and attack the tight end. Unfortunately, if we look back to the photo above, we can see from the circle surrounding the pocket that the Steelers voided their inside rush lanes and created a huge hole into which Rivers could step to buy himself an extra second. That second coincided with Fitzpatrick leaving Pascal and Pascal breaking to the post against Haden. Haden, with outside leverage and no help to the middle, had no chance once Rivers stepped up and unloaded. Touchdown, Indy.

It’s tempting to blame Fitzpatrick for leaving Haden here. The real culprit, however, was a poorly executed cross-fire stunt by the Steelers’ inside linebackers, Avery Williamson and Vince Williams. Williamson, who crossed first, got pushed too far to his right by the center while Williams got too far upfield and was washed out of the play to his left. This was a double A-gap stunt but because both backers voided their A-gaps, Rivers was able to step up and target Pascal:

Had Williamson and Williams squeezed their gaps better, Rivers would have been forced to throw the shorter route to the tight end, on which Fitzpatrick was breaking, or eat the ball for a sack. These were subtle errors but costly ones. When a team brings pressure and puts its coverage players in difficult spots, they must confine the quarterback to the pocket.

The breakdowns the Steelers were committing at the end of the regular season caught up with them in excruciating fashion in their playoff game. Perhaps no play typified these errors more than a 40-yard 1st quarter touchdown pass from Baker Mayfield to Jarvis Landry on a simple in-cut.

The play started with motion by Landry from one side of the formation to the other. Nickel corner Mike Hilton followed him, indicating man-coverage from the Steelers. Cleveland did a nice job creating space with the motion, allowing Landry a clean release at the snap. With Hilton protecting against an outside release, Landry stemmed outside before making a quick break back to the inside, where Mayfield rifled him the football:

The frustrating thing for Pittsburgh fans as you watch this play is the following: the defense was prepared for this very concept. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was walked up to the line of scrimmage at the hash on the 40 yard line. Fitzpatrick bluffed like he was blitzing but instead fell back into coverage. His job was to undercut any in-breaking route, which he almost did, with the throw to Landry just clearing his fingertips:

Fitzpatrick made one mistake here, which was to lock his eyes on Mayfield and to never locate the receiver. Had he “kept his head on a swivel,” as coaches like to say, he could have located Landry’s depth, dropped with greater urgency and knocked away or even intercepted the throw.

Still, even though the throw was complete, it should have been a short gain. That’s because safety Terrell Edmunds was sitting over the top in the middle of the field, ready to make the tackle. Edmunds, though, never broke. For some reason, he got width along the 25 yard stripe rather than driving on an angle towards Landry. That width, as you see below, put him out of position and unable to make a play. Landry scored, the Browns led 14-0 five minutes into the game and the rout was on.

These issues were not glaring. It was a step here, a poor angle there, a lack of discipline when executing a technique. A team can get away with that stuff when they’re playing weaker opponents early in the season. But when the weather turns cold and every week is crucial, mistakes are magnified.

To beat great teams, and to make the Super Bowl run the Steelers brought Ben Roethlisberger back for, they will have to tighten up. Egregious or not, fundamental mistakes that led to big plays cost them down the stretch last season. Despite losing key players like Bud Dupree and Mike Hilton to free agency, they remain an extremely talented group on defense. With greater attention to detail, emphasis on reads, steps and techniques, and (hopefully) a healthier roster that allows for cohesiveness, the Steelers can produce an elite unit again in 2021.

Mason Rudolph details the importance of having a “confidant” in a quarterbacks coach

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/09/2021 - 7:15am
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t always had a quarterbacks coach, but Mason Rudolph knows how important one is to a developing signal caller.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, like almost every other NFL franchise, has a quarterbacks coach. Last season it was Matt Canada, and in 2021, with Canada being promoted to offensive coordinator, it is now Mike Sullivan.

But it hasn’t always been this way.

Early in Ben Roethlisberger’s career he had Ken Anderson helping him as the quarterbacks coach, and it was a job Randy Fichtner held for several years following Anderson’s retirement. However, when Fichtner was promoted to offensive coordinator, after Todd Haley was let go, the Steelers didn’t bring in a new quarterbacks coach. Instead, they had Fichtner absorb the position.

This isn’t completely out of the ordinary on NFL coaching staffs. For example, the Steelers’ defensive staff has defensive coordinator Keith Butler not just calling the defensive signals, but also coaching the outside linebackers, a role he has held since Joey Porter was told he would not be returning.

However, you have to wonder how not having a quarterbacks coach might have impacted young signal callers within the Steelers’ system. It likely didn’t harm Roethlisberger, but what about Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges or Joshua Dobbs? Rudolph, who spoke with the media following Organized Team Activities (OTAs) spoke about the value in having a dedicated coach.

Mason Rudolph says having a dedicated QB coach, a "confidant" really helped him improve last season: "Having Matt Canada, having a quarterbacks coach helped me take some steps forward."

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) June 8, 2021

“Having Matt Canada, having a quarterback coach, really helped me take some steps forward and develop and have that confident week-to-week where I could go to and ask questions,” Rudolph said. “Small sample size, one game. You obviously want to win every ball game you can, but there were a lot of positives to move forward from.”

The fact remains the Steelers absolutely hindered the progress of a player like Rudolph, and others, when they didn’t have a coach there to help them through the process of learning the quarterback position at the NFL level.

Did this impact the games played? In 2019 it certainly did when Roethlisberger was lost for the season after tearing up his elbow in the Week 2 game vs. the Seattle Seahawks at Heinz Field.

It seems as if the Steelers learned their lesson, and chose to bring in Sullivan when they could have had Canada try to do what Fichtner was asked to do when he was promoted to offensive coordinator, and try to do two jobs at once.

For players like Rudolph, Dobbs and Dwayne Haskins, having a coach with the experience of Sullivan will be a huge help as they try to develop and find their role on the 2021 Steelers.

If anyone can attest to the challenge of learning an NFL system, and getting prepared for the professional game, without a dedicated coach, it would be Rudolph.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

Counting down the days to key 2021 dates for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/09/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers are now more than half way through the 2021 offseason.

It has now been four months since Super Bowl LV concluded the tumultuous 2020 NFL season. With just over three months remaining until the Steelers take the field in the regular season, it’s time to look at some of the key dates for the remainder of the offseason as well as through the entire 2021 season.

6 days: Mandatory Mini Camp

Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers are chugging through their third week of Organized Team Activities, next week marks mandatory mini camp from June 15 through the 18th. IOt will be the last time the Steelers are together as a team before training camp.

42 days: Training Camp

Although the Steelers have not officially announced the start date of training camp, the date they are permitted to begin has been set by the NFL. With the Steelers set to play in the Hall of Fame Game, the fist day of training camp will be earlier than the rest of the NFL who are set to begin on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The Steelers, as well as the Dallas Cowboys, can start as early as July 21, 2021 while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will face the Cowboys on the opening night of the NFL season, can start July 24, 2021.

57 days: Hall of Fame Game

This date will be significant to the Steelers for 2021 as they are scheduled to play the Dallas Cowboys after the cancellation of last year’s game. The Hall of Fame Game is set to kick off the weekend on Thursday August 5, 2021. The Hall of Fame activities will be over the course of the weekend from the game Thursday through Sunday, August 8, 2021 with the 2020 enshrinement scheduled for Saturday with the 2021 class being inducted on Sunday.

64 days: Week 1 Preseason Game

Even with the Steelers playing in the Hall of Fame Game, they are still scheduled to play on Thursday night during the first full week of preseason games in Philadelphia against the Eagles. All of the games for the first full week of the 2021 NFL preseason will fall between Thursday, August 12 and Sunday, August 15, 2021.

79 days: Last Preseason Game

The Pittsburgh Steelers are once again scheduled to finish up the preseason against the Carolina Panthers. Unlike recent years when the final preseason games were all on a Thursday, the Steelers will face off against the Panthers on Friday, August 27, 2021.

83 days: 53-man Rosters

By 4 PM on Tuesday, August 31, 2021, teams will have to make their final cuts in order to determine their 53-man rosters. Teams will only have 80 players heading up to this deadline as they will also be cutting five players on the Tuesday following the first week of preseason games as well as the Tuesday following the second week of preseason games. With teams essentially having a bye week as the final preseason game, there will be extra time for teams to scour the waiver wire and prepare for Week 1 with their 53 players they have chosen to begin the season.

92 days: NFL Kickoff Game

Thursday, September 9, 2021 will be the first game of the NFL season as the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the Dallas Cowboys. Although this game doesn’t sound overly exciting to some Steelers fans as it is an NFC matchup, it is regular season football for the first time for the 2021 season.

95 days: Steelers 1st Regular Season Game

Sunday, September 12, 2021 at 1 PM the Pittsburgh Steelers will kick off in Buffalo against the Bills. If you need any more of an explanation as to why this date is important, I’m not even sure why you’ve made it this far into the list.

214 days: Week 18 Games

Sunday, January 9, 2022 will be the final games of the 2021 NFL regular season. While all 32 NFL teams are scheduled to play this day, the time of each kickoff will be determined based on various playoff scenarios.

249 days: Super Bowl LVI

Super Bowl LV is scheduled to be played on February 13, 2022 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

Podcast: When the line between fan and fanatic is skewed in Steelers Nation

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/09/2021 - 4:30am

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

It’s fun to lose yourself in your favorite sports team. The elation that one feels when the Steelers win a Lombardi Trophy is hard to match. But sometimes we as fans take the courtesy out of our rooting. What happens when the line between fan and fanatic is skewed in Steelers Nation? 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 Note
  • The Live Mail Bag
  • 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


Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

The Steelers might have the most talented special teams units in the NFL

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/08/2021 - 3:37pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Quietly the Steelers have gathered many talented special teamers.

I’ve talked at length about the Steelers depth on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, but there is a third phase of the game which hasn't gotten much attention at all this offseason — special teams!

Before you click away about a topic on special teams, I should remind you the only team in NFL history that had both the number 1 offense AND defense was the 2010 San Diego Chargers whose special teams ranked dead last in the league, they missed the playoffs. Long story short, this matters!

The Pittsburgh Steelers didn't just improve their kickers either, they added a ton of coverage players that will be crucial in pinning teams deep whenever they're on the field. This article will be split up into two sections to look at the core special teams players and the coverage guys themselves, both of which has the potential to be some of the best in the league.

Special Teamers Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Kicker: Chris Boswell
Punter: Pressley Harvin III
Long Snapper: Kam Canaday
Kick Returner: Ray Ray McCloud & Anthony McFarland
Punt Returner: Ray Ray McCloud & Diontae Johnson

The Steelers are returning virtually the entirety of this group. The one spot the Steelers will replace is the punter, with rookie Pressley Harvin III. The rookie would have led or been near the top of NFL punting stats if you lumped in his college stats from 2020 with current NFL punters. On top of that, he's still so young and improved every season I anticipate Harvin to explode onto the scene.

After a terrible 2019 season, Chris Boswell has reclaimed his status as one of the NFL’s best kickers. He’s accurate, has a fairly big leg, and he’s clutch. There's nothing more you would want from a kicker.

Ray-Ray McCloud was one of the breakout stars of the 2020 season. It’s almost more mind boggling he didn't take a kick to the house all year, but he was close on no less than six occasions. Backing him up will be the former second team All-pro punt returner Diontae Johnson you won't find a better duo anywhere else in the league.

Also Kam Canaday doesn't screw up so...perfect!

Coverage Players Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Ace: Derek Watt
Ace: Miles Killebrew
Gunner: Justin Layne
Gunner: James Pierre
Gunner: Arthur Maulet
Contributor: Robert Spillane
Contributor: Cassius Marsh
Contributor: Buddy Johnson
Contributor: Quincy Roche

Seriously, look at the list of names above and tell me this group won't dominate, you can’t. Watt and Killebrew are two of the highest volume tacklers on special teams across the NFL the past few seasons. On top of that the high end linebacker talent which will make up the second wave are punishing hitters and will make returners’ lives miserable.

What do you think? Will the Steelers have the best special teams in the NFL this year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Pro Football Focus ranks the Steelers defensive line as the top unit in the NFL

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/08/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Steelers front five defensive players are the best in the NFL entering the 2021 season.

Now that Pro Football Focus has finished their top players at each position lists for the 2021 offseason, the shift has come to position unit rankings. Rather than looking at just the individual players, they are looking at the group which makes up the position and how they compare to the rest of the NFL.

As usual, here comes my standard PFF disclaimer, even if they did give the Steelers a high score:

It seems like I can’t write an article about PFF without giving the typical disclaimer of how their projections can be highly questionable. Even their grading of players after the fact can be picked apart, so expecting them to do well in the prediction business is not something which I’m ready to bet the farm on based on their conclusions.

The next position unit listed by Pro Football Focus is the defensive line, including both interior defensive linemen and edge rushers. According to PFF, the Pittsburgh Steelers come in at at the top spot in the NFL.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers
32. Houston Texans @PFF_Linsey ranks all 32 NFL defensive lines ⬇️

— PFF (@PFF) June 7, 2021

With the Steelers retaining four of their five starters up front on defense for 2021, it is not surprising to see them ranked as the top unit. Why the Steelers ended up in the number one spot is described below according to PFF:


One would think that Pittsburgh’s defensive line is slated to take a step back after replacing Bud Dupree with Alex Highsmith. But that step might not be as large as many expect. Highsmith finished his rookie season with a higher pass-rush win rate (16.5%) than Dupree (13.7%) last year. He joins a group that already features T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, all of whom made PFF’s list of the top 32 players at their respective positions entering the 2021 NFL season. That group will look to match a league-leading 45.1% pressure rate in 2020.

Even with the loss of Bud Dupree to the Tennessee Titans (23rd on the list) for the 2021 season, the Steelers aren’t completely going into the unknown as Alex Highsmith started the last five games of the 2020 season as well as the Wild Card Game before leaving with an injury. Being able to play next to such great talent that the Steelers have collected on the defensive front is only going to help HIghsmith as he looks to make a big jump in his second NFL season. As for T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Tyson Alualu, there’s not much more that could be said about these players as they had a fantastic year with the black and gold in 2020.

Taking our typical look around the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns were the next team on the list in the 11th spot. While PFF is really looking highly on the addition of Jadeveon Clowney, time will tell as he has not seen an NFL sack since Week 10 of the 2019 NFL season. As for the rest of the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens came in at number 21 while the Cincinnati Bengals checked in at the 25th position.

With the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive front five getting the recognition around the NFL they deserve, ultimately finishing the season as the top unit is much more important than starting in that position. If the Steelers defense is going to lead this team back to the postseason in 2021, the guys upfront are going to be called on constantly to get the job done.

Steelers OTA Tracker: Compiling various reports from Day 7 of Steelers team activities

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/08/2021 - 12:05pm
Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex preparing for the 2021 season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are starting their third week of organized team activities on Tuesday. With the workouts being volunteer, and the NFLPA encouraging players to not participate, exactly who and how many players showing up for the Steelers each day remains to be seen.

With limited access to information during these workouts, we here at Behind The Steel Curtain are doing our best to compile the information into one spot as to what is going on at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex as the Steelers begin their on-field preparation for the 2021 season. Below is a compilation of information from various Steelers beat reporters who have limited attendance during the workouts. Information will come in chronological order from top to bottom to the best of our ability.

Mason Rudolph with the pump fake during OTAs on Tuesday.

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) June 8, 2021

Favorite part about the media balcony at the Steelers facility: great view of the RB drills. Eddie Faulkner rarely repeats drills, seeming to use new ones every practice.

Today, RBs worked on catching through contact. Feat. Najee Harris ⬇️

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) June 8, 2021

Roethlisberger to JuJu on the out and up. Perfect placement. #Steelers #dkps

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) June 8, 2021

And now, Mason Rudolph and his flow.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) June 8, 2021

Another episode of “Running back drills with Eddie Faulkner.”

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) June 8, 2021

Another episode of “Running back drills with Eddie Faulkner.”

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) June 8, 2021

RB drills during Tuesday’s OTA session on the South Side

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) June 8, 2021

Podcast: The BTSC Steelers Preseason Awards Show

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/08/2021 - 11:00am

In the latest episode of “Steelers Hangover” show, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo look at the week that was and the Steelers going forward.

Of course, there is always going to be plenty of speculation regarding how the oncoming season will turn out for the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the record and winning the Super Bowl remain most paramount, great individual performances help the team achieve those goals. So it makes you wonder which Steelers are winning awards at the end of camp and 2021? 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
  • The BTSC Steelers Preseason Awards 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!

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.

Part 1

Part 2

Was the late season “worn down” Ben Roethlisberger a 2020 thing, or a sign of things to come?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/08/2021 - 10:00am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback admitted he was “worn down” at the end of last season, should fans expect different in 2021?

The Pittsburgh Steelers were the last remaining undefeated team in 2020 as they marched to an 11-0 start to the season. National pundits everywhere called them things like, “The worst undefeated team in recent memory.” They cited the team’s weak schedule and luck at times as a reason why they remained perfect.

Fans of the black and gold know how the wheels fell off down the stretch, and a large part of those failures were on Ben Roethlisebrger. One of the reasons why many are predicting doom and gloom for the Steelers in 2021 is based on how Roethlisberger finished the season. No one can get the bad snap from Maurkice Pouncey and four interceptions out of their heads.

However, the franchise quarterback is back for 2021, and he admits he was fatigued at the end of last season.

“I will take that playoff and those games on me. Just feeling worn down and not playing good enough football at the end of the season.” Roethlisberger told media members last week during Organized Team Activities (OTAs).

“I had total reconstruction on my elbow, that might have something to do with it,” he said. “But no excuses. ... My arm was healed, obviously, I played. It was healthy. But I think anybody that has a big surgery, it almost takes — like that first year back, you are back but are you really back and feeling great?”

I have been on the record stating Roethlisberger should be as close to 100% in 2021, compared to what he was entering the 2020 season. The reason being last year’s offseason was spent doing nothing but rehabilitating his elbow. Sure he worked out and tried to stay in shape, but the focus was on getting his elbow right. Now, after a full offseason without any additional surgeries, Roethlisberger’s elbow should be good, and this should allow him to come into camp in better shape than he was a year ago.

As of now, his arm feels great, as if he is ready to play a new 17-game regular season schedule.

“My arm feels great, though,” Roethlisberger said. “I would like to wait to answer that question until we get into more of this season and see how it feels. Right now, it feels really good.”

So, just how different will it be for Roethlisberger this year, compared to last? Let him explain.

“Last year I threw thousands of balls in the offseason because we were rehabbing,” Roethlisberger said. “This year, it has gone back to the normal routine of throwing here, doing a little bit at home with the trainer. But mostly taking time off. I took a lot of time off from throwing, so I hope and think and really believe it will pay dividends this year.”

Roethlisberger, who is now 39, has many wondering if this is his last year suiting up for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of course, he side stepped the question like he does defensive lineman coming after him during a game.

“I’m going to approach this like I do every season — like it’s my last,” he said. “I think that’s the approach you have to take. And you don’t approach it that way because it could be your last, but you approach it because every single play in the game of football could be your last. Every game could be your last game. That just means I’m going out to give it everything I have.

“I have never looked towards the future. I’ve always looked at the right here and now, and that’s what’s important for me for this season is giving it everything I have right here and right now for this group of guys.”

Like most seasons, all eyes will be on Roethlisberger. Is the sun setting on his career? Does he still have what it takes to take a team to the Super Bowl? Under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who knows what will happen in 2021. The Steelers will be must-see TV every week.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they progress through the offseason and prepare for the 2021 regular season.

Free Agent LB Chris Orr would be a perfect fit for the cash-strapped Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/08/2021 - 8:30am
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Telling you why Chris Orr would be a tremendous fit for the Steelers.

With Devin Bush returning from injury, Vince Williams and Robert Spillane being brought back, and Buddy Johnson being drafted in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, inside linebacker is not considered a huge need for the Pittsburgh Steelers headed into 2021. However, if the Steelers choose to keep five inside linebackers, which is not abnormal, signing a free agent that can contribute on special teams would make sense. Marcus Allen is not a lock to make the roster at either safety or linebacker, and Ulysses Gilbert cannot stay healthy.

The Steelers also have a serious lack of depth at outside linebacker. Cassius Marsh was decent on special teams last season, but it would be more comforting to have a player who could play quality snaps on defense when called upon.

This, my friends, is a situation that can be solved with a free agent that would cost next to nothing: Chris Orr.

Orr is a second year linebacker out of Wisconsin who had a very successful collegiate career, recording 188 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, 2 interceptions, 8 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, and 4 fumble recoveries. Much of that production came in his senior season when he was used as a blitzer more often. In 2019 alone, Orr recorded 11.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. He did not play in 2016 due to an ACL injury.

Orr signed with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2020, and he seemed to make a good impression early on, being brought up to the active roster for three games. He only played six snaps on defense and fifty snaps on special teams, but for someone who most people did not expect to even make the practice squad, he showed enough to the Panthers to keep him around for the entire season. However, after the free agent signings of Denzel Perryman and Hasaan Reddick, there was not going to be room for Orr on the roster. When the Panthers signed former Jaguars defensive tackle Caraun Reid two weeks ago, Orr was released and is now looking for a new team.

Teammate Zach Baun got most of the praise for the success of the Wisconsin linebackers, but Chris Orr had a very underrated part in their success. The stats will show you that he is a good tackler and blitzer, but he is capable of much more than that. Orr is not a guy that you want to be covering a receiver or athletic tight end in the slot, but he was reliable against most running backs and in-line tight ends. I never fully understood claims that Orr was not athletic enough to make an NFL roster, because his tape proves otherwise. Nevertheless, Orr put the critics to bed at his pro day, recording a 4.65 in the 40, a 36.5 inch vertical jump, and 20 bench reps. His 6.99 in the 3-cone drill would have been fifth fastest among all linebackers at the scouting combine, and his 4.08 in the 20-yard shuttle would have topped all linebackers in Indianapolis.

Again, I want to thank Jacob Bost for getting the clips prepared for these articles. The first clip we are going to look at is against Central Michigan.

Orr’s assignment is to cover the running back. He displays good closing speed, but the strength he displayed on this tackle is what caught my attention. He dives for the back in effort to bring him down before he reaches the first down marker, but he also grabs hold of the running back and does not let go. If he goes for the legs, the back can potentially extend his body to get the first down. He smartly grabs the back toward the middle of his body and is able to hold on, making the tackle to bring up fourth down.

Here is the next clip. Orr is #54.

After diagnosing the run, Orr shoots the gap and is able to get in between tackle Tristan Wirfs and center Tyler Linderbaum to meet running back Tyler Goodson in the backfield. He keeps his pads at a good level throughout the entire play and is able to bring down Goodson with the help of, believe it or not, Isaiahh Loudermilk.

The next play is against Ohio State.

When the running back stays near the line to block, Orr comes downhill. When Fields takes off to run, Orr is able to disengage from guard Jonah Jackson and combine with Zach Baun to get just enough of Justin Fields to keep him from getting the first down. Orr consistently does a good job disengaging from opponents and making tackles, especially in the run game.

We have seen what Orr would bring as a tackler, but let’s look at the most intriguing part of his game: blitzing. Here is another play from that Ohio State game.

Orr shows good patience here. Rather than getting caught in the block to the right, he hesitates for a split second, allowing the block to open up a hole. Orr then has a free shot at the quarterback up the middle, and he is able to get to Fields before Fields can get rid of the ball. Orr displays good awareness on a consistent basis, and he does an excellent job timing his blitzes. His patience and awareness as a pass rusher make him very effective on stunts.

The final two plays are against Northwestern. Here is the first one.

This one is just too easy. I was tempted to leave this one off the article completely simply because it does not take much to win on this play. A little hesitation in the hole followed by a swim move is all he needs to avoid the running back on this one. Orr’s hunger as a pass rusher is something that we rarely see from inside linebackers, and that defense really fed off the energy that he brought each week. Whether the sack is simple or difficult, Orr always shows positive emotion that motivates his teammates.

When searching for information on Orr during both last year’s draft cycle and again this past week, I noticed that all the teammates that I found mentioning him had only positive things to say about him. He seems to be a high-character player, and the comments from his teammates only confirm that in my mind.

Orr was send up the middle quite often, but he also has experience blitzing off the edge. Here is the final play we will look at.

Orr is originally in the middle but slides toward the edge. He goes unblocked and has a free shot at the quarterback once again. I cannot go through every play of Orr in this article, but one thing that pops up a lot on his tape is his willingness to hit people. He may not be the biggest linebacker, but he plays bigger than his size and is not afraid to make the giant hit that can shift the momentum of a game. It all goes back to that energy we talked about a minute ago. His big-play capability is a big reason why I am such a big believer in him.

Orr showed more than enough flashes in college for me to believe in his potential as a linebacker. He lacks the ideal length to be an edge rusher, but he has proven that he can get to the quarterback from either the inside or the outside. He will never be a full-time edge rusher, but I believe he would bring just as much as on special teams and more as an edge rusher than Cassius Marsh would. Orr would also not cost anymore than what the Steelers are paying Marsh.

Inside linebacker is definitely Orr’s primary position, and the Steelers love sending pressure from their inside linebackers, which makes him an ideal fit. He would not see much, if any, playing time at that position this season unless there is an injury, but if either Vince Williams or Robert Spillane leave next offseason, the door will be open for Orr to make an impact as an inside linebacker. In year one, though, he will be a guy who can spell T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith and compete with rookie Quincy Roche for quality minutes.

Having only one reliable backup at edge means that you have no reliable backups at edge. A third edge rusher is used quite often, which is exactly why Quincy Roche does not solve the issue at depth. He is an unknown himself, but he will likely see a lot of playing time during his rookie season. Cassius Marsh is the only other backup currently, and he is not a player you want to see on the field outside of special teams. Money is tight right now, but grabbing the cheap Chris Orr may be exactly what this cash-strapped Steelers team needs.

Searching for the Steelers last third-round draft pick to be a Week 1 starter their rookie season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/08/2021 - 7:15am
Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

If Kendrick Green can win the starting center job to begin the 2021 season, whose footsteps will he be following?

On the most recent Steelers Stat Geek podcast, I dove into the topic of trying to find the last Pittsburgh Steelers third-round draft pick to be a Week 1 starter their rookie season. The exact criteria I was looking for was for a player who won their starting job the very first week and continued starting for the majority or the entirety of their rookie year. While there are some positions where players may not have been starters based on formations to start the game, I also attempted to look at the snap accounts to see how much playing time a player received.

To better show what I was looking for, 2020 third-round draft pick Alex Highsmith did not start until Week 12 of his rookie year. In his first week, Highsmith played 10 snaps and had one tackle.

One of the Steelers 2019 third-round draft picks, Diontae Johnson, was close to being the answer to the question. Johnson did start 12 games his rookie season, but did not start until Week 3. Additionally, Johnson only played 24 and 26 snaps respectively the first two weeks before seeing a big jump in playing time.

The answer to the most recent player who started in Week 1 of their rookie year as a third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers is Chukwuma Okorafor in 2018. Okorafor technically got the start in his first NFL game, but it was because the Steelers started in their jumbo package as Okorafor was playing tight end. Okorafor only played 17 snaps in the game on offense and didn’t start again until Week 8 which was once again as a jumbo tight end. Ultimately, Okorafor did start and play all the offensive snaps for the Steelers in Week 12 of his rookie year.

As the search continues, they were plenty of players who weren’t even active their first week of the rookie season who were third-round draft picks. Players such as Justin Layne and Mason Rudolph were examples of those who were inactive while Cameron Sutton was injured to start his rookie season.

Another player who came close to fitting the requirements as being a starter in Week 1 their rookie season as a third-round draft pick was Jayvon Hargrave. Unfortunately, Hargrave did not technically start in Week 1 as he started in Week 2. Depending on the defensive package in which the Steelers started the game was the ultimate determination if Hargrave started the game or not. So while he could be considered a starter right off the bat, Hargrave only played 13 defensive snaps in his first game and only had 11 in Week 2 even when he was the starter. In fact, it was Week 5 of his rookie year before Hargrave saw more than 50% of the snaps on defense. For this reason, Hargrave does not fit is the answer to the question.

As I continued to look back and also compare the number of snaps players had their first week in the NFL as third-round draft picks for the Steelers, the highest percentage of anyone going back to 2012 was Diontae Johnson with 36% of the offensive snaps. Unfortunately, 2012 is where the snap counts cut off for Pro Football Reference. Therefore I was left merely looking at games started.

The next closest candidate goes back to 2007 with third-round draft pick Matt Spaeth. Although he had a touchdown in Week 1 of his rookie season, Spaeth didn’t start until Week 2 and then was inactive for the next two games. In all, Spaeth started six games in his rookie year and only had five receptions with three of them being touchdowns.

Going back all the way through the Kevin Colbert era to the year 2000, no other third-round draft picks came anywhere close to being a starter. In fact, 11 of the 26 players drafted in the third round by the Steelers from 2000 to 2020 were not active in a Week 1 of their rookie year. Of the 26 players, 15 of them never started a game as a rookie.

Moving on to attempt to answer the question, 1978 provided a possible solution in punter Craig Colquitt who appeared in all 16 games for the Steelers. While you could say this is the answer, punters technically do not start games so Colquitt never started a game in his NFL career.

The next player who came extremely close was tight end John McMakin in 1972. McMakin did not start in Week 1, but started the remaining 13 games of his rookie season.

While there are some players who were extremely close to fitting the criteria exactly, the last third-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers who started Week 1 and continued to start for their rookie season was in 1953. Linebacker Marv Matuszak started all 12 of the Steelers game that season and was selected to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Although he was a third-round draft pick, it should be noted that Matuszak was only the 29th overall selection as they were only 13 selections in the first round and 12 in the second round in 1953.

So there’s the answer for the last time the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted a player in the third round of the NFL draft who started Week 1 and remained the starter the entire season. So if Kendrick Green can earn the starting job at center for the Pittsburgh Steelers and hold the position for the entire season, it will be the first time in 68 years a third-round draft pick of the Steelers has managed to do so.

To hear the entire Steelers Stat Geek podcast, you can listen to the show in the player below.

Imagine if Malik Hooker was a member of the Steelers...since 2017

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/08/2021 - 6:00am
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

If Malik Hooker had started his career with the Steelers in 2017, folks would have long-since soured on him and his history of major injuries.

Back in the day, depth used to be something the Steelers just added during the offseason. It occurred mostly under the radar and didn’t make much noise on the newswire.

That day is gone. Today, depth can be a major star during the Steelers offseason. As it pertains to those that follow and cover the team, adding depth has been a continuing concern since before the free-agent period kicked off in March.

Actually, if we’re being honest, starters were what people were initially after, but with the Steelers credit score? I mean, come on! Anyway, offensive lineman Joe Haeg wasn’t enough to scratch that free-agent itch, neither was his colleague from Chicago, what’s his face. How about Miles Killebrew? Please! At best, he’s a slightly more respected version of Jordan Dangerfield. As for Dwayne Haskins and B.J. Finney, two free agents the Steelers signed before the frenzy officially began, I believe those deals did nothing but scare the bejeezus out of the fans in a “Is this their answer for the heir apparent/Maurkice Pouncey’s replacement!” kind of way.

The Steelers didn’t do much to satisfy the urge for a new high during the first few weeks of free agency, and now that the 2021 NFL Draft is fully out of our systems, the cries to sign more depth have returned.

At this point, we’re like one of Big Chicken’s junkies in an episode of the original Hawaii Five-0. (“Please, Chicken, I need!” “Don’t worry, baby, I’ll spot you.”) We’re desperate to board a Love Boat and be whisked away to a Fantasy Island (RIP to Gavin Macleod and Ricardo Montalban) where there’s nothing but free-agent depth that is willing to (say it with me) sign for vet-minimum prices.

Malik Hooker, a former first-round pick of the Colts, is the latest free-agent crush thanks to his visit with the Steelers last week. Hooker, who was taken 15th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, plays safety. Pittsburgh can certainly use depth at the position. But does the team need it so bad, it would be willing to sign a player like Hooker, who has only appeared in 36 of a possible 64 games due to various physical ailments—including a torn ACL and MCL, a torn meniscus, and a torn Achilles?

Man, this guy has the same injury history as your average rec-league softball player.

Anyway, this was all just my way of saying that, if Hooker was actually the Steelers first-round pick in 2017, folks wouldn’t be tweeting the “praying” emoji hoping he’d sign like they were doing last week when they heard the New Castle native was spotted at the Pittsburgh International Airport; they would probably post the devil emoji anytime they discussed his lack of reliability due to his injury history.

So, why the fascination with Hooker? I guess it’s like what Macklemore said: “One man’s trash, that’s another man’s come up.”

There are even people who think Hooker would be an upgrade over Terrell Edmunds, the Steelers first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. “Sign Hooker and cut Edmunds,” some have said (you know who you are). Yes, I know that Hooker is a free safety, while Edmunds is a strong safety, but as if logic and facts matter when discussing stuff like this.

I realize Hooker showed great promise over the first half of his rookie season, intercepting three passes and looking like he was headed for superstardom. But that was before his first MAJOR injury—the aforementioned torn ACL/MCL. Also, 2017 was a long time ago. Heck, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said he didn’t really trust the draft prospects who opted out of their 2020 college seasons. Why would he have any faith in a guy who hasn’t done much more than rehab his injuries over the past four seasons?

Maybe Hooker would actually make sense in terms of depth—even a bit more than that in terms of his role in Pittsburgh’s defense—but at what price? Hooker, who became a free agent after the Colts elected not to pick up his fifth-year option prior to the 2020 campaign, may value himself as more than a depth piece. (The Steelers weren’t his only visit.)

That’s fine. I can’t deny Hooker his belief in himself. But the Steelers certainly shouldn’t feel extra pressure to sweeten any deal simply because Hooker is from Western Pennsylvania. It didn’t work for James Conner, a 2017 third-round pick who couldn’t stay healthy and eventually fell out of the good graces of the fans and media. His story no longer mattered by the time he left. The fact that he was from Erie, Pa. and played his college ball for the Pitt Panthers (btw, Malik, thanks for choosing The Ohio State Buckeyes over my Panthers) was of no consequence.

Actually, Conner is who Hooker would be, right now, if he started his career with the Steelers. He’d be a player people couldn’t wait to see leave town.

Unlike Macklemore and those clothes he found at the thrift store, I’m not saying Hooker is trash. I’m just saying he’s injured a lot. That wasn’t attractive when James Conner donned the black and gold. Why should it be for Malik Hooker simply because he started out his career wearing blue and white?

Podcast: The property value of the Steelers linebackers living on the EDGE

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/08/2021 - 4:30am

In the latest podcast on the BTSC family of podcasts, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have an All-Pro, a promising second-year man, a journeyman and a sixth-rounder at the outside linebacker position. Are they set or do they need more? Join BTSC Deputy Editor Michael Beck on the latest edition of The Live Mike as he helps Steeler Nation navigate through the 2021 offseason and beyond.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • The Steelers a year from now
  • and MUCH MORE!

Michael Beck of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Men of Steel.

Check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Are the Steelers sliding down the AFC hierarchy?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/07/2021 - 2:00pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The top teams in the AFC seemingly got better this offseason, the Steelers did not

Another day goes by, and another AFC team adds a All-Pro player. This time it was the Tennessee Titans landing a deal to secure Julio Jones’ services. Not only are the Titans an opponent on the Steelers 2021 schedule, but they will be a strong competitor to land one of the AFC playoff spots. But it wasn't just the Titans who have upgraded their roster In the 2021 offseason, but the majority of AFC contenders.

Breaking: Falcons are trading Julio Jones to the Titans in exchange for "at least" a 2nd round pick, per @RapSheet

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 6, 2021

Kicking things off with the two time defending AFC champion, Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs not only completely rebuilt their offensive line, but feature a backup unit arguably better than the Steelers starting group. The list of newcomers include tackle: Orlando Brown Jr., guards Joe Thuney, Kyle Long, Trey Smith, and a returning Laurent Duverney-Tardif, and centers Austin Blythe and Creed Humphrey (those are just the new players). The Chiefs former weakness is now a position of strength, and they managed to do this without losing hardly anyone.

Next let’s look at the AFC runner up Buffalo Bills. The Bills are virtually returning an identical team from the 2020 season. Their biggest losses include John Brown, who was replaced by Emmanuel Sanders, and an aging Trent Murphy, who will be replaced by first and second round draft picks. Long story short, the Bills are a high chemistry team gearing up to knock the Chiefs off their perch atop the conference.

The Colts and Titans also had big 2021 offseason’s. The Colts are hoping Carson Wentz returning to Frank Reich’s offense will bring him back to his MVP candidate days. Indy also brought in Eric Fisher to replace a retired Anthony Castonso. As for the Titans, they may have lost Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis but they landed Bud Dupree and Julio Jones. The Titans’ offense will be one of the biggest and most physical groups in NFL history and should be feared.

As for the Steelers AFC North competition I would argue the Baltimore Ravens took a step backwards after losing Matt Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, Matt Skura, and never really committed to fixing their receiving corps. But the Browns were once again big time offseason winners landing star safety John Johnson, Troy Hill, and Jadeveon Clowney while also having yet another draft class many ‘experts’ went gaga over.

We also can't forget to mention the New England Patriots who attempted to sign every free agent and managed to land a number of them. They also brought back what was a league leading 8 opt-out players from the 2020 season, and possibly found their next quarterback in Mac Jones via the 2021 NFL Draft. The Patriots will not be flirting with .500 for a second consecutive season.

This brings me to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The only positions I would say they improved are at running back, guard (addition by subtraction) and tight end. I feel they remained the same at quarterback, receiver, defensive line, safety, and middle linebacker. And as we sit here right now, I will tell you they got worse at outside linebacker, corner, center, and tackle. On paper the Steelers’ roster is weaker than a season ago. Thankfully they will feature a new offensive scheme, which must be better than the ineptitude that was Randy Fichtner’s offense, also known as ‘Randyland’. Factor in the toughest schedule in football and I think it’s fair to think the Steelers will take a step back in the AFC rankings. But with 7 team playoffs now the norm, they will have a shot at the playoffs but will need to get red hot come January to do anything.

But what do you think? Will the Steelers take a step back in 2021? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

ESPN claims the Steelers had one of the worst offseasons in the NFL

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/07/2021 - 12:30pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers offseason might not have gone as planned, at least ESPN thinks so.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason was, well, different. But they weren’t alone, when the NFL salary cap dipped for the first time since it started, certain teams were in financial stress. The Steelers were one of those teams.

With a large number of pending free agents, any logical fan knew the Steelers wouldn’t be able to keep them all. When the Steelers lost Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, Matt Feiler and eventually Alejandro Villaneuva, it wasn’t a shock. The Steelers were forced to make tough decisions heading into 2021. Decisions like signing Cam Sutton rather than Hilton, bringing back JuJu Smith-Schuster on a one-year deal and even finding a way to retain Tyson Alualu.

When you take a step back and look at all the Steelers had going against them, it was pretty amazing how they manipulated the salary cap, mainly using void years in several contracts, and were able to keep a competitive roster in place.

But that doesn’t mean everyone was feeling that way. In fact, ESPN had the Steelers as one of the worst offseasons among all NFL teams. This article was written by ESPN Staff Writer Bill Barnwell, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the 2021 Steelers.

Check it out:

30. Pittsburgh Steelers

What went right: The Steelers got a pleasant surprise when JuJu Smith-Schuster’s market failed to develop, leading the 24-year-old to return on a one-year, $8 million deal. It took voidable years to get Smith-Schuster back in the fold, which should tell you what a mess Pittsburgh’s cap looks like. Given their lack of options at the position, the Steelers should also probably be happy that Ben Roethlisberger decided to return for another season, taking a $5 million pay cut in the process. And after agreeing to sign with the Jaguars, Tyson Alualu changed his mind and returned to the Steelers on a two-year, $5.5 million pact.

What went wrong: They were forced to eat their financial vegetables and watch Bud Dupree and Mike Hilton leave in free agency. With the organization moving on from Steven Nelson, cornerback has gone from being one of the team’s biggest strengths to one of Pittsburgh’s thinnest positions. Justin Layne, a third-round pick in 2019, has played only 117 defensive snaps over his first two seasons, but he might be one of the team’s three top cornerbacks this season.

The offensive line is also a mess, with the Steelers losing Maurkice Pouncey to retirement and both Matt Feiler and Alejandro Villanueva to free agency. They brought back B.J. Finney and used third- and fourth-round picks on linemen, but they project to be below average at as many as four positions. Their decision to try to revitalize the running game by using a first-round pick on Alabama star Najee Harris also seemed curious given what we know about the position.

What they could have done differently: Used their first-round pick on a lineman while signing one of the many running backs still available in free agency. Christian Darrisaw came off the board one pick before the Steelers at No. 23, but I have to think that they would have been better off with Darrisaw and a back such as Todd Gurley than they are with Harris and their current line situation.

What’s left to do: Start working on extensions for T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Plenty of teams would love to have this problem, but the Steelers will have to find a way to extend their two young stars on defense over the next two years while struggling with cap constraints. Roethlisberger could retire after the 2021 season, but the franchise will still be on the hook for nearly $16 million in dead money between their longtime quarterback and Smith-Schuster in 2022.

After reading that, how do you feel about the Steelers this upcoming season? Do you think this “poor offseason” won’t be as bad as many think? Were the moves the team made good enough to still be contenders in the AFC?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.


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