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Steelers 2019 NFL Draft Prospects: College Game Day and Open Thread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 10:49am

It’s time to check in on some prospects for the black-and-gold.

It is finally among us, conference championship week! We will find out who truly is made out to be who they are and many teams will lose their playoff positioning this week.

With so many top teams playing, there is a ton of NFL talent on display for us to watch today. They come in droves on every team, and I certainly am here for it.

With that in mind, and the season winding down to its climax, lets see some of the games on the platter for this star-studded Saturday.

Big 12 Championship: No. 14 Texas at No. 5 Oklahoma (-7.5) 12.00 ABC

SEC Championship: No. 1 Alabama (-13.5) at No. 4 Georgia 4:00 CBS

AAC Championship: Memphis at No. 8 UCF (-3) 3:30 ABC

Big 10 Championship: No. 21 Northwestern at No. 6 Ohio State (-13.5) 7:45 FOX

ACC Championship: Pittsburgh at No. 2 Clemson (-27.5) 8:00 ABC

And this week’s highlight game:

Mountain West Championship: No. 25 Fresno State at No. 22 Boise State (-2.5) 7:45 ESPN Fresno State Bulldogs

Keeshawn Johnson #3 WR 6’2” 199 lbs

Marcus McMaryion #6 QB 6’2” 203 lbs

Mike Bell #4 SAF 6’3” 203 lbs

Emeka Ndoh #5 EDGE 6’0” 250 lbs

Boise State Broncos

Brett Rypien #4 QB 6’2” 202 lbs

David Moa #55 IDL 6’3” 275 lbs

Alexander Mattison #22 RB 5’11 211 lbs

Bulldogs Breakdown

QB Marcus McMariyon

McMaryion is the definition of a mixed bag. I mean that wholeheartedly, that he has some fantastic traits, but man some of super ugly. This guy has the ability to extend plays like no other guy in this class. He can just fly up and down the field and make throws on the run easily. I love what I see there, as the mobility isn’t an issue. McMaryion also feels pressure easily. He stands in there and steps up often. It is one of his best traits.

He can hit guys accurately in the intermediate and short game, but with limited arm strength and deep accuracy, there sure is some concern to go around there. Something I don’t see enough from him is pre-snap processing, as he just can’t read keys as well as he should. However, he shows little-to-no anticipation, which really sinks him down my board.

Round Grade: Early 5th

NFL Comparison: Cody Kessler

SAF Mike Bell

Bell has arms for days. I mean this guy is super long. Good for him, he certainly is not stiff, he is smooth. He changes direction rather easily and it really helps him in man coverage and to become a single-high guy. He plays timidly and all, but he is just a solid player. I don’t see him playing as much down in the box, although he can be a very good run defender, but I do see him moving around as a hybrid.

Bell has always been a solid tackler, but he has some rough processing and can be a step late in coverage. In addition to that, his angles leave a lot to be desired. And with that lack of aggressiveness, he hasn’t showed all that much of any ball skills, which I would love to see from him.

Round Grade: Mid 4th

NFL Comparison: Ron Parker

Broncos Breakdown

QB Brett Rypien

Brett Rypien has really caught me by surprise recently. I see a ton of Alex Smith in Rypien. He is never overly aggressive, but he sure is smart and accurate. He can throw the ball deep, but only does it when he has to do it. His anticipation is fantastic and he can run the quick game if need be. I love his ball placement, as he loves to throw back shoulder and be precise with it. He can fit balls into tight windows that he simply shouldn’t be able to due to solid arm strength that allows him to change up velocity with ease. He also is super mobile and can extend plays.

He can get jittery at times in pocket and is too prone to fumbles. His pre-snap reads need to progress further, as he sometimes locks onto one target and fails to go through his reads, thus leading to unnecessary hard throws. While he does have solid arm strength, it is not fantastic, and he is prone to underthrowing the ball. He can be too dangerous at times, and takes too many risks.

Round Grade: Late 2nd

NFL Comparison: Alex Smith

RB Alexander Mattison

Mattison is a complete back, but he is pretty raw in a lot of ways. For one, he is an excellent receiver who can be used out of all looks. He is faster than his size would let on and can get to the boundary fast. His contact balance is extremely good and he just grinds out yards consistently every play.

He does have some lapses in his vision, however, especially on zone runs. Combined with an overall lack of agility, and there is definitely some cause for concern here. His pass blocking is extremely raw as well, thus it possible he can be limited as a 3-down back.

Round Grade: Mid 4th

NFL Comparison: Royce Freeman

Sleeper

QB Taryn Christion #3 South Dakota State

Hello FCS Lamar Jackson. Christion really does resemble Jackson, from the insane mobile and running ability, to the ridiculous arm strength and accuracy inconsistencies. He is slept on in this class and won’t go nearly as high as Jackson went, but Christion has those same characteristics. This guy can throw with amazing anticipation off of any quick concept. He feels pressure extremely well and steps up out of the pressure often. He can extend the play with his legs and throw well on the run. He manipulates safeties well and creates openings for his receivers.

He does have some issues with accuracy inconsistencies. Specifically when he is going deep, he can throw some real lame ducks due to his narrow base. He can recognize and read defenses well, but needs to go through his reads better. He needs to get off-script and instead create his own reads. He telegraphs passes like that too often.

Round Grade: Early 3rd

NFL Comparison: Lamar Jackson

.............

That’s all for here, and if you have any prospects you want to bring up, discuss them below, I’ll be here on this thread all day!

Random Thoughts from a Black-and-Gold Mind: “A Christmas Story” edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 9:53am

BTSC’s resident madman waxes poetically over the Steelers and a holiday classic and takes you along for the glorious ride.

With the Pittsburgh Steelers suffering a Mile High low last week and television and radio outlets diving headfirst into holiday-themed programming, my black-and-gold tinted tongue seems stuck-on-the-frozen-flagpole-of-life. As always, I feel compelled to pass the ravings on to you. But first, I must offer up apologies for any offense that was taken after my last submission. So, a Red Ryder of remorse goes out to and for the following...

  • The Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • George and Harry Bailey
  • Tyrone Carter
  • Yinzers with undeniable pronunciation maladies
  • Judd Nelson’s John Bender and the cast and characters of 1985’s The Breakfast Club
  • Coining the term “pierogie-ocity”
  • Hermione Granger and Muggles everywhere
  • The Go-Go’s

And now for the latest edition of Random Thoughts from a Black-and-Gold Mind.

  • The undercarriage of the bus (and I’m not talking Jerome Bettis-that’s just disturbing) needs looked at for possible repairs after a Ben Roethlisberger throw-under of epic proportions, much like when Ralphie blamed his buddy, Schwartz, for teaching him “the queen mother of dirty words”. The only difference is that the Steelers can possibly use this experience as motivation, while poor Schwartz was beaten within inch of his young life.
  • Ben feels he’s earned the right to call out his teammates. He has a point. He’s the captain and a 15-year vet. His targets are grown men. This can possibly be the last loss of the season and these words can be a rallying point or a triple-dog-dare to his teammates. Or it can shatter the season into tiny pieces much like a leg lamp hitting the floor.
  • If you are Ryan Switzer, is being labeled a “tough, little booger” by your quarterback flattery or just plain insulting? Switzer is a class act and I’m sure the description is a feather in his cap, but it’s nothing you want to hashtag. It’s a good thing No. 10 is married, because “I’m a tough, little booger” isn’t exactly the best pickup line in a bar on the strip.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster proclaimed this week that he wants to retire a Steeler. Unlike another player that had recently spouted that same phrase, No. 19 seems very genuine.
  • JJSS is the only player in NFL history to have two TDs of at least 97 yards. That could one day result in ‘‘a major award”.
  • Chuks Okorafor should be commended for protecting his signal-caller from a Scut Farkus/Grover Dill-type bullying by keeping Von Miller and Bradley Chubb (mostly) at bay last week. If No. 76 was available to guard the door of the Parker house in “A Christmas Story”, the Bumpus hounds would have never destroyed their neighbors’ Christmas feast that ultimately chased them to Chinese cuisine.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
  • The Steelers need to generate more turnovers desperately. This stat needs an upgrade in order for this team to go far in the playoffs. If not, it could be a letdown of “don’t forget to drink your Ovaltine” proportions.
  • The Steelers pass rush has a great opportunity to get to Phillip Rivers on Sunday Night Football. Rivers is as mobile as Ralphie’s brother Randy in a snowsuit. T.J. Watt, Javon Hargrave, Vince Williams and company can do some damage if they get penetration.
  • Melvin Gordon’s injury doesn’t reduce the threat of the Chargers run game. Austin Ekeler, the 5’10” scatback, averages 5.8 ypc and has 32 receptions on the 2018 campaign. If the Steelers handle him carelessly, another No. 30 from the state of Colorado could “shoot the Steelers’ eyes out”.
  • James Harrison will be taking part in the 10th anniversary celebration of the Super Bowl XLIII team Sunday night at Heinz Field. You may be disappointed with his exit much in the way you were chagrined when you learned that the actor that played Flick (Scott Schwartz) appeared in pornos. But regardless of the circumstances regarding his departure from the team a year ago, I hope that he’s shown the respect that he deserves for his contributions to that championship.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

and finally....

  • I wonder what Greg Garrity is doing these days.

Untill next time, I urge Steeler Nation to ponder the significance of this quote from the 1983 Christmas classic that was referenced ad nauseum in this very column and how it pertains to staying up late to watch the Steelers in prime time.

“Only one thing in the world could’ve dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.”

Take that for what it’s worth, Don’t Stop Shalievin’ and Go Steelers.

Don’t worry Steelers fans, James Washington will come around

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 8:30am

The rookie will be fine, he just has a very steep learning curve.

James Washington did indeed dolphin dive this past Sunday. He has a miraculous 32% catch rate on the year and a mere 8 receptions on the season. Yes, he should have had a big TD on Sunday, and potentially squandered what could have been a defining moment of his rookie year. He was also then called out by his QB Ben Roethlisberger after that catch.

Maybe all that is true, but Washington is going to be more than fine.

This kid may never be a top receiver like Antonio Brown or JuJu Smith-Schuster, but he will turn out to be a solid receiver. The talent is, and was, there on not just his college tape, but his preseason tape, too. However, when it comes to Washington, it is a very unique situation.

Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State offense asked Washington to run three basic routes — a simple streak, a post, and occasionally, a slant. Washington is immediately at a disadvantage due to an inexplicably bare route tree. You think Dez Bryant was polished coming out? He certainly was not, and he had to learn all the NFL routes, and it was no wonder he never came on until late 2010.

Washington is the same way. He has had to learn routes like an in, the NFL out, a chair route, a simple fade, wheels, anything you can think of, Washington has had to learn. The guy wasn’t even asked to run a curl route in college. Over the past few weeks, the Steelers are starting to expand his route tree, which is why you saw him run a reverse sluggo on Sunday.

Washington cooked Yiadom on that double move, but I don't know why he dives. That should've been a TD all day. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/qWejld4BCr

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) November 26, 2018

This could not have been a better run route. Honestly, this was better than when JuJu ran his sluggo earlier. That break is so smooth and easily cooks the defensive back. Not all WRs can run a break that smoothly, or even sell it. The separation alone is a huge feat, and he usually would run through this. He did it many times in college, and don’t judge his hands by this either. This guy has incredibly strong hands.

When you have such a limited route tree, the learning is going to be huge and it will take a long time to get acclimated. Washington is not necessarily a poor route runner more than he is just a raw one.

That Oklahoma State offense never asked for timing based routes, which is key to note for the Steelers to take into consideration. A simple out route for Washington not only has to be fluid, but he also has to understand the timing-based mechanisms within it. Washington now has to be in sync with Ben Roethlisberger, choose where he has to go, and read the corner’s coverage.

That is not a concept in the Oklahoma State offense, and that is why this learning curve is steep. All Washington knew how to be was a deep threat, and he is being asked to do much more here in the NFL. Tomlin and Fichtner must have enough confidence in him to be letting him run sluggos, outs, slants, and wheels like he does. Otherwise, he just wouldn’t play at all.

Washington also clearly has very little chemistry with Big Ben right now. Chemistry is huge for a WR and QB, and when you factor in that Washington didn’t run with 1s into nearly Week 1, and that Ben sits out a day a week, it is tough to get these things fixed.

What is Washington’s issue? It is that learning curve that he has to get used to. This is not a spread offense that he ran in college. Washington, with all the new routes he has had to learn, certainly has caused him to play more timidly than he would.

Washington is simply thinking too much right now. He is not reading the field or using his instincts right now because that learning curve is huge. You can already see him starting to come around. The separation he got there is a plus, and I have noticed he has been getting more and more open as the season has gone on. The All-22 shows Washington just isn’t getting targeted, and maybe not to his benefit.

His instincts and natural feel will come with more and more repetition. I think the kid is a better route runner than many give him credit for. His breaks have gotten better and I can see he is learning. Once he feels comfortable, those contested catches are gonna come back, too.

Don’t worry about James Washington, this kid has tons of talent and will be just fine.

No one wins more than the Steelers in the month of December

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 7:15am

Pittsburgh may face a number of tough opponents over the final five weeks of the season, but recent history suggests they will win most of them.

As the calendar turns to December and the final month of the NFL regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers face one of the toughest stretches of their 2018 schedule. However, while games against the 8-3 Los Angeles Chargers, 8-3 New England Patriots and 10-2 New Orleans Saints look to be a daunting for a team hoping to earn a bye in the playoffs, history suggests the Steelers will breeze through their final opponents.

Dating back to the 2013 season, Pittsburgh has only lost 3 of the 23 games they have played in the month of December, more than any other team in the league.

Over the past 5 seasons, the @steelers own the @NFL's best record in the final month (including Jan. regular-season games):

1. Steelers – 20-3
2. @Patriots – 18-6
3. (tied) @Panthers – 17-7
3. (tied) @Chiefs – 17-7
4. @packers – 16-7

Week 13 preview: https://t.co/gB3KLx7C3s pic.twitter.com/4K8i9sLQ6d

— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) November 30, 2018

Their 20-3 record towers above the Patriots in second place at 18-6, with the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs tied in third place at 17-7. That being said, while Pittsburgh has only lost three times in the last five seasons in December, it is perhaps worth noting that their last loss at this time of the year came against New England in Week 15 of the 2017 season. An outcome that might have been rather different if a certain touchdown reception had stood.

The Steelers went undefeated in 2016 and 2014, but it was the Baltimore Ravens who put a blemish on their December record in 2015 and the Miami Dolphins who ruined it in 2013. Never has Pittsburgh lost more than once in the last month of the season over the past five years.

With a handful of exceptions, December has always been a good month for Mike Tomlin since taking control of the Steelers in 2007, even if his debut season was not one of them. He would lose three games in the final month of that year, a feat he has matched only once since in 2012. Apart from 2009 when they lost twice, Pittsburgh only dropped one game in December each year from 2008-2011.

Should the Steelers manage to win all but one of their remaining five games this season as per their average, they could yet be watching the Wildcard Round at home ahead of a game at Heinz Field in January.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are dominating the Pro Bowl voting — again

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 5:52am

For the second straight year, the black-and-gold are dominating the Pro Bowl voting.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a very popular NFL franchise, and with this popularity comes a very unique power when it comes to Pro Bowl voting.

Since the NFL went to fan voting as the prime source of voting for the annual NFL All-Star game, the Steelers have always been well represented. In 2017, no team had more players voted into the game than Pittsburgh.

While voting hasn’t ended, the Steelers are again dominating the Pro Bowl voting for the 2018 game.

#Steelers

RB James Conner

WR Antonio Brown

T Alejandro Villanueva

G David DeCastro

C Maurkice Pouncey

OLB T.J. Watt

ILB Jon Bostic

K Chris Boswell

Special Teams Roosevelt Nix

lead their position in 2019 AFC Pro Bowl fan voting through Nov. 27

Voting goes until Dec. 13

— Dom Rinelli (@drinelli) November 28, 2018

Not only are the above players leading in their specific positions, but two players, James Conner and Antonio Brown, are among the top in the NFL in terms of overall votes received.

Steelers' James Conner remains No. 4 overall in Pro Bowl fan voting. Antonio Brown is sixth overall.

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) November 28, 2018

The biggest factor for Steelers fans is the hope their favorite players from their favorite team win the vote for their respective position, but the overall hope is no members of the team will be able to play in the joke of a football game due to preparations for the Super Bowl.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for their Week 13 game vs. the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday Night Football.

Black and Gold Links: Is JuJu Smith-Schuster’s success based solely on Antonio Brown?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 4:44am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers had their nifty winning streak snapped at the hands of the Denver Broncos in week 12, and after their 24-17 loss the team now has to turn the page quickly before they host the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field in Week 13.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at whether JuJu Smith-Schuster’s success as a professional is based solely around the attention Antonio Brown attracts from the defense, or if Smith-Schuster is far more than that...maybe a budding superstar in the making?

Let’s get to the news:

Kevin Gorman: Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster shooting to superstardom

By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

JuJu Smith-Schuster never dreamt of catching 97-yard touchdown passes in back-to-back seasons, but NFL stardom was always part of the plan for the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver.

Smith-Schuster is achieving his goals faster than even he could have imagined. Not only has JuJu already bested his rookie totals for receptions and yards, but he leads the AFC with 77 catches and eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving goal he set before his second season.

JuJu showed his charm and charisma extends beyond being a social-media maven Thursday, as the 22-year-old talked about wanting to win a Super Bowl and building his brand globally.

“I just want to make it as big as possible, in a positive way,” Smith-Schuster said, “to influence younger kids and as many people as possible outside of the states.”

JuJu already has an endorsement from a Steelers superstar.

Ben Roethlisberger called Smith-Schuster “reliable, dependable and trustworthy” this week, saying he wished he would have thrown the ball to JuJu on four straight plays on the final drive in Denver. But the Steelers quarterback took it a step further Thursday, saying Smith-Schuster deserves league-wide recognition for his play.

“I think he’s rising fast, and I would think he’s a Pro Bowl guy,” Roethlisberger said. “He’ll get a lot of fan votes because the fans love him, but I don’t know if he’s got the name like (DeAndre) Hopkins or AB (Antonio Brown) … but he absolutely should.

“He’s making plays. He’s doing it all. He’s where he’s supposed to be. All of those things are great, but he also benefits from having that guy across the field from him, too. But he works. It’s not like it’s being given to him, just because teams are doubling AB. He’s still got to beat his guy.”

Smith-Schuster did that in prime time at Heinz Field, scoring a 75-yard touchdown on the Steelers’ first play against Carolina. He did it again with his 97-yard catch-and-run at Denver, matching the mark set last year at Detroit for longest play in franchise history.

If all of the adulation sounds like it could go to Smith-Schuster’s head, take comfort in knowing he still has the good sense to dismiss talk of supplanting Brown as the Steelers’ top receiver by saying he eats off the plate of the four-time All-Pro receiver. Not to mention Smith-Schuster also adds levity to the locker room, especially when asked about Roethlisberger calling out receivers Brown and rookie James Washington earlier this week.

“Us receivers, they call us ‘divas’ — I don’t know why, I can’t see that,” Smith-Schuster said, drawing laughter by flashing a sly smile and batting his eyelashes, “but we have to learn how to take criticism. We have to learn to be better, not only for ourselves but for the team.”

What the Steelers love is how Smith-Schuster plays football “above the neck,” a nod to his cerebral approach. Roethlisberger called Smith-Schuster “very smart,” noting he knows every route tree and can line up in the slot or on the outside, as he increasingly has in the Steelers’ past two games. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner is impressed by how Smith-Schuster “has a lot of very interesting comments between series about what he feels and sees,” a special trait for a second-year receiver.

“He’s very intelligent,” Fichtner said. “He sees things in-game. … He’s been able to take advantage of situations, quite honestly. When you’re going to rotate coverage to Antonio — and a lot of people have to do that — somebody better make those plays alongside him.”

Roethlisberger revealed Smith-Schuster’s suggestions aren’t always self-serving.

“He’ll come to me and say, ‘Hey, Ben, I think we can get them on this play,’ ” Roethlisberger said. “Usually, when guys tell you that, it’s a play where they’re going to get open. But he’ll tell me that he thinks this play will work, and it’s not necessarily designed for him.”

Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster: Success comes from Antonio Brown diversion

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Ben Roethlisberger won’t commit to Antonio Brown holding his longtime role as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ No. 1 receiver . But the player who might have passed Brown for that distinction will.

JuJu Smith-Schuster has more catches and receiving yards this season than Brown. But Brown’s second-year teammate attributed his success to the attention Brown draws from opposing defenses.

“Obviously, he’s been here for (nine) years,” Smith-Schuster said of Brown. “He’s getting double teamed, triple teamed. It’s hard, you know? But he still makes his plays, and he still has the explosive plays that he’s making.

“And for me to be a young guy, me and (running back James Conner) and some of the other guys are being able to eat off his plate because of what he’s done in the past.”

Brown between 2013-17 had the most catches in NFL history of any player over a five-year span. But although he is in the top 14 in both categories this season, his 71 receptions and 974 yards rank second on the team to Smith-Schuster’s 77 and 1,055.

No player, though, has more touchdown receptions than Brown’s 11, and only Tyreek Hill has more catches of 40-plus yards in the NFL this season than Brown’s five. Smith-Schuster is tied for sixth in the league with four such explosive catches.

“He’s helped me out a lot,” Smith-Schuster said. “We always talk about just making each other better. Every day I go out and practice, I try and be the best I can be on the field, competing against him.

“When it comes to gameday, it’s just we all talk about, ‘It’s G.O.A.T. time.’ It’s time, ‘The G.O.A.T. comes alive,’ ” Smith-Schuster said. “You make your plays, on both sides. And we’ve seen it work.”

G.O.A.T. is an acronym for “greatest of all time.” And Brown, statistically at least, has a something of a stake to such a grandiose claim, at least for a receiver through age 30. That’s led to speculation that Brown might resent that Smith-Schuster could be the cusp of eclipsing him in the hierarchy of Steelers’ offense already.

Not so, Smith-Schuster said.

“There’s no consideration about me having better numbers than AB,” Smith-Schuster said.

J.J. Watt to younger brothers Derek and T.J.: No cut-blocks

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

Daily competitors at home and in the weight room back in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Houston Texans star pass-rusher J.J. Watt has had an up-close look at the dust ups between younger brothers Derek and T.J. Watt.

Now, J.J. Watt will have a prime seat in front of his TV to watch both brothers face off on the field when the Los Angeles Chargers travel to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in a nationally televised game Sunday night.

”We were just talking about it in the group text the other day and I basically just said, no cut-blocks,” J.J. Watt told reporters in Houston. “That’s the only thing. Just don’t go at his knees. Otherwise, everything’s fair.

”It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. I hope there’s at least one play where they have to -- Derek has to block T.J. straight up and we can settle it once and for all and we’ll see, but it will be cool.”

Derek and T.J. Watt played at Wisconsin together, where T.J., 24, moved from tight end to outside linebacker and Derek stayed on offense at fullback. Two years older than T.J., Derek said the two butted heads in practice at times, but never during an all-out live session.

Derek Watt, 26, said the entire family will be in Pittsburgh for the game on Sunday.

A sixth-round selection by the Chargers in the 2016 draft, Derek Watt blocked for running back mate Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin. He has played 100 offensive snaps this season, serving as a lead blocker for one of the most potent rushing attacks in the NFL.

In his second NFL season, younger brother T.J. Watt has totaled 50 tackles, 10 sacks and four forced fumbles on the year.

”We’ve been talking,” Derek Watt said. “We’ve already been on FaceTime twice in the early part of the week, and it’s been pretty normal. We also talk and keep up in a group chat and all that stuff.

”There hasn’t been much smack talk. I know a lot of people have been asking about that. It’s more typical brother stuff. We know what’s happening this weekend. I’m going to see him and my family out there before the game, so it will be a good buildup to a big game.”

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions and open thread: Chargers Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 5:43pm

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. The Steelers are coming off a disappointing loss to the Broncos in Week 12. Finish the sentence:

The Steelers will beat the Chargers on Sunday night if Ben Roethlisberger _________.

2. What would be the game plan for the Steelers’ offense heading into the Week 13 game vs. Denver?

3. OVER/UNDER number of sacks on Philip Rivers in Week 13: 2

4. If you were Randy Fichtner, what would your game plan look like heading into the Sunday night game?

5. Not sure why I like this question so much, but here goes:

Who scores first, and who makes the first tackle for the Steelers?

6. What is your prediction for the game on Sunday? And how do you see the game shaking out?

Extra Credit: I love Christmas movies...which would you prefer in the battle?

A Christmas Story or Elf

No matter what, always remember...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

Steelers Week 13 injury report: Marcus Gilbert out vs. Chargers, Morgan Burnett doubtful, Bud Dupree and Cam Sutton questionable

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 3:42pm

The Steelers could be missing a number of players when they face the Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field on Sunday night.

The Pittsburgh Steelers final injury report of the week left a lot of questions unanswered on Friday and it appears at least two players will be game time decisions for the medical staff on Sunday night. While Marcus Gilbert has been ruled out for his sixth consecutive game, Morgan Burnett is also likely to sit out in Week 13 with a doubtful designation and Bud Dupree and Cameron Sutton have both been listed as questionable.

OUT: Marcus Gilbert
DOUBTFUL: Morgan Burnett
QUESTIONABLE: Cam Sutton and Bud Dupree

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) November 30, 2018

Burnett would miss his fifth game of the season if he cannot play against the Los Angeles Chargers and his first since Week 6. Having missed the full week of practice, his participation seems unlikely and there is a good chance Marcus Allen may get to see the first snaps of his career if Burnett is sidelined.

Considering Dupree was a full participant at practice on Friday after being limited on Thursday and sitting out on Wednesday, it is not out of the question he will be cleared to play on Sunday. Should he be forced to miss out, rookie Ola Adeniyi may yet be activated in time for the game.

The appearance of Sutton on the injury report is something of a surprise given he missed practice on Friday for personal reasons and hopefully this matter can be resolved before game day.

With Matt Feiler able to train fully each day, it should be expected that he will resume his role as the starter in Gilbert’s absence and a full week of practice for Vance McDonald suggests he will be good to go despite a hip concern.

The return of Stephon Tuitt after two weeks on the sidelines might be the biggest boost for Pittsburgh in Week 13 and he was finally able to put in two full days of training after being limited on Wednesday. An encouraging sign for his involvement against Los Angeles.

B.J. Finney was back with his teammates on Friday after two missed days of practice for personal reason of his own earlier in the week and he is also expected to play on Sunday.

Running back Melvin Gordon is officially out for the Chargers.

Chargers injury report — OUT: Melvin Gordon (knee), Brandon Mebane (not injury related). QUESTIONABLE: Tyrell Williams (quad), Joe Barksdale (not injury related). Gordon, Mebane and Barksdale did not practice. Williams was limited on Friday.

— Eric Williams (@eric_d_williams) November 30, 2018

Trying to decipher what the heck is going on with James Conner

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 12:51pm

There are three popular theories being tossed around trying to explain Pittsburgh Steelers RB James Conner's recent drop in production: concussion, loss of confidence, and exhaustion. One of these could possibly be the culprit, but it's probably a mixture of all three.

What's up with Steelers RB James Conner? I have witnessed players hitting the rookie wall enough over the years to realize it does happen to some players, but Conner isn't a rookie anymore. Or is he?

After hardly seeing the field during his actual rookie campaign, he has suddenly become the Steelers next star running back and therefore his workload has exploded. He has definitely made the most of the opportunity, at least up to November.

Coming off an incredible string of performances that garnered him the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, Conner's usage and production have plummeted. There appears to be a myriad of reasons why.

Being a starting running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers is pressure enough, especially when you add the ravenous fan base and the yearly expectations for the team, without adding any self inflicted pressure to the equation. It seems Conner has been feeling the effects of just that with his recent uncharacteristic performances.

Right after last season's star running back missed a league mandated report date and decided to sit out the whole season, I watched Bucky Brooks discuss the impact of that decision for the Pittsburgh Steelers on the NFL Network. He brought up an interesting theory on how that decision could affect James Conner, and admittedly I thought he was dead wrong at the time.

He speculated that Conner would now feel increased pressure in knowing that the cavalry wasn't getting ready to ride over that hill and save the day like everyone had been expecting. Now he was the one who was expected to be the hero and save the day, but this would be his first time experiencing those expectations at the pro level.

Part of being a star is being able to handle being the star, and everything that goes with it. Conner has went from being a feel good story to being the main story. Every action and reaction is scrutinized, and every mistake magnified. If you play well you are just doing your job, but if you falter occasionally you can rest assured the hounds will be nipping at your heels. One more thing to look forward to, you will forever be compared to the man who held your position before you, whether it's good or bad. That comes with the territory.

Bucky Brooks predicted that Conner would struggle with these new expectations. Conner promptly goes out and, Bam, he is in concussion protocol after the Panthers game. Although Conner was cleared to practice the following week and never missed any game action, something definitely seems a little off in his performance.

Concussions can affect your vision, balance, and equilibrium. That could help explain a couple of dropped passes in key situations against the Jaguars, or last week's costly fumble after an impressive catch and run. He wasn't utilized fully in the running game against Denver for some unknown reason, but was effective when given the opportunity to tote the rock. His pass protection through out the game was excellent, which has become the norm.

I don't believe Conner has hit any imaginary wall due to increased usage because he hardly carried the ball in a few games this season due to the score or other game situations. Exhaustion is not an issue, and he came to camp in phenomenal shape.

I believe Conner's decreased usage and production are a result of his own success. Defensive coordinators are designing game plans specifically to stop him, because the Steelers offense is most effective when Conner is running wild over, around, and through their defenses.

It is up to Randy Fichtner and the Steelers offense to adjust accordingly and commit to establishing the running game each week. That is when the Steelers display their true potential.

Expert Picks: Who the experts predict to win Steelers vs. Chargers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 11:49am

Time to check in on the experts to see who they like in the Week 13 showdown between the Steelers and Chargers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off an embarrassing loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 12, one where they figuratively shot themselves in the foot via four turnovers. As they enter Week 13 with a 7-3-1 record, the road to the postseason doesn’t get any easier with the Los Angeles Chargers coming to Heinz Field for a prime time Week 13 showdown.

This is a crucial game for both teams, for a variety of reasons. For the Chargers, if they want to to try and keep pace with the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs, they cannot afford to lose another game. For the Steelers, a victory on home soil would further their quest to win the AFC North for the third straight time, and keep them in the conversation for a first round bye in the AFC Playoff Picture.

In other words, this game is big.

Philip Rivers vs. Ben Roethlisberger will highlight the Sunday Night Football matchup, but other battles make this game extremely difficult to pick. That is why we look to the experts for their point of view.

Who do they think will win? Let’s take a look...

The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t lost back-to-back games since the 2016 season, they are playing at home and Ben Roethlisberger’s career record at home in prime time is astounding. This is a large reason why experts are backing the home team in this upcoming AFC grudge match.

The fine folks at ESPN are very Steelers heavy this week, with 6 of their 9 experts liking the Steelers to hold serve at home. Even the haters here at SB Nation have turned the tide and are starting to pick the Steelers. Only 2 of the 7 experts believe the visiting Chargers can escape the 412 area code with a win. At CBS Sports, they too are pro-Steelers in their picks. Only Pete Prisco, 1 of 8 experts on the panel, like Los Angeles in this matchup.

The kicker here is these are only a few websites who submit weekly expert picks. There are so many others out there which are left off this article. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find a way to track who they are taking in Week 13.

Thanks to our friends at NFL Pick Watch, a site which compiles all expert picks into one easy-to-read graph, a whopping 80% of experts are leaning the Steelers’ way this Sunday at Heinz Field.

Will the experts be right, and the Steelers improve to 8-3-1 on the season? Or will the Chargers continue to impress and hand Pittsburgh their second straight loss to an AFC West opponent? Only time will tell, but this is shaping up to be a tremendous game.

Bud Dupree hints at Ola Adeniyi being activated if he can’t play vs. the Chargers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 10:37am

The rookie OLB could see some playing time for the first time this season if Bud Dupree can’t play.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have the most sacks in the NFL, and whether you like him or not, Bud Dupree is a part of the group which is leading the pack. However, Dupree suffered a pectoral injury vs. the Denver Broncos in Week 12, and it has left the former first round pick’s status up in the air leading into Week 13.

Dupree missed practice Wednesday, and was a limited participant on Thursday — leaving his availability vs. the Los Angeles Chargers in doubt. While the final game status report hasn’t been released yet, if Dupree is unable to play he hinted at the activation of rookie Ola Adeniyi in response to his absence.

This per Jacob Klinger of Pennlive.com:

Dupree’s muscle tear was not severe enough to require surgery, he said, because he suffered the same injury in college. His recovery, he said, will simply require rest. If he has not healed enough to practice Friday and play Sunday he expects Olasunkanmi Adeniyi to be activated.

While Dupree will undergo a test on his partially torn pectoral muscle Friday morning, Adeniyi is excited about the opportunity, if it indeed presents itself.

“Yeah, I’ve been getting a lot of reps actually just to get ready and be prepared just in case something does happen,” Adeniyi said. “But regardless I was going to be practicing, I was going to still be getting reps so I could still be developing.”

Adeniyi was taken off the team’s injured reserve list last week, and the organization has just under three weeks now to make a decision on his activation. The reality of the situation is even if Dupree doesn’t play, and Adeniyi is activated, it will be Anthony Chickillo who will take Dupree’s spot opposite T.J. Watt, with Adeniyi spelling either of the two throughout the game.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Chargers on Sunday Night Football.

The Steelers loss to the Broncos was their sixth in the last 106 weeks, and some feel heads must roll

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 9:39am

The Steelers loss to the Broncos on Sunday was their sixth since November 13, 2016. In other words, have some faith that they’ll be okay.

Just kidding.

Actually, near the end of the latest edition of the Hangover, the podcast I co-host with Bryan Anthony Davis each and every Monday night at 9:30 (unless the game is on Monday night, then it’s Tuesday at 9:30), I was doing the math in my head, and I was kind of astounded that the Steelers 24-17 loss to the Broncos this past Sunday was just the sixth since Bryan and I started doing the show together at the beginning of the 2017 campaign.

In-fact, the Steelers recent string of above-the-line football (at least in the win column) started on November 20, 2016. Since that day, a, at the time, pedestrian victory over the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium that improved the team’s mark to 5-5, Pittsburgh has a regular season record of 27-6-1.

Included in that run of excellence are regular season winning-streaks of seven, eight and six games, respectively.

You wouldn’t think one little loss—even if it was the very definition of self-inflicted—would cause so much hostility, so much animosity among the fans, the people, the faithful.

Yet, it has.

Heck, two seconds after Case Keenum finished off the agonizing defeat with a final Victory Formation kneel-down, people were Tweeting that Pittsburgh would be lucky to win one or two games down the stretch, that the Ravens, fresh off of impressive victories over the mighty Bengals and Raiders, were going to jump up and snatch the AFC North out of the Black and Gold’s cold, dead hands.

Instead of the Steelers being two games up on Baltimore in the loss column, they were suddenly just one game up in the win column.

It wasn’t long after that that coaching was blamed for the loss: “See? This team is never prepared to play.” Never, really? “Never” seems like a pretty heavy word for a team that hasn’t lost more than one game in a row since November 13, 2016.

It was almost like people were waiting for the Steelers to lose, just so they could push the old panic button—and that’s when they weren’t pointing the blame finger.

Sure, there were many boneheaded plays in Sunday’s game, but to quote the late and great Dwight White: “Sometimes, this bleep happens.”

Sunday’s loss was just a mess of unthinkable mistakes that are unlikely to happen again—at least the ones committed by “Wrong Hand” Xavier Grimble and “Jumping” James Washington.

Far be it from me, a writer who once had the nerve to write scathing articles about the 0-4 and 2-6 Steelers, to tell you to have some faith in your football team but, come on, have some faith in your football team.

Stupid mistakes, aside, there is nothing to suggest that the Steelers most-recent loss is a prelude to a season-ending collapse. Yes, the past two games—one a sloppy win, and the other a sloppy loss—reminded one of the frustrating 2017 squad, a team that somehow managed to win 13 games despite never really looking disciplined.

But these past two games don’t represent the real 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers.

I’m willing to give the 2018 edition the benefit of the doubt and state that those games against the Falcons, Browns, Ravens and Panthers, where the team looked disciplined, buttoned-up and had a clear identity on both sides of the ball, is who these Steelers are.

The 2018 Steelers appear to be a team more capable of imposing its will on the opposition than the 2017 Steelers. The 2018 Steelers seem more prepared and focused than the 2017 Steelers.

But even the 2017 Steelers knew how to win, same with the late-2016 Steelers.

The Steelers have been doing a lot of winning over the past 106 weeks, and there is nothing to indicate fans need to be worried about a collapse.

If you truly believe the 2018 Steelers are the real deal, you should have faith that they’ll forget about this latest defeat and continue on with their winning ways. If you truly believe the 2018 Steelers are the real deal, you should have faith that they’ll beat teams like the Chargers and Patriots.

If you truly believe in the 2018 Steelers, you really should have some faith in them, in the program, in the consistency.

All I am saying is give faith a chance.

Fan Rooting Guide, Week 13: Who Steelers fans should root for in other games this weekend

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 8:25am

BTSC's guide to the other Week 13 games that might impact the Steelers the most.

We are all aware of the significance of winning vs. losing when the Steelers take the field at home against a top tier team like the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday in Prime Time. Of course, the Steelers need to win to continue to ascend towards the top of the AFC. With less games remaining, the playoff contenders and pretenders are becoming much more defined and a majority of the AFC teams games are of importance. Most of the time, Steelers fans know who to root for. But here’s a guide to significant matchups, and whose losses the Steelers would benefit more from this weekend.

If the season ended today, the Steelers would be the second seed in the AFC, but there are plenty of teams to root for in other action. Here are the current AFC playoff standings.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs 9-2 (Would win AFC West and would earn them a First Round Bye)
  2. New England Patriots 8-3 (Would win AFC East and would earn them a First Round Bye)
  3. Houston Texans 8-3 Would win AFC South and host Wild Card Baltimore)
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers 7-3-1 (Would win AFC North and host Wild Card Los Angeles Chargers)
  5. Los Angeles Chargers 8-3 (Would earn First Wild Card and travel to Pittsburgh)
  6. Baltimore Ravens 6-5 (Would earn Second Wild Card and travel to Houston)
  7. Indianapolis Colts 6-5
  8. Miami Dolphins 5-6
  9. Cincinnati Bengals 5-6
  10. Denver Broncos 5-6
  11. Tennessee Titans 5-6
  12. Cleveland Browns 4-6-1
  13. Buffalo Bills 4-7
  14. Jacksonville Jaguars 3-8
  15. New York Jets 3-8
  16. Oakland Raiders 2-9

...

Baltimore Ravens at Atlanta Falcons - Sunday 1:00 PM

The Falcons have been snake-bitten, but the talent is still there. The Ravens and the newly-minted Lamar Jackson era need knocked back.

Who to root for: Atlanta

Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals - Sunday 1:00 PM

Cincy is reeling. The Broncos are on fire and can bump this team further down the AFC rankings and put the Marvin Lewis era in peril. But a Cincy win here could halt Denver’s momentum.

Who to root for: Cincinnati

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars - Sunday 1:00 PM

The Colts are coming hard and they need to slow down. The Jags are down and (pretty much) out .

Who to root for: Jacksonville

Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans - Sunday 1:00 PM

Can the hot Browns keep it going and slow the roll of red-hot Houston. I’d like to see that.

Who to root for: Cleveland

Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders - Sunday 4:05 PM

The Steelers need to see the Chiefs lose, but I don’t see it happening against Gruden’s guys.

Who to root for: Oakland

Minnesota Vikings at New England Patriots - Sunday 4:25 PM

The Pats are coming off of a win and look to be finding themselves again. A loss against a good Minnesota team could really help the Steeler cause.

Who to root for: Minnesota

Other less-significant AFC Games:

New York Jets at Tennessee Titans - Sunday 4:05 PM

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins - Sunday 1:00 PM

Steelers Injury Report: Marcus Gilbert and Morgan Burnett miss practice on Thursday while Bud Dupree is limited

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 7:35am

On a day that Gilbert and Burnett were forced to sat out training for a second day in a row, Pittsburgh also saw the return of Stephon Tuitt and Vance McDonald as full participants.

While the Pittsburgh Steelers saw several names return to practice on Thursday who had sat out the day before, it would appear there are at least two players in danger of missing the game against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night.

Morgan Burnett (back), BJ Finney (personal) and Marcus Gilbert (knee) did not practice today for the Steelers as non-coaching decisions. Bud Dupree (pectoral) was limited. Xavier Grimble, Stephon Tuitt and Vance McDonald were full participants. #Steelers #dkps

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) November 29, 2018

Marcus Gilbert continues to miss time with an ongoing knee issue that has plagued him since he returned from the bye-week and it looks highly likely he will miss his sixth consecutive game in Week 13. Despite missing the matchup against the Denver Broncos with a pectoral injury, Matt Feiler should resume his place as the starter with Gilbert sidelined after back-to-back days as a full participant in training.

Having missed a second day of practice with a back injury, Morgan Bennett is at risk of missing his fifth game of the season and first since Week 6 if he cannot return to training on Friday.

Thankfully, there was better news for Vance McDonald who was a full participant on Thursday after sitting out the day before, as was Stephon Tuitt, who was limited on Wednesday. Bud Dupree’s return in a limited capacity was also a positive step forward. Xavier Grimble continues to show he is recovering well from the concussion like symptoms he suffered earlier in the week and he was able to train fully for the second day in a row as well.

While Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey returned from their veteran days off, it was the turn of Ramon Foster to take his on Thursday. He was joined by B.J. Finney who was excused practice once again for personal reasons.

Beyond running back Melvin Gordon, the Chargers appear to have few injury concerns heading into this matchup.

Chargers practice report on Thursday — DNP: Melvin Gordon (knee), Brandon Mebane (not injury related). LIMITED: Tyrell Williams (quad). FULL: Austin Ekeler (neck), Antonio Gates (rest).

— Eric Williams (@eric_d_williams) November 29, 2018

Week 13 betting preview: Steelers remain 3.5-point favorites vs. Chargers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 6:31am

We take a look at the latest odds for the Steelers’ clash with the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be hoping to rebound from their loss to the Denver Broncos the same way their opponent did when they meet in Week 13 after both teams had their six game winning streaks snapped by the Broncos in successive weeks. The Los Angeles Chargers got back to winning ways with a 45-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals last weekend and the Steelers will be looking for a similar bounce back game when they meet at Heinz Field on Sunday.

Despite the expected absence of featured running back Melvin Gordon, an opening spread of 3.5-points surprisingly still remains, while there has been little change to the early totals position of 52.5 points. Most sportsbooks are currently offering a line of 51.5-points, with one or two bookmakers offering an Over/Under of 52-points.

From an initial money line price of -179, the best price currently available is -170, while most sportsbooks have Pittsburgh priced up at -180.

According to Oddsshark.com, Pittsburgh is 5-1-1 against the spread in their last seven games and 6-4-1 ATS overall on the season. The total has gone under in four of the Steelers last six games and the over is 6-5 so far in 2018. Pittsburgh is 11-4 ATS in their last 15 games versus Los Angeles and the total has gone over in four of the Steelers last five games at home against them.

Alejandro Villanueva scoring the Steelers’ first touchdown was a huge surprise in Week 12 and we will be looking for a more conventional name to put the opening points on the board this Sunday. The sensible money says James Conner or Antonio Brown will be the first in the endzone against the Chargers and we will be siding with Brown at prices of around 7/2 for the game’s first touchdown and around 5/2 for first team touchdown this week.

Podcast: Beating the Chargers is how the Steelers can right the ship

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 5:35am

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.

As the Pittsburgh Steelers resume their November schedule heading into their Week 12 game vs. the Los Angeles Chargers, there’s a surge of Steelers news — so it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview. On this show Jeff Hartman and Bryan Anthony Davis break down all things Steelers leading up to this week’s game!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Injuries
  • Key Matchups
  • Fantasy Players
  • Week 13 AFC North predictions
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

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

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

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

Black and Gold Links: Ben Roethlisberger’s comments shouldn’t be swept aside

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 4:35am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers had their nifty winning streak snapped at the hands of the Denver Broncos in week 12, and after their 24-17 loss the team now has to turn the page quickly before they host the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field in Week 13.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at how Ben Roethlisberger’s comments directed at James Washington, Antonio Brown and Randy Fichtner shouldn’t just be swept aside as another ‘Drama Ben’ moment.

Let’s get to the news:

Kevin Gorman: When Big Ben speaks, Steelers should listen

By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Ben Roethlisberger is right, even if it sounds wrong.

Fifteen seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and two Super Bowl championships in a Hall of Fame-caliber career has earned him the choice of whether to be complimentary or critical of his teammates.

“I would hope that they would understand that as the quarterback and the captain that I have the right to do those things,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t feel like I abuse that situation, so I don’t think it’s an issue.”

Of course, it comes with the caveat that Big Ben has to first be willing to point the finger at the man in the mirror before he puts anyone on blast. And that’s something he’s refused to do since the Denver debacle.

That’s why Roethlisberger publicly ripping everyone from receivers Antonio Brown and James Washington to the play-calling of offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner this week has raised eyebrows — even inside the Steelers locker room.

“You take it for what it is, man,” Steelers receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “Everybody has different ways to encourage guys or to get guys going. You hear what he has to say, whether it’s in front of you or in the media, and you just try to get better because each and every day is a battle for every guy in here to prove themselves, not only to the coaching staff but to your teammates.”

It’s also an accountability issue, one that starts with Roethlisberger. The Steelers lost to the Denver Broncos on an interception in the end zone, a pass for which Big Ben blamed everything but himself. It was all excuses, from Maurkice Pouncey’s snap and block to Brown’s drifting in the back of the end zone. Not the decision or the throw.

It’s instructive to remember Roethlisberger, whether it’s in his weekly radio show on 93.7 FM or meeting with the media, rarely says anything without intent. There’s always an underlying message, a method of motivation.

“Being around for a long time with a lot of different players, you have to know how to motivate different guys in different ways,” Roethlisberger said. “I think that’s part of being a leader, being a captain, just understanding players. Sometimes you just grab them off to the side, and sometimes you have to be honest with them.”

Remember that Roethlisberger, two games removed from a perfect passer rating, completed 41 of 56 passes for 462 yards – only to have tight end Xavier Grimble fumble out of the end zone, Washington drop a pass in his hands and James Conner fumble deep in Denver territory. Maybe this is Big Ben’s way of saying that game should have never come down to the final play.

It’s one thing to hold a rookie like Washington to his second-round pedigree, another to blame Brown for his route running on the final play. But to suggest not only is JuJu Smith-Schuster a No. 1 receiver but so are tight end Vance McDonald, slot receiver Ryan Switzer and Conner had to be designed to get a rise out of All-Pro Brown.

Not that Brown needs any motivation. He carries his sixth-round selection status like a boulder on his shoulder. But the Steelers are at their best when Ben and Brown are clicking, like they did against Carolina. Something in their timing is off, as evidenced by connecting on only 58.2 percent of targeted passes. Brown was targeted on nine of Roethlisberger’s 12 interceptions.

“Maybe it’s his way of challenging guys, letting them know we’re not perfect as a team,” Steelers left guard Ramon Foster said. “I guess, more or less, it’s that he sees the opportunity. Whether he’s talking to them directly or through the media, we need to realize that we’ve got to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Why JuJu Smith-Schuster is outpacing Antonio Brown

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

The script is becoming all too familiar.

The opposing team game plans to stop Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, leaving Brown to answer postgame questions about teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster’s big play.

“The safety was on my side,” Brown said matter-of-factly when asked about Smith-Schuster’s 97-yard touchdown Sunday against Denver’s single-high-safety defensive set.

Smith-Schuster’s ascension has had a direct impact on Brown’s production. While Smith-Schuster surpassed 1,000 yards in his second season thanks to his 189-yard display against the Broncos, Brown -- with 71 catches and 874 yards -- is on pace for his lowest yards total since 2012.

It sounds crazy given Brown’s greatness, but is Smith-Schuster the top option for the Steelers, at least right now?

Brown is targeted on 25.4 percent of his routes compared to 31 percent last year, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s 12 fourth-quarter throws Sunday at Denver, five targets went to Smith-Schuster compared with four for Brown.

Roethlisberger went as far as to say on his weekly radio show that he wished he threw to Smith-Schuster four times at the goal line and that Brown should have run a “flatter” route on the third-down interception over the middle.

But much of this is by defensive design given Brown’s top spot on the scouting report, according to Broncos coach Vance Joseph.

“I’ve been in games where he’s beaten me single-handedly,” Joseph said. “The plan was to take him away, stop the run game as best we could with a seven-man box and just deal with 19 the best we could.”

This is a tough position for a player who is as competitive as they come and sometimes shows it with sideline flare-ups. But even though Brown looks like he hasn’t lost a step, Roethlisberger has stated publicly that he didn’t want to force the ball into double coverages this season.

Defenses like to follow Brown closely with a corner and a safety shading over the top. Brown has seen press coverage on 54 of his 122 targets this season compared with 26 press-man targets for Smith-Schuster. The good news is that Brown has five touchdowns on those plays. The bad news is that 57 percent of those passing attempts were incomplete, including six interceptions.

Ben Roethlisberger going to keep throwing despite interceptions

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

Ben Roethlisberger makes no apologies for his 12 interceptions, tied with Ryan Fitzpatrick for second most in the NFL.

Shooters shoot.

”Sometimes those things happen. I’m a quarterback that is going to go out and sling it,” Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show Tuesday. “You talk about gunslinger or whatever you want to talk about. I’m not going to worry about interceptions. I hate doing them. They bother me. But I’m going to go out and play my game and try to help us win football games.”

Roethlisberger is putting up prolific numbers for the 7-3-1 Steelers, ranking second in the league with 3,664 passing yards and tied for seventh with 24 touchdowns. But he isn’t afraid to take chances, resulting in 55 interceptions in 52 regular-season games dating to 2015.

He’s one of five quarterbacks with at least 50 interceptions during that span, including the Jacksonville JaguarsBlake Bortles (57 in 59 games), Tampa Bay BuccaneersJameis Winston (55 in 51), New York GiantsEli Manning (50 in 58) and Sunday’s opponent in Heinz Field, and Los Angeles Chargers’ Philip Rivers (50 in 59).

But Roethlisberger has the best record by far among that bunch, going 37-14-1 in those games, with 102 touchdowns. Only New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (44) has more wins since 2015.

The Steelers threw the ball 56 times compared with 16 runs Sunday, with Roethlisberger completing 41 passes for 462 yards. Roethlisberger said the game plan dictated more passing and the team didn’t need more run-pass balance.

The Steelers were in control Sunday in Denver with 527 offensive yards but lost 24-17 after Broncos nose tackle Shelby Harris intercepted a Roethlisberger pass at the goal line with 1:03 left. Roethlisberger wasn’t counting on Harris being near the ball, but the lineman got blocked back into the end zone. Roethlisberger called the play “kinda crazy” and flukish. Corner Chris Harris Jr.was in the line of the ball while covering Antonio Brown, and Roethlisberger said he told Brown he needed to run a “flatter” route to avoid getting undercut.

On an interception by Chris Harris earlier in the game, Roethlisberger said Brown was being held.

Coach Mike Tomlin said he’s concerned with his team’s minus-7 turnover ratio the past two weeks but not with Roethlisberger’s decision-making.

”Ben is just part of it. He’s not solely responsible for our inability to maintain possession of the ball,” Tomlin said. “He wasn’t carrying the ball into the end zone and fumbling it for a touchback. He just needs to continue to be thoughtful about the preservation of the ball, like he always is, and understand the responsibility that comes with being our signal-caller. I don’t see any issues in that area. But us, collectively, need to do a better job.”

How to watch Steelers vs. Chargers in Week 13: Time, TV Schedule and game information

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 4:15am

We’ve got all the information you need to know to keep up with the action from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ clash with the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday,

The Pittsburgh Steelers return from a two game road trip to take on the Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field on Sunday night in a contest that could have significant playoff implications for both clubs. Playoff seedings and hopes of a possible postseason bye will be on the line in Week 13 and the Steelers face a tough challenge against a Chargers team that has only lost once in their last eight games.

While the Chargers will be missing their lead running back in Melvin Gordon, they still possess more than enough weapons on offense to test the Pittsburgh defense. With Phillip Rivers coming off a near perfect game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 12, a contest in which he finished with just one incompletion in 29 attempts, it will not be an easy matchup for the Steelers’ beleaguered secondary.

However, Pittsburgh has been almost unstoppable in primetime as of late, winners of 14 of their last 15 games played at night. Combine that with the fact that the Steelers are 18-2 in their last 20 games played in the month of December and all signs suggest this contest should be well deserving of the national television audience.

Week 13:

Game: Los Angeles Chargers (8-3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1)

Date: Sunday, December 2.

Kickoff: 8.20 p.m. ET.

Venue: Heinz Field.

Weather: Live weather update.

Watch:

TV Channel: NBC, broadcast locally on WPXI-TV, channel 11, with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth as commentators and Michele Tafoya the sideline reporter. As a nationally broadcast game, it should be available in all regions.

Online Streaming: NFL.com Game Pass on delay in the U.S and live for international viewers or live in the U.S via a subscription to NFL Sunday Ticket. FuboTV also allows you to stream the game online. The NFL Game Center will update the action on a play-by-play basis.

Radio: Steeler Nation Radio with Bill Hillgrove and Tunch Ilkin as commentators and Craig Wolfley as the sideline reporter. Broadcast live on WDVE 102.5 FM and WBGG 970 AM in the Pittsburgh area and via their local affiliates. Listen online via Steelers.com and with the Steelers Official Mobile App. Alternatively, you can listen to a radio broadcast on SiriusXM.

You can also follow Behind the Steel Curtain on Twitter to catch all of the highlights as they happen, and be sure to check back with us after the game for our post-match roundup.

Injuries:

The Steelers look likely to be forced to play without Marcus Gilbert for the sixth game in a row due to a knee injury, while Morgan Burnett is also in danger of missing his fifth game of the season and first since Week 6 because of a back concern.

Upcoming schedule:

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