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Goodbye Cleveland, the Steelers have you out of their thoughts until next season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 12/04/2019 - 6:33am
Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After the Steelers victory on Sunday, the two teams are headed in opposite directions

Off the field of drama. Bulletin board material. Renewal of a rivalry.

There was a lot of talk about the Browns and Steelers facing off against each other for two games over a three-week stretch of the NFL season. With the Browns taking down the Steelers in Cleveland on a short week coupled with the horrible incident at the end of the game, there was a lot of back-and-forth between players and fans during the three-game stretch of the 2019 season. But after this week, one team is able to move forward looking at the playoffs while the other is spent pondering the what if‘s as their hearts were broken by a team which has dominated them over the last 40+ games.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the playoff hunt. They are currently in the sixth seed and control their destiny for the rest of the season. Even if the Steelers suffer a loss along the way, they are still in decent shape to have a good shot at the playoffs.

The Cleveland Browns are two games out of the wildcard with four games remaining. With three teams ahead of them in the AFC playoff picture who are not currently in the wildcard, it is a very steep hill to climb in which they would need a lot of help for the postseason.

The Steelers have also regained one of their offensive captains from suspension and are moving forward to finish out the final quarter of the season. Their battles against the Browns are behind them and there’s no reason to dwell on anything Cleveland related.

As for the Browns, in particularly their fan base, they are left thinking about all that was for 2019 and the sour taste in their mouth from falling yet again in Pittsburgh. Add to the fact the Browns were favored in the game and facing a Steelers’ offense who was down multiple Pro Bowl players as well as a quarterback who wasn’t even their third option in Week 1, this defeat is going to stick with them a long time.

The Steelers are on to Arizona. Being favored on the road, the Steelers must remain focused in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. Everything this week is about looking forward to Sunday. Players. Coaches. Fans. Everyone is on to Arizona.

While the Browns players and coaches are trying to keep focused as they prepare to host the Bengals after coming off their first win of the season, the fans are going to have a hard time letting this past week go. Between jumping in Lake Erie and declaring their disappointment in another failed season, their grim hopes of the postseason have fans reading the writing on the wall. And who’s to blame? Pittsburgh.

For Steeler fans, they will remember that Cleveland is the lone loss in the last seven games. Maybe a little. But with the four games they have left coming up, there’s no reason to focus on the past. If the Steelers do not make the playoffs, it will be due to their upcoming games.

Cleveland can’t forget Pittsburgh. It’s the game which all but knocked them out. This was supposed to be their season to show their star power and that they were factors again in the AFC North. Now the best possible scenario is second place with the most likely outcome being third.

So see you later, Cleveland. We will worry about you again next year. But you can keep thinking about the Steelers for many months to come.

Podcast: Has the power running game returned to Pittsburgh?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 12/04/2019 - 5:32am

In the latest BTSC podcast, our Steelers ‘Stat Geek’ breaks down the numbers surrounding the black-and-gold.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is underway, and the news is just starting to heat up. With a surge of Steelers news, 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 Stat Geek. On this show deputy editor Dave Schofield breaks down all things Steelers stats, and also answers questions from fans!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Injury Update after the Browns game
  • Look ahead to Week 14 vs. the Cardinals
  • Steelers Q&A

Dave walks 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: Will 9 wins be enough to get the Steelers into the playoffs?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 12/04/2019 - 4:29am
Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers are moving into Week 14 of the NFL regular season, and as the team prepares for the Arizona Cardinals we continue to provide you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over until the next game starts!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how .

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Steelers sit at 7-5 with four games remaining on their schedule. Would a 2-2 finish (9-7 overall) be good enough to punch their ticket to the postseason?

With a little help, 9 wins could get Steelers into postseason

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Nine wins weren’t enough to get the Pittsburgh Steelers into the playoffs last year, ending a run of four consecutive trips to the postseason.

Nine wins, however, could do the trick this year provided the Steelers get some help from teams playing the Tennessee Titans.

By winning for the sixth time in the past seven games Sunday, the Steelers improved to 7-5 and maintained their spot as the No. 6 seed — or second wild card — in the AFC playoff picture. Tennessee also is 7-5, but the Steelers have a better record in conference games (6-3 versus 5-4).

At 9-3, the Buffalo Bills have a two-game edge on the No. 5 seed and are one game behind the New England Patriots for the AFC East lead. They visit Heinz Field in two weeks for a game that could reshape the playoff race.

The AFC South-leading Houston Texans have an 8-4 record and lead the 7-5 Titans and 6-6 Indianapolis Colts. In the AFC West, the 6-6 Oakland Raiders are two games behind the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs.

According to various playoff predictor web sites, the Steelers’ chances for securing a postseason spot range from 55% (via the New York Times) to 40.3% (FootballOutsiders). The web site FiveThirtyEight.com gives the Steelers a 46% shot of reaching the postseason.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Bet you didn’t know the Steelers have a little known streak going against first round overall quarterbacks...

Steelers win vs. Baker Mayfield’s Browns extends home winning streak vs. No. 1 overall QBs

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

In beating Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers extended a long, quirky and trivial winning streak.

The Steelers’ 20-13 victory was their 12th consecutive at home against a team starting a quarterback drafted No. 1 overall. It’s the longest such streak in NFL history, and it’s lasted more than a decade.

The most recent time a No. 1-drafted quarterback won at Heinz Field was Nov. 15, 2009, when Carson Palmer’s Cincinnati Bengals won, 18-12. The year before, two top-drafted quarterbacks — who happen to be brothers — beat the Steelers twice in a 15-day span. Eli Manning’s New York Giants beat the Steelers on Oct. 26, and Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts likewise won at Heinz Field on Nov. 8.

The Steelers would get their revenge on Palmer (in 2015 while he was with the Arizona Cardinals) and Eli Manning (in 2016), but their only home win against Peyton came in 2002.

Among these 12 consecutive victories are two each against Palmer, Alex Smith and Mayfield. It covers quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall covering an 18-year span (Vick, 2001, to Mayfield, 2018).

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Does Mike Tomlin really buy into his own praise of Devlin Hodges?

Tim Benz: Steelers’ Mike Tomlin needs to believe in own praise for ‘Duck’ Hodges

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Mike Tomlin is in on his own joke. So, let’s let him have fun with it.

To a point.

The theme expressed by the Steelers head coach going into his team’s game against the Cleveland Browns Sunday was that he simply didn’t want new starting quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges to “kill” his team.

That was the exact “praise” Tomlin gave to Hodges when he started — and won — a game in Los Angeles against the Chargers back in Week 6.

Similarly, Hodges didn’t kill the Steelers when he replaced a concussed Mason Rudolph against Baltimore the previous week. Actually, he almost engineered a big comeback win.

Nor did he “kill” the Steelers when he replaced an ineffective Rudolph en route to a comeback victory in Cincinnati against the Bengals Nov. 24.

So when Hodges went 14-of-21 for 192 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions and just one sack on the way to a win against Cleveland Sunday, what did Tomlin think about that?

“He didn’t kill us,” Tomlin said again with a self-reflexive laugh.

At least this time, Tomlin elaborated a bit more by way of praising the former fourth stringer.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Mike Tomlin Press Conference

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media ahead of our game vs. the Cardinals. https://t.co/7t58oEAR2V

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 3, 2019
  • Social Media Madness

.@benny_snell speaks with @missi_matthews about our win over the Browns, 'Benny Snell Football' and more.@McDonalds pic.twitter.com/YijPA5PLFk

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 2, 2019

.@minkfitz_21 speaks about the win over the Browns, Joe Haden's interception, the defense and more. pic.twitter.com/uv9KQukZC5

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 2, 2019

.@JamesWashington speaks about the win over the Browns, Devlin Hodges, Benny Snell Jr. and more. pic.twitter.com/ktv5TtmTsM

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 2, 2019

Check out some of Karl's top pics from our win against the Browns!

MORE: https://t.co/KUoKYcvyOf pic.twitter.com/HvrjO9mbIg

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 3, 2019

BTSC Survivor Pool Update: We have a winner!

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 2:44pm
Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After 13 weeks, one contestant has survived to win the signed David DeCastro football.

The Behind The Steel Curtain survivor pool has finished! It took 13 weeks to go from 592 entries all the way down to one. With so many entries, it’s surprising there was only one contestant left on the first elimination. Regardless, the new owner of a signed David DeCastro football has been determined.

There were five contestants entering Week 13. Three users chose the Carolina Panthers at home against the Washington Redskins. After the Panthers jumped out to a 14-point lead, the Redskins scored 29 straight and appeared to have the game in hand. Scoring a touchdown with less than two minutes left, the Panthers successfully executed an onside kick with a chance to tie the game. The Redskins then a forced fumble on a sack to seal the game.

One other contestant chose the New York Jets over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals first-quarter touchdown was enough to secure their first win in 2019 as they held the Jets to only 6 points.

By the time the late afternoon games began, four contestants had been eliminated as the only choice left was the Kansas City Chiefs. If the Chiefs were to also lose, all five contestants would have been re-entered into the contest with their previous choices all still intact. Instead, the Chiefs 40-9 route over the Oakland Raiders was never really in question as Just Blaze emerged out of league #3 as the first winner of the BTSC Survivor Pool.

Weekly Update:

So it’s all over for 2019. Make sure you keep an eye out for future contests at Behind The Steel Curtain, including the Survivor Pool in 2020. Thanks again for playing, and go Steelers!

As expected, Mike Tomlin names Devlin Hodges the Steelers starting QB heading into Week 14

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 1:15pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

In his weekly press conference on Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed Hodges will start in Arizona

It’s not exactly breaking news. As many expected, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced on Tuesday that Devlin Hodges will start at quarterback against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14.

Coach Tomlin confirms Devlin Hodges will start in Arizona.

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) December 3, 2019

With a 2-0 record as a starter, Hodges will be asked yet again to lead the team as they travel out west. In his first NFL start, Hodges led the Steelers to a 24-17 win in Los Angeles over the Chargers. While it was a trip to the West Coast, the friendly nature of the stadium due to the overwhelming number of Steelers’ fans did not create an overly hostile environment. But the exact crowd makeup on Sunday will be interesting to see as Coach Tomlin noted how well Steelers Nation travels, particularly out west.

When we go out West, #SteelersNation usually shows up. I won't be surprised if they do. - Coach Tomlin on possible Pittsburgh friendly crowd in Arizona

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) December 3, 2019

In his two NFL starts, Hodges is 29-41 with 345 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. With his sample size as a starter being small, Hodges has an opportunity to continue to grow his numbers with every game he begins under center.

Sunday’s matchup is proving to be quite interesting with a pair of rookie quarterbacks leading their respective teams. The Cardinals’ Kyler Murray was the number one overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft. As for Hodges, he went both undrafted and unsigned following the draft. As has been noted many times, his path to the Pittsburgh Steelers came via rookie minicamp try out.

The more intriguing matchup will be as these quarterbacks face the different defenses. The Steelers ranked number one in several categories and have been the driving force behind their success this season. As for the defense of the Arizona Cardinals, Hodges will have an opportunity to showcase his skills as Arizona is highly ranked against the run but in the bottom of the league against the pass.

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

Pair of key Steelers offensive injuries continue to linger into Week 14

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 12:07pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers could really use some help on offense, but whether they get that help is still very uncertain.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have turned the page from their Week 13 win over the Cleveland Browns and now look ahead to Week 14 and a trip to the desert to play the Arizona Cardinals. Considering the team left their game Sunday unscathed, meaning no new injuries of note, the attention went to two offensive playmakers who have been on the shelf the past two weeks - none other than wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and running back James Conner (shoulder).

During Mike Tomlin’s weekly press conference Tuesday he talked about the two injured Pro Bowlers, but mentioned that there was not a lot of clarity regarding when Smith-Schuster and Conner will return to the lineup. In fact, Tomlin went as far as to calling both players questionable for the upcoming game against Arizona, and said that both have “some work in front of them” when it comes to getting on the practice field and proving they are capable of not just playing, but playing at a high level without further risk of injury.

As always, practice participation will be the true guide to whether or not a player plays in the upcoming game, and Tomlin acknowledged Conner currently has the better chance to practice Wednesday compared to Smith-Schuster.

Playing in Conner and Smith-Schuster’s stead have been a myriad of players who have stepped up to carry the load. At running back, Benny Snell has combined with newcomer Kerrith Whyte and Jaylen Samuels to make the ground game thrive. The receiving corps has been buoyed by James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Tevin Jones and newcomer Deon Cain.

While some Steelers fans look at the upcoming Cardinals game and pencil in a ‘W’ on their schedules, this Arizona team has a great pass rush and an electric quarterback in Kyler Murray who has a rocket arm combined with an ability to run the football which very few have seen so far in today’s NFL.

With a trip out west upcoming, this game won’t be a cakewalk for the black-and-gold.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news, updates and notes surrounding the Steelers as they now prepare for Week 14 of the 2019 regular season.

Power Rankings: After huge win, the Steelers are on the cusp of the Top 10

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 10:59am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are on the verge of the Top 10 in almost every Power Ranking heading into Week 14.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now 7-5 after Week 13 of the 2019 regular season, but how they got to this record has been a roller coaster ride. After an 0-3 start, the team was finally able to beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football in Week 4 to move their record to 1-3.

How did they follow up that prime time win? With a gut-wrenching overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field in Week 5. In typical fashion, with their backs against the wall the Steelers gutted out a big win on Sunday Night Football over the Los Angeles Chargers before heading into their Week 7 bye week.

Coming off the bye the Steelers continued their winning ways with a 27-14 win over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football, and before you knew it they had won three in a row while beating the Indianapolis Colts 26-24 in Week 9. That three game streak turned into a four game streak after they beat the Los Angeles Rams at home 17-12 in Week 10. The good feeling Pittsburgh was experiencing was short-lived when the Cleveland Browns smacked them around 21-7 on Thursday Night Football in Week 11.

In Week 12 the team turned it around, albeit behind Devlin Hodges, as the team traveled to Paul Brown Stadium and beat the Bengals 16-10 to get above that .500 mark once again. With ‘Duck’ at the helm, they got revenget against the Browns in a 20-13 win over the Browns at Heinz Field.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, it is that time of week where we check in on what other outlets are saying about the black-and-gold in those weekly Power Ranking articles. We all realize these rankings are completely meaningless, but they are great for discussion. Not just where the Steelers are ranked, but who made the Top 5 who should have, or shouldn’t have?

Check out the Power Rankings below, and be sure to let us know your thoughts on the rankings in the comment section below!

ESPN

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. New England Patriots
4. New Orleans Saints
5. Seattle Seahawks
6. Kansas City Chiefs
7. Minnesota Vikings
8. Green Bay Packers
9. Houston Texans
10. Buffalo Bills
...
14. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Who’s under fire: Randy Fichtner, offensive coordinator

Managing the carousel of quarterbacks hasn’t been an easy job for Fichtner. Add in the rotating cast of skill players with injuries decimating the established playmakers, and the job has gotten monumentally harder in the past month. With the defense keeping the Steelers squarely in the playoff hunt, Fichtner is tasked with maintaining an offense that can put points on the board and not turn the ball over. That recipe would be enough to pull off a postseason berth -- something that looked improbable after an 0-3 start. -- Brooke Pryor”

NFL.com

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Seattle Seahawks
3. San Francisco 49ers
4. New Orleans Saints
5. New England Patriots
6. Green Bay Packers
7. Houston Texans
8. Kansas City Chiefs
9. Minnesota Vikings
10. Buffalo Bills
...
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Things didn’t start well for Duck Hodges and the Steelers. Pittsburgh had accumulated 9 yards of total offense midway through the second quarter as the visiting Browns built a 10-0 lead. But then Hodges warmed up, James Washington started making plays and Pittsburgh’s defense -- always the catalyst during this stunning return from 0-3 irrelevance -- did the rest in a 20-13 win over the Browns. This victory had to be the sweetest of the season for the Steelers, who exacted revenge on a Browns team that bullied them in more ways than one just two weeks earlier. In that Week 11 matchup, Mason Rudolph melted down against an aggressive Browns defense. Hodges kept his cool (not having to face the suspended Myles Garrett surely helped) and delivered on enough downfield throws to keep Cleveland honest and allow Pittsburgh to regain control of the game. Mike Tomlin deserves serious Coach of the Year consideration.”

Sporting News

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. New Orleans Saints
4. New England Patriots
5. Seattle Seahawks
6. Green Bay Packers
7. Minnesota Vikings
8. Houston Texans
9. Kansas City Chiefs
10. Buffalo Bills
...
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Devlin Hodges was what the Steelers needed at quarterback: someone capable of making a few big plays without making any big mistakes, knowing that caretaking is OK with their commitment to the running game and strong overall defense to support him. That’s exactly why they remain in good playoff position during one of Mike Tomlin’s best coaching seasons.”

CBS Sports

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Seattle Seahawks
3. New Orleans Saints
4. San Francisco 49ers
5. New England Patriots
6. Green Bay Packers
7. Minnesota Vikings
8. Buffalo Bills
9. Houston Texans
10. Kansas City Chiefs
...
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Devlin Hodges is 2-0 as a starter for this team. They would be a playoff team if they started today.”

Washington Post

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Seattle Seahawks
3. New Orleans Saints
4. San Francisco 49ers
5. New England Patriots
6. Kansas City Chiefs
7. Buffalo Bills
8. Houston Texans
9. Green Bay Packers
10. Minnesota Vikings
...
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
“The Steelers got the final word in their tussle with the Browns in the proper manner: by winning a football game.”

PFF outlines plenty of good for the Steelers in their Week 13 win over the Browns

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 9:47am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers were big winners, and PFF highlights several players who turned the tide for the home team.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were winners in Week 13 when they beat the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field 20-13. The Steelers got off to a slow start, trailing 10-0 early, but Devlin Hodges and company were able to right the ship and score 10 unanswered points in the second quarter and head into halftime 10-10.

In the second half the team was able to gut out another 10 points, and only surrender a field goal to Baker Mayfield and company en route to a huge win to move their record to 7-5. Throughout the win there was plenty of good to be discussed for the black-and-gold, and the fine folks at PFF outline what their knee jerk reactions were for the Week 13 win.

Check out their thoughts below:

Duck Hodges did not look comfortable in the pocket to start the game and had a tendency to drift out of it rather than step up in the pocket. He began to warm up in the second quarter. Hodges’ best throw of the first half was a well-placed go route to James Washington down the left sideline for a 31-yard gain. Hodges later hit Washington for a 30-yard touchdown. Hodges hit Washington with another beautiful deep pass down the right sideline for a 44-yard gain in the third quarter.

James Washington appeared to have a good connection with Hodges, as Washington made some big catches on his productive day. Washington’s best catch of the day came at the end of the first half when he caught a 30-yard touchdown after being interfered with by T.J. Carrie.

Pittsburgh’s defense kept Baker Mayfield under pressure throughout the day. Both T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree beat the Browns’ offensives tackles for multiple pressures.

The Steelers’ secondary was impressive, as well. Veteran cornerback Joe Haden made the play of the day with his game-winning interception of Mayfield late in the fourth quarter.

When reading the above sentiments of PFF I can’t help but think about the start of the football game. It wasn’t just PFF who noticed Hodges didn’t look comfortable with the game plan/play calling. Hodges even commented after the game how it was the two-minute drill at the end of the half which got him into a rhythm and comfortable.

Moving forward it would be wise for Randy Fichtner to take notice of these comments and realize Hodges might not be a quarterback who can just hand the ball off for the majority of the game and then deliver strikes on occasion, but rather needs to warm up to the task.

If Hodges will be the quarterback moving forward, and there is little doubt of that as of now, it would be intelligent of Fichtner and company to get Hodges acclimated early to avoid the awful start and lull in the offense which has plagued this team the majority of the season.

Otherwise, it is nice to read this synopsis from PFF and not see any negatives when it comes to the Steelers’ performance. It was one of those days.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14.

The Steelers offense is just plain better with Devlin Hodges at the helm

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 8:41am
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Looking at the stats that show the Steelers are better with Devlin Hodges at QB.

Welcome to Duck season Steelers fans. And buckle up, because this may last a while. Why? Because with Devlin Hodges under center the Steelers put up their best overall offensive performance of the season.

Yards and points per drive

I’ve talked this season about expected yards and points for a game, and used that to create a percentage of expected points/yards gained or allowed. If you are familiar, go ahead and skip the block quote, if not, you can read about the stat a bit below.

If you take total yards and points scored in a season and divide it by the number of possessions a team had you get their yards and points per drive. Taking that number and the number of drives that team had in a game you can predict how many points and yards they would gain on average for that game. If you take the actual production from that game it will give you a pretty good idea of how well the opposing defense was able to stop that offense. If you want to get a percentage of expected yards/points for an offense, you look at the defense they face, how many yards and points that defense typically gives up per drive, multiply by the number of drives in the game, and compare that to the actual yards and points gained in that game.

This season the Steelers defense has been stellar since picking up Minkah Fitzpatrick, allowing 71.6% of expected points and 77.3% of expected yards. The offense, meanwhile has scored pretty well (with notable exceptions for a few games) while struggling to move the ball, and that shows in the percentages, as since week 3 the Steelers are scoring 92.7% of expected points while only gaining 79.1% of expected yards. Short fields from turnovers and Boswell nailing field goals has been the primary driver of the higher scoring.

But this week against Cleveland, the Steelers did something they haven’t done yet this season, they surpassed 100% of expected yards and expected points in the same game.

The Browns have given up an average of 1.79 points and 28.7 yards per drive this season. With the Steelers having 10 drives in this past game the expected offensive production for the Steelers would be 287 yards and 18 points on offense. The Steelers gained 323 yards and scored 20 points, or 111.7% of expected points and 112.5% of expected yards. That’s the second best yards percentage of their season, after the Steelers put up 140% of the yards New England has been giving up this season in week 1, while the points percentage ranks 6th, but unlike the games ahead of it, the defense wasn’t driving the scoring in this game.

If we break down drives by QB, Hodges has the better percentage of expected offense.

In 17 drives Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers scored 80.7% of expected points and gained 104.8% of expected yards.

In 93.3 drives Mason Rudolph’s Steelers scored 88.3% of expected points and gained 76.0% of expected yards.

In 31.7 drives Devlin Hodges’ Steelers scored 108.2% of expected points and 86.9% of expected yards.

Third down conversions

Against the Browns the Steelers converted 4 of their 10 third downs, a 40% conversion rate. That’s the third highest rate of the season. The two games with better rates were against Miami (46%) and the Los Angeles Chargers (62%). With the LAC game being Devlin Hodges’ other start, it’s pretty easy to see that so far Devlin Hodges has been far better on third downs than Mason Rudolph this season. Miami is the worst team defending third downs the Steelers have played this season, while the Browns are actually the 5th best third down defense in the NFL.

Those conversions help the run game and they help control the clock, leading to fewer possessions for the opposition. Only three games this season have the Steelers had 10 possessions, every other game has 11+. Those three games are the first game against Cincinnati with Mason Rudolph starting, and Devlin Hodges’ two starts.

The three games before this last week the Steelers opponents had 43 drives, 14.3 drives per game. The Steelers offense with Devlin Hodges controls the clock better and helps the defense more than that same offense with Mason Rudolph has been able to do recently.

The run game

The Steelers have four 100+ yard rushing games this season. The win over the Dolphins when James Conner ran for 145 yards, the win over the Chargers, and the last 2 games, when the Steelers beat the Bengals and Browns.

That’s one game when James Conner dominated, and three games when Devlin Hodges played. Against Baltimore the Steelers ran for 59 yards with Devlin Hodges playing QB, compared to 18 yards with Mason Rudolph at QB.

Every time Devlin Hodges has played, the Steelers have run the ball better. As Mike Tomlin has stated before, when you convert on third down, you run the ball more. When you don’t pick up a 3rd and 4 more often than a 3rd and 10, then you shouldn’t run the ball on first and second down. When you have a QB that can convert third downs you can commit more to the run game, and that can wear down a defense late in a game.

It should stand out that the Steelers had the ball for 10:05 of the 4th quarter in Cincinnati as they turned a 10-10 tie into a 16-10 win, and it should stand out that against Cleveland this past Sunday, after the Browns made it a one score game and the Defense stood firm following Hodges’ awful interception, the Steelers ate the rest of the clock with a 3:50 drive that also burned the Browns timeouts, and then closed the game out with a first down rushing the ball.

Both of these games the offense came in at the end and helped seal a win.

Scoring drives

The Steelers have 29 scoring drives where they gained at least 40 yards (not counting penalties). Devlin Hodges accounts for 9 of those drives. Ben Roethlisberger was the QB for 2, and Mason Rudolph the other 18.

When you take that as a percentage of their total drives played you get the following percentages:

Ben Roethlisberger: 11.8%
Mason Rudolph: 19.3%
Devlin Hodges: 28.4%

The Steelers offense led by Devlin Hodges to this point has been more likely to put together a long scoring drive than our other QBs.

The bottom line

The bottom line is the final score. After any game ends that is all that really matters. So for the final analysis, let’s look at the bottom line. So far Devlin Hodges has played two partial games and two complete games. Here’s the score breakdown from each of the games he played in.

Baltimore: Enters with Steelers trailing 13-17, final score 23-26. Score with Hodges? 10-9 Steelers.

at Los Angeles: plays full game, wins 24-17.

at Cincinnati: Enters with Steelers trailing 3-7, final score 16-10. Score with Hodges? 13-3.

Cleveland: plays full game, wins 20-13.

Hodges and the Steelers have outscored every team he has been on the field against.

Do Ducks fly in the desert?

When you put all of these stats together, it’s pretty clear that the Steelers offense has been better with Devlin Hodges at QB. The Steelers can’t go back to Mason Rudolph until Hodges has a terrible game or two and the offense isn’t able to move the ball. As long as the Steelers are converting third downs, limiting turnovers and actually helping the defense close out wins, Devlin Hodges has to be the starting QB.

But while Cleveland and Cincinnati were both poor run defense teams, Arizona is a pretty good run defense team, and the worst pass defense team in the NFL. Ranking last in yards per game and QB rating against, third worst in yards per attempt, TD% and INT%. I expect the Cardinals to double down on run defense early and force Devlin Hodges to beat them throwing the ball. This upcoming game Devlin Hodges will have a chance to throw the ball and put up yards. It will be interesting to see if he can lead the offense with his arm.

Duck and the Steelers make turkeys out of the Browns in 20-13 victory at Heinz Field on Sunday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 7:31am
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Browns may be up and coming as far as NFL teams are concerned, but the Steelers are still a class organization, one that made turkeys out of the Browns at Heinz Field on Sunday.

Is sports the greatest reality TV show, or what?

Seriously, if you ever thought the NFL was fixed, that thought was put to bed after the Steelers 20-13 victory over the Browns at Heinz Field on Sunday.

Yes, Devlin Hodges, the rookie quarterback nicknamed “Duck,” has a cool backstory. But he’s an undrafted free-agent out of tiny Samford who got his nickname after winning a duck-calling contest as a child. That’s the kind of backstory that isn’t going to be considered sexy by anyone outside of Pittsburgh and Steeler Nation for at least a few years—and nobody will care nationally unless Hodges establishes himself as a top-shelf quarterback.

Baker Mayfield, on the other hand, was the first-overall pick by the Browns in the 2018 NFL Draft. In addition to enormous talent, his charisma is just what the NFL wants in its next face of the league—a desire that seems to be apparent, what with Mayfield’s many endorsements in this, just his second season.

As for the Browns? What a cool story if you’re most of America. Who doesn’t love an underdog? Who doesn’t love rooting for a team that was the Siberia of the NFL for so many years?

The Browns might yet arrive as a true contender, but it doesn’t look like it will be anytime in the near future, not unless they can find a way to overcome their 5-7 record to reach the playoffs. That would require a lot of things falling their way, like, for instance, the 7-5 Steelers collapsing over the final month.

Will Pittsburgh collapse like it did a year ago, when it blew a 2.5 game lead in the AFC North over the final six weeks? Not if its defense can help it—and isn’t that the real story of the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers?

As encouraging as Hodges’ performance was on Sunday (he completed 14 of 21 passes for 212 yards, a touchdown and an interception); as extraordinary as receiver James Washington was (he turned in an Offensive Player of the Week performance, by catching four passes—including three that could only be categorized as freakishly athletic—for 111 yards and a touchdown), the true hero on Sunday was the Steelers defense.

It was the defense that limited the Browns talented offense to 279 total yards—including just 102 over its last six drives. It was the defense that harassed Mayfield all day and sacked him five times. It was the defense that came through with two key takeaways—including the game-clinching interception by cornerback (and former Brown) Joe Haden with a little over a minute left in the fourth quarter.

Yes, they may have a preseason offense with guys named Deon Cain and Kerrith Whyte Jr. joining Hodges as contributors on Sunday, but they now have a Super Bowl defense.

The Steelers may not have any stars on offense, but they have them in abundance on defense.

And isn’t that what championship organizations do, they find a way to stay relevant when circumstances suggest that their time may have come and gone? They find a way to adapt and stay in the fight?

The Steelers haven’t won a title in over a decade, but they’re still trying to achieve that goal in 2019, even if it means doing it without an All-Pro-ladened offense.

And that's why they're a franchise that is held in such high esteem.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, their good name has been dragged through the mud often in 2019, especially the past two weeks, thanks to unfounded and unprovable allegations made by Browns star defender, Myles Garrett.

They may never admit it, but you know the Steelers—from their players, to their coaches, to their front office, to their owners—were feeling the sting of what happened on November 14, when the Browns not only out-shined the Steelers on the field, they seemed to gain a lot of national support in the aftermath of the brawl involving Mason Rudolph and Garrett.

And while, again, they may never admit it, you know the Steelers took great pride in what they accomplished on Sunday.

The Steelers earned some validation off the field back in September thanks to the continued antics of Antonio Brown, both in Oakland and in New England. And on Sunday, they earned some validation on the field by reminding the Browns where they still stand in the AFC North hierarchy.

The Steelers may be compromised on offense. The Steelers may still miss the playoffs before all is said and done. But the Steelers are still a championship organization, and on Sunday they showed the Browns that, while they may have made strides in certain areas in recent years, they still have a ways to go before they, or anyone else, can claim that they've truly arrived as an organization.

NFL Week 14 Betting Preview: Steelers currently a 2.5-point favorite at the Cardinals

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 6:30am
Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The last time the home team was favored in a Steelers-Cardinals matchup was 2003

Don’t look now, but the Pittsburgh Steelers control their own destiny heading in the last quarter of the NFL season. Sitting in the sixth spot in the AFC, the Steelers would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. But the season goes on, so the Steelers have to continue to bring it each week as they drive towards the post season.

Next up on the schedule is the Arizona Cardinals. Since it’s been over eight years since the Steelers have traveled to Phoenix, it’s difficult to gauge how these particular players will fare in the desert. So rather than worry about history, the Steelers need to keep their eye on the not-to-distant future.

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

Game Info: Week 14 Pittsburgh Steelers vs Arizona Cardinals Sunday, December 8, 2019 at 4:25 PM

Betting line: -2.5

Over/under: 43.5

Last Regular Season Meeting: Steelers (W) 25-13 vs Cardinals

Win streak: 3 games PIT

Last 3 Meetings: PIT 3 - 0 AZ

Last 10 Meetings: PIT 7 - 3 AZ

The opening line on the game was at -3.5 when the schedule was released in April. Even with the Steelers at 7-5 and the Cardinals sitting at 3-8-1, the line has moved slightly toward the home team. With the number of injuries the Steelers have sustained, particularly on offense, there are still many who are not convinced the Steelers can keep up their current run.

Being favored on Sunday, the Steelers have a current moneyline of -140 to win the game straight up, which is the equivalent of 5/7 odds. So a $20 bet placed on the Steelers over the Cardinals would have a payout of $34.29 ($14.29 plus the original $20 bet). The Cardinals have a current moneyline of +125, or 5/4 odds. Therefore the same $20 bet placed on Arizona to win straight up would have a payout of $45 ($25 pus the original $20 bet) .

According to Oddsshark.com, the Steelers are 6-1 straight up in their last 7 games and the total has gone UNDER in their last 5 road games. The Steelers also have gone OVER in 4 of their last 5 games in Arizona and are 4-2 against the spread in their last 6 games against the Cardinals.

If looking at the futures bets, the Steelers odds to win the Super Bowl vary from 60/1 to 100/1. They also have varying odds to win the AFC Championship from 30/1 odds to 50/1. As for winning the AFC North, the Steelers are at 22/1 odds and they are projected to place second the AFC North ahead of Cleveland at 33/1. Baltimore has the best odds to win the division at 1/40 while Cincinnati has been eliminated from the AFC North race.

Podcast: Do the 2019 Steelers finally have a true identity?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 5:30am

Bryan and Tony for the fallout and celebration after a sweet Week 13 victory for the Steelers over Cleveland in the latest of the ‘Steelers Hangover’.

The Steelers were decimated in many a way in Cleveland in Week 11. With Devlin Hodges at the helm and aided by a dominant defense, the Steelers finished what the Browns started with a statement 20-13 win. It seems all year that this team was trying to find their true identity, is it finally known to the world? Join BTSC as they share their thoughts on the overall landscape of the Steelers big victory. It’s the extravaganza known as “Steelers Hangover”.

In case you are new to the show, you can check out a complete rundown of the show below:

  • Rehashing the Pittsburgh Steelers seventh of the season
  • Valedictorian
  • Injuries
  • After the huge victory, do the Steelers finally know their true identity?
  • Live chat Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
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: The only thing you can expect from these Steelers is the unexpected

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 12/03/2019 - 4:33am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers are moving into Week 14 of the NFL regular season, and as the team prepares for the Arizona Cardinals we continue to provide you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over until the next game starts!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how the only thing consistent about the 2019 Steelers is their unexpected nature.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Did anyone expect this? Nope, and that is one of the calling cards of the 2019 Steelers.

John Steigerwald: With these Steelers, expect the unexpected

By: John Steigerwald, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Who saw that coming?

Not the 7-5 record and being in contention for the wild card, the 20-13 win after that hideous start. When the Browns scored to make it 10-0 everything pointed to a long, ugly day for the Steelers.

It was the middle of the second quarter. The Browns had run 28 plays for 128 yards, and the Steelers had run eight for 9 yards and had their fourth-string quarterback looking like a guy whose No. 1 goal was to not kill his team.

“He didn’t kill us.”

That’s what Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said with a smile in his postgame press conference after the 20-13 win, which was a follow-up to having said, “We hope he doesn’t kill us,” at his Tuesday news conference when he was asked what he expected from Devlin Hodges.

It looked as though the Steelers’ season was going to be over when the Browns went up 10-0 because it had blowout written all over it.

But then, the season looked like a blowout when Ben Roethlisberger blew out his elbow in Week 2. Who saw 7-3 coming? That’s the Steelers’ record since then and they’ve done it with two quarterbacks who never had started an NFL game.

There has been a lot of chatter around town and on the talk shows about how much better the Steelers would be with Roethlisberger at quarterback.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Not someone who buys into bulletin board material? The Steelers will disagree...

‘Bulletin-board material’ for Steelers; Browns’ Freddie Kitchens: ‘I’d wear (T-shirt) again’

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Of the “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirt Freddie Kitchens wore in public less than 48 hours before playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, guard David DeCastro had one question for the Cleveland Browns coach.

“What are you thinking?” DeCastro said after his team beat the Browns, 20-13, Sunday.

While DeCastro was asking that in the Steelers locker room at Heinz Field, Kitchens was down the tunnel answering the same query from Cleveland reporters.

Kitchens was unapologetic for wearing the shirt, which referenced the Myles Garrett/Mason Rudolph incident during the final seconds of the Nov. 14 meeting between the teams in Cleveland.

“I wore a T-shirt,” Kitchens said, with dismissive exasperation. “I wore a jacket with it. My daughters wanted me to wear the shirt, and I’d wear it again. I put a jacket on. I covered it up, and I took a picture with a fan. That was as simple as that.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • T.J. Watt the next Defensive Player of the Year? Not as far fetched as you may believe...

Is Steelers’ T.J. Watt building resume for NFL defensive player of the year?

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Another game, another sack for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ T.J. Watt. They’ve been accumulating at a rate that’s marveled some teammates enough so that they are starting a campaign.

“He’ll probably win defensive player of the year,” fellow outside linebacker Bud Dupree said.

Sportsbettingdime.com tracks AP NFL defensive player of the year odds, and it had Watt as the leading contender heading into NFL Week 13.

Watt’s first-quarter sack of Baker Mayfield was critical in limiting the Cleveland Browns to a field goal on the opening possession of Sunday’s game, a 20-13 Steelers victory. The sack gave Watt 12½ for the season; through 12 games, that’s already in the top 10 for a single season in Steelers history.

It also leads the AFC and is fourth in the NFL. Among Watt’s other superlatives as the game ended were a league-best 27 quarterback hits and five forced fumbles (tied).

“T.J.’s a great player,” Dupree said. “It’s been great seeing him grow.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

.@benny_snell speaks with @missi_matthews about our win over the Browns, 'Benny Snell Football' and more.@McDonalds pic.twitter.com/YijPA5PLFk

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 2, 2019

#VictoryMonday @_TJWatt + #ProBowlVote pic.twitter.com/AUsKJVBexi

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 2, 2019

When it's OFFICIALLY #VictoryMonday!! pic.twitter.com/mQfjcQU2E0

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 2, 2019

1️⃣1️⃣1️⃣ receiving yards
1️⃣touchdown@JamesWashington + #ProBowlVote pic.twitter.com/8W5HVChBIJ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 2, 2019

Maurkice Pouncey returns to the Steelers from suspension, ready for stretch run

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 12/02/2019 - 4:21pm
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers Pro Bowl center has been reinstated after his two-game suspension, and is ready for the stretch run of the regular season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers announced on Monday that center Maurkice Pouncey has been activated from the Reserve/Suspended List and has been placed on the Exempt/Commissioner Permission List.

C Maurkice Pouncey has been activated and placed on the Exempt/Commissioner Permission List.

MORE: https://t.co/FSiRFsauQO pic.twitter.com/mrOfxS0oBu

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 2, 2019

Being placed on the exempt list, Pouncey does not count towards the Steelers 53-man roster until 4 PM on Wednesday. For the time being, the Steelers can carry an extra player as Pouncey returns to practice. For some reason, the Steelers announced they have already waived center Patrick Morris. Morris was activated from the Steelers practice squad at the time of Pouncey’s suspension.

After going 2-0 during Pouncey’s absence, the Steelers captain returns to find the team in the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs, and in control of their own destiny. Entering the final quarter of the season, Pouncey will look to help guide his team into the postseason for the sixth time in his career. While the Steelers did make the postseason in 2015, Pouncey was lost for the year due to injury during the preseason.

Experiencing his first extended absence from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Pouncey has continued his exemplary leadership. In fact, it was Pouncey’s defense of his quarterback which landed him on the suspension list in the first place.

On top of all that, it is worth noting Pouncey had been dealing with a lower body injury the past few weeks. Not that the time away was ideal, but with B.J. Finney holding down the fort in his absence, the time away might have Pouncey fresh and ready to make an impact in these final four games of the regular season.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for a road trip to play the Arizona Cardinals at 4:25 p.m. ET in Week 14.

Post-Game Sound: Hear from Steelers coaches and players after their Week 13 win over the Browns

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 12/02/2019 - 1:50pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers were winners in Week 13 of the NFL regular season. Take a look and listen to what was said after the game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were winners in the twelfth game of the 2019 regular season after a 20-13 win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 13.

After the game, there was plenty of video/audio to take in from inside the locker room and down at field level. Here at BTSC we try to gather as much information as possible for those fans who might not be on social media and see this on a weekly basis.

Therefore, in the post-game sound article you will hear from head coach Mike Tomlin, and a myriad of other players as the Steelers official Twitter account goes around the room to hear from all who participated on Friday night.

Enjoy the content and be sure to stay with BTSC for all things black-and-gold as they now turn their attention away from their third win, and get to focus on playing the Arizona Cardinals in Week 14...but first, the post-game sound:

Around the Locker Room

Go around the locker room and hear from Cameron Heyward, Benny Snell, David DeCastro, James Washington, Ramon Foster & Nick Vannett following our 20-13 win against the Browns.@HeinzKetchup_US pic.twitter.com/gpngXcsPIJ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 2, 2019

James Washington On-Field Interview

We talked Duck Hodges, duck hunting and ducking the doubters as the #Steelers cling to that sixth playoff spot. Thank you, James Washington. pic.twitter.com/i6gR3jsKcJ

— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) December 2, 2019

Benny Snell Jr. On-Field Interview

.@benny_snell speaks with @missi_matthews about our win over the Browns, 'Benny Snell Football' and more.@McDonalds pic.twitter.com/YijPA5PLFk

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 2, 2019

Devlin Hodges Press Conference

#LIVE: Devlin Hodges addresses the media after our win over Cleveland.@budlight https://t.co/dhMTAL8YQF

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 1, 2019

Joe Haden Press Conference

#LIVE: Joe Haden addresses the media following our 20-13 win over the Browns. https://t.co/OLr2bTHlYM

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 1, 2019

Mike Tomlin Press Conference

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media following our win over the Browns.@budlight https://t.co/ApOIIfVFYn

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 1, 2019

On-Field Sound

Shoutout to #SteelersNation‼️@_TJWatt pic.twitter.com/xEH3pkgah6

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 1, 2019

Got the W!@joehaden23 pic.twitter.com/sXRPqwbhNu

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 1, 2019

AFC North Recap: Steelers make a statement in Week 13 win over the Browns

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 12/02/2019 - 12:10pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After a Week 13 win, and the Ravens continuing to win, the Steelers’ path to the postseason will likely be as a Wild Card team.

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

Time to take a look...

Pittsburgh Steelers - 20
Cleveland Browns - 13

This game was gigantic in terms of playoff positioning. The Browns had won three games in a row entering Week 13, and a win would catapult them to the .500 mark. However, a loss would put them behind the 8-ball for playoff positioning. The latter took place as the Steelers, led by Devlin Hodges and a terrific defense, advanced their record to 7-5 and a stranglehold on the 6 seed in the AFC Playoff Picture.

Baltimore Ravens - 20
San Francisco 49ers - 17

Super Bowl preview? I’m not so sure about that, but in a torrential downpour almost the entire game the Ravens outlasted the 49ers thanks to Justin Tucker’s amazing accuracy. Tucker is not just the greatest kicker in the game today, but possibly ever. The Ravens continue to roll as they are now the top seed in the AFC Playoff Picture.

Cincinnati Bengals - 22
New York Jets - 6

The Bengals finally won a game! Zac Taylor’s group turned back to Andy Dalton, and Dalton proved he is still capable of getting the job done with the team’s first victory over the Jets. A win over the Jets isn’t really worth writing home about, but then again your first win of the season, after an 0-11 start, is noteworthy. Luckily for Bengals fans, the win didn’t push them out of the top spot for the top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

AFC North Standings

Baltimore Ravens - 10-2
Pittsburgh Steelers - 7-5
Cleveland Browns - 5-7
Cincinnati Bengals - 1-11

Week 14 AFC North Schedule:

Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns — 1:00 p.m. ET
Baltimore Ravens at Buffalo Bills — 1:00 p.m. ET
Pittsburgh Steelers at Arizona Cardinals — 4:25 p.m. ET

A look ahead...

Next three opponents for all AFC North teams:

Baltimore Ravens: at Bills, vs. Jets, at Browns
Cleveland Browns: vs. Bengals, at Cardinals. vs. Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers: at Cardinals, vs. Bills, at Jets
Cincinnati Bengals: at Browns, vs. Patriots, at Dolphins

AFC Playoff Picture: Week 13 win keeps the Steelers in the No. 6 position

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 12/02/2019 - 10:43am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers currently control their own destiny, as of now, but that can change in the blink of an eye.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 season is 12 games old, and they sit at 7-5 heading into a Week 14 matchup with the Arizona Cardinals. With only four games remaining on the team’s schedule, it is now we start to take a look at the AFC Playoff Picture, and what might need to take place for the black-and-gold to get into the postseason.

After a Week 13 win over the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers are once again in the sixth seed and in control of their own destiny heading into Sunday’s game in Arizona.

Let’s take a look at where things sit heading into Week 14:

AFC Playoff Picture — Week 14

1. Baltimore Ravens (10-2) REMAINING OPPONENTS: at Bills (9-3), vs. Jets (4-8), at Browns (5-7), vs. Steelers (7-5)
2. New England Patriots (10-2) REMAINING OPPONENTS: vs. Chiefs (8-4), at Bengals (1-11), vs. Bills (9-3), vs. Dolphins (3-9)
3. Houston Texans (8-4) REMAINING OPPONENTS: vs. Broncos (4-8), at Titans (7-5), at Buccaneers (5-7), vs. Titans (7-5)
4. Kansas City Chiefs (8-4) REMAINING OPPONENTS: at Patriots (10-2), vs. Broncos (4-8), at Bears (6-6), vs. Chargers (4-8)
5. Buffalo Bills (9-3) REMAINING OPPONENTS: vs. Ravens (10-2), at Steelers (7-5), at Patriots (10-2), vs. Jets (4-8)
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) REMAINING OPPONENTS: at Cardinals (3-8-1), vs. Bills (9-3), at Jets (4-8), at Ravens (10-2)

In the hunt:

7. Tennessee Titans (7-5) REMAINING OPPONENTS: at Raiders (6-6), vs. Texans (8-4), vs. Saints (10-2), at Texans (8-4)
8. Oakland Raiders (6-6) REMAINING OPPONENTS: vs. Titans (7-5), vs. Jaguars (4-8), at Chargers (4-8), at Broncos (4-8)
9. Indianapolis Colts (6-6) REMAINING OPPONENTS: at Buccaneers (5-7), at Saints (10-2), vs. Panthers (5-7), at Jaguars (4-8)
10. Cleveland Browns (5-7) REMAINING OPPONENTS: vs. Bengals (1-11), at Cardinals (3-8-1), vs. Ravens (10-2), at Bengals (1-11)

These standings will shuffle significantly in just a few weeks, let alone by Week 17. And in regards to the Steelers, they have to like their positioning if they can take care of their own business. A big ‘if’, I know.

The Steelers still play the Bills on their schedule, at home, and a win over Buffalo would catapult them in front if there were a tie between the two teams. With the Bills still having to play Baltimore and New England, nothing is guaranteed there.

Pittsburgh also has the head-to-head win over the Colts, and it seems the Colts, Titans and Texans could eliminate all but the division winner over the next few weeks. The Colts’ finishing schedule is easier than the Texans, but between the Texans, Titans and Colts, those three teams will certainly help pave the way for Pittsburgh to get a good look at a Wild Card spot.

It is sad to say, but the Steelers’ only hope for a playoff berth would be via the Wild Card. The Ravens look like the best team in the NFL at the current moment.

The Steelers have the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL, per PFF, and taking care of their own business will leave no doubt whether they deserve a spot in the playoffs. A lot can change in just a few short weeks...

Take a look at the above standings, who do you see failing down the stretch? And which team will be a surprise to climb the rankings? Let us know in the comment section below!

With no new injuries after the win over the Browns, the Steelers focus on getting players back

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 12/02/2019 - 9:46am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to leave Week 13 unscathed, and now hope to get some key players back for the stretch run.

The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns squared off was in Week 11 on Thursday Night Football. At one point during the prime time game, it looked as if it was the ‘Body Bag Game’, Part 2.

Players, mainly Steelers players, left the field at a rapid rate.

JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee/concussion)
Diontae Johnson (concussion)
Ola Adeniyi (concussion)
Artie Burns (knee)
James Conner (shoulder)

Many others left the game, like T.J. Watt, but were able to return to the team before the end of regulation.

While some of those players have returned to the field, two of the biggest offensive stars the Steelers have, Smith-Schuster and Conner, remain sidelined with their injuries.

The good news for the Steelers is how they were able to get out of their second game vs. the Browns unscathed from an injury standpoint. This means with no new additions to the Steelers’ walking wounded, they can now focus on getting players healthy for the stretch run. That run begins with a trip to the desert in Week 14 whey they play Kyler Murray and the Cardinals on the road.

At this point and time the fact remains if the Steelers can get Smith-Schuster and Conner back in the lineup, it will not just be a huge boost to a struggling unit, but you have to wonder if James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Benny Snell and newcomers Kennith Whyte and Deon Cain could help divert some attention away from Conner and Smith-Schuster.

This would help open up opportunities for them which didn’t reside within the offense before Washington made several key receptions, Johnson became a threat over the middle and Snell showed his hard-running, hard-nosed style at Kentucky can translate to the NFL.

The offense which had to rely on practice squad players to help them claim wins the last two weeks might be getting some help from two Pro Bowl players, and it couldn’t come at a better time.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the Cardinals in Week 14.

Winners and Losers after the Steelers 20-13 win over the Browns in Week 13

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 12/02/2019 - 8:47am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they hosted the Cleveland Browns in Week 13 of the regular season. After the AFC North divisional game on Sunday, it is time to see who performed well, and who left a lot to be desired.

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

Let’s check in to see who fell on which side of the ledger after Week 12...

Winners

Benny Snell
Stat Line: 16 carries, 63 yards, 1 TD, 3.9 ypc

Without James Conner it didn’t seem as if the Steelers would have much of a ground game, but then Benny Snell returned from his knee injury and has seemingly saved the day. It isn’t flashy, but Snell’s hard-nosed style is just what the Steelers’ offense needs at this juncture. Sometimes three yards and a cloud of dust isn’t a bad thing, and Snell has provided that for this depleted offense. His first down run backed up in their own end was a thing of beauty. When Conner returns a running back by committee looks a lot more reasonable now.

Devlin Hodges
Stat Line: 14/21, 221 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT,

Hodges finally had the handcuffs taken off him and was allowed to start slinging the ball around. Once this happened, the offense started to open up. Down 10-0, Hodges was able to orchestrate two drives to tie the game 10-10 heading into halftime. Those drives, and that second quarter, might have saved the season for the Steelers. I don’t think there is any doubt who is the starter moving forward for the black-and-gold.

James Washington
Stat Line: 4 catches, 111 yards, 1 TD, 27.8 ypr

Washington has been tremendous in the absence of JuJu Smith-Schuster, but how much of this is part of his development, or quarterbacks just throwing him the football? Hodges looked to Washington for big plays, his calling card in college, and Washington picked up the rookie quarterback. Just like Snell, when Smith-Schuster returns Washington’s development/capabilities will only help the offense even more.

Joe Haden
Stat Line: 2 tackles, 1 pass defense, 1 INT

Joe Haden should have at least four interceptions on the year, and it was great to see him get the game-clinching INT against his former team. The Steelers defense is becoming an elite group, and everyone has their hand in the pile. It just so happened Haden was the latest player to come up with a big play when the team needed it.

T.J. Watt
Stat Line: 2 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 QB Hits

Watt has become a mainstay on the winners list, and rightfully so. The man is playing at a Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) pace. His consistent pressure has made the entire defense look better, both in the pass rush as well as the secondary. At this point, when Watt records just one sack fans are wondering what happened? And that is a good problem to have...

Bud Dupree
Stat Line: 6 tackles, 4 solo, 1.5 sacks, 1.5 TFL, 1 pass defense, 2 QB Hits

Bud Dupree continues to impress in 2019, and is setting himself up for a huge payday this offseason one way or another. But let’s not talk about that just now. Instead, let’s talk about how Dupree and Watt are by far the best pass rushing duo in the NFL right now. Now doubt about it. If the offense wants to chip or double Watt, it will leave Dupree with a one-on-one matchup. Dupree has already set a career high in sacks, and the Steelers are on the verge of having two double-digit sack getters this season.

Mike Tomlin
Stat Line: Stacking wins

The Steelers were left for dead at 0-3, and again when they were 1-4, but the Steelers kept grinding. It didn’t matter who was injured, or who was at quarterback, the Steelers have continued to stack wins. The Steelers have won 7 of their last 9 games, and are in sole possession of the 6th spot in the AFC Playoff Picture. Tomlin deserves credit for this team’s play.

Losers

Diontae Johnson
Stat Line: 1 reception, 14 yards, 5 targets

A very rookie performance for Johnson on Sunday. Whether it was the false start penalty, the 15-yard personal foul penalty, the drop or running out of bounds late in the game, this is one Johnson will want to forget. I’m sure he will turn the page quickly, and better days are certainly awaiting Diontae Johnson.

Randy Fichtner
Stat Line: Questionable play calling

I hope Randy Fichtner learned something after Week 13. Hodges spoke about how critical the two-minute drive was in getting him comfortable and in rhythm with his receivers. Fichtner’s run-run-pass approach in the first quarter wasn’t just boring to watch, but detrimental to the offense. Compound that with a strange 1st and 10 pass play which resulted in an interception, and fans have been scratching their heads over the play calling. There can be a happy median between pass happy and run heavy. Fichtner needs to find it...

Report Card: Grading the Steelers 20-13 win over the Browns in Week 13

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 12/02/2019 - 7:30am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

BTSC breaks out the red pen and assigns grades to the Steelers after a huge win in Week 13 of the 2019 season.

In Week 11, the Steelers had an opportunity to go 6-4 on Thursday Night Football in Cleveland and start realizing their playoff destiny, but nothing went right. The game was an abomination to watch for many reasons that we’ve all discussed ad nauseum. Fast forward 17 days and the once 2-6 Browns were the favorites to finish what they started and find themselves in true playoff contention. But Devlin Hodges and the Steeler defense had other ideas.

For some reason, I’ve been given the responsibility to rate the performance of the squad. It’s not easy, but I’ll give it a whirl. Despite my less than prestigious BTSC teaching certificate, I have to issue the necessary disclaimer. You know the story; of course, I’m not a football coach, or a teacher, but I play one in blogs and podcasts. All week, I had certain expectations of this contest, then the game happened and judgments abound.

Grading games is an extremely difficult and somewhat thankless task. While the coaches’ grades, of course, are what counts the most, the media and fans can’t help but evaluate as well. All letter grades are simply based on the eye test of somebody watching at home. In this case, it’s my boob-headed opinion.

So let’s take a look at BTSC’s early perceptions:

Offense: B-

Duck and the Steelers started off rough and it seemed like Randy Fichtner’s generic and predictable game plan was designed to focus on the run and protect the quarterback. It wasn’t working and was getting sniffed out easily by the Browns. But then they ran the Wildcat twice and it loosened the defense up for Hodges to pass the ball. No. 6 showed poise and moxie in going 12/21 for 212 yards, a touchdown and dumb interception. After being down 10-0 late in the half, the Samford alum led the Steelers to a field goal and then got it back and aired it out for a gorgeous James Washington TD. He kept it going in the second half by making plays when needed. He looks like he’s won the job going forward. Washington was fantastic with four grabs for 111 yards and a score. The line, led by David DeCastro, was pretty solid protecting Duck and making holes for Benny Snell Jr. to shine by averaging 3.9 ypc for 63 yards and a score. The Steeler rushing attack had 124 yards total. It wasn’t perfect, but this team earns a higher grade because of the many reserves that were on the field and getting the win.

Defense: B+

Baker Mayfield was again tough to bring down at the beginning and was completing a lot of passes. But the Steelers defense clamped down, led by Bud Dupree (1.5 sacks and a forced fumble) with five sacks. Joe Haden’s interception iced it, but everybody on defense looked good in one way or another.

Special Teams: A

Chris Boswell continued his great year by hitting two field goals. Jordan Berry had to punt the ball only four times for a 43.3 average, but (a rarity this season) landed none inside-the-20. The return game looked better with Kerrith Whyte averaging 24 yards-per-return. Also, the kick/punt coverage was pretty good this week. Kam Kelly had a monstrous hit.

Overall: B+

This was a satisfying win. I’m not going to call it ugly, because the Steelers eventually outplayed the Browns. With depleted personnel, they deserve credit for it.

Valedictorian: James Washington and Bud Dupree

Honor Roll: Mike Tomlin, Devlin Hodges, T.J. Watt, David DeCastro, Bennie Snell Jr., Javon Hargrave, Devin Bush, Joe Haden, Chris Boswell, Terrell Edmunds

Requires Improvement: Randy Fichtner, Matt Feiler, Diontae Johnson

Now it is your turn to play teacher. Use the polls and the comments section below. We can compare notes in the teachers lounge.

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