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NFL Expert Picks: Most experts don’t give the Steelers much of a chance vs. the Ravens in Week 5

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/04/2019 - 8:34am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Time to check in and see who the experts like in Steelers vs. Ravens, Week 5.

When you start the season 0-3, and your lone win the following week is against the now 0-4 Cincinnati Bengals, you can’t expect much respect from the media who encompass the NFL landscape. This is the case for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are coming off a 27-3 win on Monday Night Football, as they prepare to host the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5.

While the Ravens sport a better record, 2-2, they are hardly a hot team coming to Heinz Field this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. After blowing the doors off the Miami Dolphins in Week 1, and barely holding on against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2, the Ravens have dropped consecutive games to both the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns.

On paper this game seems like a slam dunk pick, but you have to wonder if the Steelers will start to put the pieces of the puzzle together with a talented defense, and an offense slowly getting acclimated to life with Mason Rudolph at quarterback.

Let’s see who the experts like in this Week 5 AFC North matchup...

If you visit the expert picks here at SB Nation, you won’t find many people liking the Steelers to hold serve at home. In fact, only one of the experts on the panel believes the Steelers have what it takes to get the win at Heinz Field this weekend.

At ESPN the experts are a little more open to the Steelers winning at home as underdogs. Three experts of the ten person panel like the Steelers to move their record to 2-3, and send the Ravens to the same win-loss total at the same time.

At CBS Sports, they like the Ravens, but provide some explanation to their pick. See what they have to say:

Baltimore’s “D” is in free fall, and the Steelers have finally found offensive life. Mike Tomlin will have his guys fired up enough to make this closer than it should be, but in the end, Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram and Marquise Brown will be too much handle.

Prediction: Ravens 29, Steelers 24

These are just a few sites who produce expert picks on a weekly basis. What about all the other sites across the internet who do the same? This is where our friends at NFL Pick Watch come in and lend a helping hand. NFL Pick Watch takes all expert picks and puts them in an easy-to-read graph to see who experts like in any game that particular week.

According to NFL Pick Watch, 74% of NFL experts like the Ravens in Week 5. Will this come to fruition, or will the Steelers be able to ‘stack’ wins for the first time in 2019? Only time will tell who walks away victorious in this game, but one this is for sure — a lot is on the line in this contest.

Steelers Stock Report: See whose stock is rising, and falling, heading into Week 5

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/04/2019 - 7:32am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Time to check out whose stock is rising, and falling, as the Steelers prepare for the Ravens in Week 5.

Professional sports are a collective entertainment medium where optimism and hopefulness routinely subvert rationality and levelheadedness, where rooting interests are staked in players—who, aside from their superhero musculatures and extrasensory reflexes, are fallible human people—whose worldviews may be fundamentally at odds with those of the viewer at home, and where blithely disregarding the home team’s failings and shortcomings while correspondingly reveling in the opposition’s schadenfreude is all part of the natural order of things. To be a sports fan is to thrust yourself headlong into a violent and unpredictable vortex in the hope that maybe, just maybe, your favorite team will throw you a lifeline. Fandom itself is generally determined by your geography but in many cases, it’s passed down; just imagine, an innocent and unblemished and pristine baby, a blank slate with limitless potential, emerging from her mother’s womb and taking her first breaths only to be placed in an incubator festooned with Cincinnati Bengals stickers. Absolutely sickening. Sports fandom is geographical and generational Stockholm Syndrome.

The Steelers defeated—nay; destroyed—the woebegone Bengals 27-3 in front of a national audience to secure their first win in what was shaping up to be a lost season. The defense was profoundly menacing, the offense was efficient and multidimensional, and the coaching was genuinely flawless. The Steelers are now just a game out of first in the AFC North and, with a victory this weekend against Baltimore coupled with a Cleveland loss to the 49ers, could be leading the division by this time next week. Indeed, after an 0-3 start, the Steelers are poised to...do you see what being a Steelers fan has done to my brain? I’m starting to believe that, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Steelers could be playing in meaningful games this December because they convincingly defeated the second-worst team in the NFL. This is not rational thinking.

Stock report!

Steelers postseason hopes: Stock up

Here are some things to consider:

-The Monday Night Football crew pointed out that, since the NFL playoffs were reformatted in 1990, roughly 15% of the teams who started the season 1-3 rebounded to make the playoffs. Those odds aren’t great, but it’s better than the fate that awaits teams that fall to 0-4: the 1992 Chargers are the only team in NFL history to begin the season 0-4 and rally to make the playoffs.

-Last season, two teams—the Texans and the Colts—started the season 1-3 (the Colts actually started 1-5, but alas) and ultimately remobilized and made their way to the postseason. Granted, those teams were led by All-Pro caliber quarterbacks and replete with volcanic offensive skill players, but the recency of these turnarounds indicate that throwing in the towel and diverting your rooting interests elsewhere is an imprudent decision.

-The Steelers have four games on the schedule against winless teams: the Dolphins in Week 8, the Bengals in Week 12, the Cardinals in Week 14, and the Jets in Week 16. The Steelers also host the Colts, who are currently 2-2 but have allowed more points than they’ve scored, and the Bills, who have a legitimate championship-caliber defense but a meh offense helmed by a veritable turnover machine. Those are six winnable games. The AFC kinda sucks aside from the Patriots and Chiefs, so if the Steelers can win five of the six aforementioned lay-ups, split with the Ravens and Browns, and steal a win against the Chargers or the Rams, they could find themselves in contention for a Wildcard berth.

Sports fandom: performing laborious mental gymnastics to convince yourself that, actually, your 1-3 team is exactly where it needs to be.

Offensive skill players: Stock into the stratosphere

Mason Rudolph completed 24 of his 28 passing attempts for 229 yards and a pair of touchdowns, which is a solid, efficient, respectable-looking stat-line. Of course, it did not take long for hordes of WELL ACTUALLY Football Knowers to emerge from their swamps to inform you, the idiot football watcher, that, actually, Rudolph’s first career start was not impressive. He only attempted four passes that traveled more than 10 yards in the air. He checked the ball down on every play. His receivers did all the legwork. He managed the game.

While it is not inaccurate to state that Rudolph did frequently utilize check-downs—running backs James Conner and Jaylen Samuels had eight receptions apiece, which is bananas—it’s important to bear in mind that, on at least a handful of these plays, checking the ball to the running back was literally Rudolph’s last read. Indeed, on numerous run-scripted check-downs, Rudolph tactfully ambled about the pocket while keeping his gaze directed upfield, scanning the deep secondary for open targets. When there were none to be found, he dumped the ball off to Conner or Samuels. I am kind of at a loss to understand how forcing passes 20 yards downfield into coverage is preferable to a safe pass that in many cases pits a running back in open space against a linebacker.

Rudolph did manage the game against Cincinnati, and he had tremendous success in doing so. That he’s somehow a lesser quarterback for effectively executing the plays that are transmitted into his headset instead of chucking the ball downfield into triple coverage is ridiculous. While the Steelers will eventually be forced to eschew unconventionality (they ran like a dozen plays from the Wildcat formation on Sunday, which probably isn’t a viable long-term offensive solution unless you’re, like, Georgia Tech, or whatever) in favor of a more conventional attack, one that does require Rudolph to make some honest to God professional throws downfield into impossibly tight windows, sound, well-coached teams can win with game-manager quarterbacks. The Steelers won a Super Bowl back in 2005 with Ben Roethlisberger playing the role of game manager, and Tom Brady hasn’t thrown the ball more than 15 yards downfield since the Obama administration. He’s won two Super Bowls since 2016 and will almost certainly claim his third this season because existence is pain and our doom is inevitable.

On the topic of inevitabilities, it was nice to see Conner get things back on the right track. The 2018 Pro Bowler was off to a gruesome start this season, but Sunday’s performance gives him something positive on which to build. If nothing else, it’s flatly apparent based on his elevated usage rate against Cincinnati that Conner will be a foremost target in the passing attack for the remainder of the 2019 campaign (he actually has more receiving yards than rushing yards so far this season). Eighty receptions is not out of the question.

Of course, this isn’t to suggest that Conner will be the same three-down workhorse he was for much of last season. He very well could be, but Samuels’ performance against Cincinnati demonstrated that it kinda behooves the Steelers to work Samuels into the game-plan. The second-year multitool had 112 all-purpose yards of his own, including 31 passing yards that came exclusively in the Wildcat formation. Although Samuels’ “passes” were forward tosses to runners in motion—effectively hand-offs—it’s important to note that Samuels almost certainly distributing the ball based on his own observations of the Bengals defense. In the Wildcat formation, the “quarterback”—which is usually a running back or receiver—generally has three primary options: they can hand the ball off to the back accompanying them in the backfield, they can pitch the ball to a runner coming across the formation, or they can keep the ball. As such, that Samuels’ “passes” netted him 31 yards is very much the direct result of his own reads. Samuels is a smart, versatile player; the Steelers should be getting him at least 10 touches a game.

This is a Very Dad Sports Take, but I appreciated how upbeat animated JuJu Smith-Schuster was on the sidelines for the duration of Sunday’s proceedings. Pause for a moment to imagine Antonio Brown’s body language and outward expressions if he had three catches for 15 yards in a nationally-televised blowout win. He’d have been furious. It would have been easy—and forgivable—for Smith-Schuster to lament over his lack of usage and production against Cincinnati, but instead he remained unfailingly positive, praising and encouraging his teammates and even inquiring about their post-game plans (he had his sights set on Fortnite, presumably to the chagrin of the Serious Football Men in Pittsburgh’s toxic sports media ecosystem who conflate the enjoyment of video games and immaturity). It’s great when your favorite team wins, but rooting for genuinely amiable and gregarious players like JuJu Smith-Schuster is what sports fandom should be all about.

Offensive line: Stock trending up

It is inarguable that the offensive line underperformed in each the Steelers’ first three games. This is, after all, the team’s strongest positional group, a unit that features a trio of Pro Bowlers, one of the league’s most experienced guards in Ramon Foster, and a right tackle in Matt Feiler who the Steelers deemed talented enough to supplant Marcus Gilbert, who when healthy—and eligible—represents an immediate positional upgrade for all but maybe a handful of teams. That the line played no small role in exacerbating Pittsburgh’s offensive woes is inexcusable; this outfit’s simply too talented to look so hapless.

Sunday represented something of a turning point. The rushing attack was effective—the Steelers only managed 2.6 yards per run, but that total doesn’t take into consideration the various dump-offs and designed Wildcat pitches, which are technically passing plays but functionally are rushing attempts—and the Bengals front seven didn’t manage even a single quarterback hit. Keeping the pressure off the quarterback and creating lanes for backs and receivers to slalom through effortlessly is—duh—a winning formula.

The front seven: Immeasurable

An important disclaimer: the Bengals offensive line is total butt. An octogenarian with bunions has better footwork than Andre Smith. The only reason Smith is playing in the first place is because first-round pick Jonah Williams, a player who never missed a game in his career at Alabama, saw his labrum detonate in his first training camp with this deeply-cursed enterprise, and because Williams’ backup Cordy Glenn is still dealing with the ill-effects of a concussion. Elsewhere, Billy Price, who the Bengals drafted in the first round last season, was beaten out by Trey Hopkins, who sucks. The actual Michael Jordan—the one from Space Jam—is a better pass blocker than the Bengals’ Michael Jordan. John Miller and Bobby Hart are real players and not computer-generated members of the 2020 draft class in your Madden franchise. Total butt.

With that said, the Steelers bull-rushed, bum-rushed, and speed-rushed their way into a franchise-record eight sacks. Bud Dupree had a critical strip-sack with the Bengals in scoring position, for gosh sakes. Bud Dupree! If a foremost world leader tweeting a Nickelback meme isn’t a signal that we are living in the end of times, Dupree making a positive defensive contribution most certainly is. T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward were unblockable, combining for four sacks and six quarterback hits (Watt also recovered the aforementioned fumble forced by Dupree). The Bengals lost 69 (nice) yards from sacks.

The Steelers aren’t gonna replicate this performance on a weekly basis. They’ll face more formidable offensive lines, skill groups with players who are better at getting open than Auden Tate and Tyler Eifert’s rotting corpse, and quarterbacks who won’t stand in a pit of quicksand slowly sinking toward their demise while they wait for an open receiver. But getting after the quarterback has been a foremost hallmark of the Steelers defense to this point in the Keith Butler era (they led the league in sacks in each of the past two seasons and look like a safe bet to do so again this year), so even if the Steelers don’t drag the opposing quarterback to the ground seven or eight times a game, rushing the passer should be a major strength for this group moving forward.

And I’d be remiss if I did not specifically highlight the showings by Mark Barron and Devin Bush. Barron and Bush were absolutely everywhere against Cincinnati: deftly infiltrating gaps to snuff out run plays, chasing ballcarriers down near the sidelines, and defending tight ends and receivers downfield. Bush also picked up his first career sack during a play in which he recognized that no one on the Bengals was gonna stay home to block him, shot through the empty gap untouched, and put Dalton into the ground before The Red Rocket even had a chance to realize what was happening.

What’s next?

The Ravens are next, and wooooooo boy are they something. Lamar Jackson has cooled off only slightly after playing like an MVP candidate in Weeks 1 and 2, but he’s still objectively the league’s most dangerous dual-threat quarterback. Draft Knowers—including some on this very website—convinced themselves that, actually, Lamar Jackson, despite putting together one of the most mind-bogglingly prolific seasons in NCAA history, would fare better as a running back or wide receiver in the NFL. You hate to see it.

Joining Jackson in the backfield is Saints castoff Mark Ingram, who currently ranks sixth in the league in rushing, first in touchdowns, and first in efficiency (he’s averaging 6.0 yards per run, which is preposterous). Between Jackson, Ingram, and the other ancillary backs, the Ravens are averaging 205 rushing yards per game, which is total that sounds like it ought to be impossible in the professional ranks. The passing attack, meanwhile, is no longer devoid of explosive field-stretching receivers: Marquise Brown, an All-American at Oklahoma and cousin of some guy who used to play for the Steelers, is, unsurprisingly, awesome. The Ravens also have what is without question the best tight end grouping in the NFL.

What should concern you, the discerning Steelers fan, about Baltimore’s offense is not Jackson (though he should concern you gravely, because he totally rules) nor is it Ingram, Brown, or the beefy triumvirate tight ends. What sets these Ravens apart from all but maybe three or four other teams in the NFL is that they are eminently well-coached. Baltimore nearly fired John Harbaugh last season, which would’ve gone down as one of the most misguided personnel decisions in league history. This is a person who, in the aftermath of a precipitous falloff from a quarterback with whom he won a Super Bowl, completely redesigned his offense on the fly to accentuate the talents of a quarterback whose skillset could not possibly be more dissimilar than that of the incumbent. Harbaugh is doing a masterful job coaching this Ravens team.

The defense, as per usual, is exceptional. The Ravens replaced Eric Weddle with Earl freaking Thomas. Just an embarrassment of riches.

Weekly food take

Chipotle has carne asada now. I tried some this week and can confidently say that is absolutely slaps. Yeah, anything that you order from an OG Mexican spot or that you make yourself is gonna be better, but if you’re craving some explosively flavorful burrito meat—and lots of it—Chipotle has your back. My Chipotle “hack” is ordering a bowl with double meat and two tortillas on the side, which effectively nets you two burritos.

How the Steelers defense could end up being one of the best in the NFL this year

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/04/2019 - 6:30am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Stats that show the near future could be bright for Keith Butler and the Steelers.

I can hear your laughter, and I understand your skepticism. The Steelers are 1-3 and before pounding a terrible Bengals team on Mike Tomlin’s favorite football day, the team ranked at the bottom of the NFL in most defensive categories.

But when you look at circumstances and the players on the field, the picture starts to look a lot brighter. And remember, Minkah Fitzpatrick has only been a Steeler for 2 games, and is entering his second full week of practice with the team.

What a difference a game makes

Through 3 games the Steelers ranked 28th in points allowed, 29th in yards allowed, and 23rd in yards per play allowed, just overall terrible.

After holding the Bengals to 3 points and 175 total yards of offense those numbers look a lot better, the Steelers now rank:

14th in points allowed (+14)
20th in yards allowed (+9)
12th in yards per play (+11)

That’s a middle of the road defense.

But this Steelers defense isn’t the same one we saw week one, not at all.

Safety Dance

In his article before the season, cliff harris is still a punk! argued that Sean Davis improving his play was a key to the 2019 season, and did a great job showing that FS play would be a huge factor for this defense. While he couldn’t predict the injury to Davis or the team trading for Fitzpatrick, he has proven to be completely correct in his argument that FS play would be incredibly important for this Steelers defense.

The Steelers have had 3 starting Free Safeties in 4 games, Kam Kameron, Sean Davis, and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Kam Kameron started the New England game, Sean Davis started the Seattle game and was injured in the second half, and Minkah Fitzpatrick has started and played the last 2 games.

If you look at per-drive stats, it is remarkable the difference the status of our FS position has made.

With Kam Kameron or an injured Sean Davis at FS.**

15 drives, 683 yards, 54 points allowed, 1 turnover forced. 45.5 yards, 3.60 points and 0.07 turnovers per drive.

That’s the New England game and most of the second half of the Seattle game, after Davis was hurt the Seahawks went on three straight TD drives.

With Sean Davis healthy, or Minkah Fitzpatrick:

29 drives, 818 yards, 34 points allowed, 8 turnovers forced. 28.2 yards, 1.17 points and 0.28 turnovers per drive.

The yards and points numbers without a healthy, NFL caliber FS would rank last in the NFL, tying Miami for most points allowed per drive, and beating them in yards per drive allowed. Only Denver would be behind the Steelers in turnover percentage.

The numbers with Davis healthy or Fitzpatrick would rank 4th in points per drive, 9th in yards per drive, and 1st in turnover percentage.

**Sean Davis played some after his injury against Seattle, but was not the same player he was earlier in the game.

The best Defense is a strong Offense

Through 3 games, the Steelers defense had faced 212 plays on defense, only Detroit with 213 faced more. A worn down defense is a poor defense. The Steelers have been a poor defense in the second half of games, but they’ve also been on the field too much in the first half. The Steelers in the first three games faced 109 first half plays on defense, second highest in the NFL. The Steelers offense ran 77 plays, second lowest in the NFL. The Steelers defense was on the field for 58.6% of plays in the first half through week 3. That ranks #1 in the NFL. If your defense is facing the highest percentage of plays in the first half of any team, you aren’t going to get good defense in the second half.

So let’s compare what they did in the first half of the first 3 games to the second half. I’ll use per drive stats to balance for the higher total of plays faced. The defense doesn’t really control the number of drives they face, they have a lot of say in what happens on those drives.

The Steelers were actually a middle of the road defense in the first half of the first three games, giving up the 19th most yards per drive, ranking 14th in scoring percentage, 13th in TD percentage and 1st in Turnover percentage.

In the second half of those games, the Steelers were much worse. Ranking 22nd in yards per drive, 31st in scoring and TD percentage and 16th in turnover percentage.

This often gets blamed on a lack of half-time adjustments, but really, the difference is the defense is worn down and is rotating backups in and just isn’t as good. Adjustments do matter, but we’re talking about a solid defense becoming a horrible one, if it was horrible in the first and horrible in the second half, then adjustments make sense as a chief problem. But when the defense works in the first half and fails in the second, and they were on the field much more than the offense. . . it’s not hard to realize that’s a significant part of the problem.

Putting it all together

The first half numbers for the Steelers defense above includes Kam Kameron’s first half against New England. If you take that game out, and look at first half defense with either Sean Davis or Minkah Fitzpatrick playing, you get the following per-drive numbers:

9th in yards per drive.
4th in scoring percentage.
3rd in TD percentage.
1st in TO percentage.

In the first half, with a healthy NFL caliber FS the Steelers have given up a total of 13 points on 19 drives. And that TD was with Sean Davis on the field. The Steelers have given up 6 points in the first half with Minkah Fitzpatrick. They’ve forced 5 turnovers in that span.

Five forced turnovers. Six points allowed. That’s pretty good.

And against the Bengals, when the Steelers defense played only 28 snaps in the first half, compared to an average of 36.3 snaps in the first three games, they shut out their opponent in the second half.

Late in the first half against Cincinnati the Steelers run game started to really gain some chunks. At the time I thought to myself that they were starting to break the Bengals, even though the game was super close, the Bengals defense was starting to give way to the Steelers run game. That second half the Steelers dominated.

Score differential in the second half for games where the defense was on the field more than the offense in the first half is -22, the Steelers scored 33 points and gave up 55. In the one game the Steelers ran more plays than the opposing offense? 17-0.

The first half differential after the New England game is 26-13 in favor of the Steelers.

If you are still skeptical consider this number: Stephon Tuitt played 55 of 69 snaps against Cincinnati, and a good chunk of those 14 snaps he was out were late in the game with a big lead.

Against Seattle in a close game Tuitt also played 55 snaps, but he was out for 23 of the defense’s 78 snaps.

Against the 49ers, which was also close the whole game Tuitt played 52 snaps, and was out for 27 of the 79 defensive snaps.

If this defense can afford to have Stephon Tuitt on the field for 80% of it’s snaps, it will be a much better team than if he’s only out there for 68%. The Cincinatti game had the most snaps with both Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt on the field this season. I shouldn’t need to tell you that Heyward and Tuitt together is better than one of them and one of the backups.

That’s how you run a top tier defense. If we’re only playing one of our stud DTs at a time because the defense is on the field all game, then we won’t have success. If the offense can continue to move the ball and eat a larger percentage of the plays each game, those two will be on the field a higher percentage of snaps and this Steelers defense could very well be a top ten or even a top 5 defense this year.

Podcast: Breaking down the statement game vs. the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/04/2019 - 5:30am

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

The 2019 season is upon us!! With the Pittsburgh Steelers now in the regular season, it is time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

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

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Steelers Stat Geek
  • Preview of Steelers vs. Ravens
  • Keys to victory
  • Fantasy Focus
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
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: 3rd down conversions could tell the tale between Steelers vs. Ravens

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/04/2019 - 4:32am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers are moving into Week 5 of the NFL regular season, and as the team prepares for the Baltimore Ravens, 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 Steelers, who haven’t been good on third downs, need to improve in this area if they want to win in Week 5 vs. the Ravens.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers offense still has plenty of work to do, and no area is larger than offensive 3rd down conversions.

Mason Rudolph, Steelers vow to improve on 3rd-down conversions

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The season is one-quarter through, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have yet to convert more than three third-down opportunities in any one game yet.

The Steelers have exactly three third-down conversions during each of their first four games this season. Their only improvement in the area has come merely in that they had fewer such opportunities during their most recent game Monday against Cincinnati.

The Steelers went 3 for 9 against the Bengals after going either 3 for 12 or 3 for 11 during each of their first three games. Quarterback Mason Rudolph sees that as progress.

“I think we’re getting better every week,” Rudolph said Thursday. “It’s a matter of execution. Calls have been great. We’ll keep working and we’ll start to convert more — but we’re starting to get more first downs on more first and second downs, and I think that’s a sign of a good offense.”

Overall, the Steelers’ 27.2% third-down conversion rate ranks 30th in the NFL, ahead of only the winless New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. They’ve actually been better on third downs of 3-10 yards to go (30%) than in third-and-1 or -2 situations (28.9%).

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • While it still isn’t a lot, Mason Rudolph has been under center more than Ben Roethlisberger before his injury. Just a coincidence? Or more to the story?

Steelers let Mason Rudolph operate under center more than Ben Roethlisberger did

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

With Mason Rudolph having replaced Ben Roethlisberger as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback, so has their heavy reliance on the shotgun snap.

According to the NFL’s official game play-by-play of this past Monday’s win against the Cincinnati Bengals and not counting kneeldowns or direct snaps to a running back, the Steelers operated under center on 13 of their 48 snaps (27%). For basis of comparison, during the most recent game Roethlisberger started and finished, he was under center 3% of the time.

That’s not a coincidence, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said Thursday.

“We designed a package around our hall of fame quarterback in the ’gun and ’gun runs,” Fichtner said after practice Thursday. “Things that are very appealing to his eye.

“We’ve been under center a whole lot more (with Rudolph). That’s an attempt to help others and the quarterback more. It might open things up more for you if you handle it the right way.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Wondering why the Steelers never run quarterback sneaks? They didn’t for Ben Roethlisberger, and they haven’t for Mason Rudolph either.

Like Big Ben, Mason Rudolph not allowed to call quarterback sneaks

By: Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk

After the Steelers were twice stopped on fourth-and-1 in their playoff loss to the Jaguars a year and a half ago, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger revealed that he wasn’t allowed to audible to a quarterback sneak, even when he could see he had the room to plunge up the middle for a yard.

Now the Steelers have a different quarterback and a different offensive coordinator, but the same policy: Don’t audible to a quarterback sneak.

Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said today that he doesn’t like calling the quarterback sneak for Mason Rudolph.

“People that know me know that it’s not been one of my favorite things in the world to do,” Fichtner said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I wouldn’t mind in certain situations, but when it’s obvious situations — fourth-and-1, third-and-1 — it really isn’t something I’m interested in doing. I value our quarterback. There’s a lot of stuff going on in those piles. Just the truth be known, if we can’t hand it to one of our backs and we can’t block them, then we don’t deserve to win that down.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

.@Rudolph2Mason speaks about the game ahead, Nick Vannett, James Washington, the #Steelers-Ravens rivalry & more. pic.twitter.com/AWZthRfCXB

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 3, 2019

An AFC North matchup.
On the biggest stage.#SightsNSounds pic.twitter.com/PGrn2BBzIj

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 3, 2019

.@Missi_Matthews breaks down the injury report, Mason Rudolph’s relationship with Coach Fichtner, Mason on facing Lamar Jackson & more. pic.twitter.com/7ORVc0dcL6

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 3, 2019

8️⃣ sacks
2️⃣ turnovers

Our defense came to play on Monday Night Football. pic.twitter.com/3oZciYPyTj

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 3, 2019

TURN ⬇️ FOR WATT‼️@_TJWatt pic.twitter.com/M03GK4qn5w

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 3, 2019

How to watch Steelers vs. Ravens: Time, TV Schedule, and game information

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 10/04/2019 - 4:00am
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

All the information needed to watch or listen to the Steelers game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on Sunday

Now that the Steelers have notched their first win, it’s time to start stacking them. Week 4 of the NFL season is now behind us and a more formidable opponent for Week 5 is on the horizon as the Pittsburgh Steelers host Lamar Jackson, John Harbaugh, and the rest of the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz field on Sunday. While the Steelers eneter the game off of a win, the Ravens have dropped their last two games are are looking to get a victory over a team which has managed to win an NFL game in 2019.

After some variation in the Steelers’ offense and a dominant performance by the defense, Pittsburgh looks to make a statement in the AFC North that they are still alive and kicking. Can Mason Rudolph work the ball down the field against the Raven’s defense? Can the Steelers’ defense come away with another dominant performance? Will Baltimore’s running attack be too much to handle? Can the Steelers grab the lead and force the Raven’s out of their run-first mentality?

This Sunday should answer many of these questions as the Steelers fight their way back towards the top of the AFC North. Make sure you get all the information you need below so you can enjoy the Week 5 showdown:

Week 5:

Game: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. San Francisco 49ers

Date: Sunday, October 6th

Kickoff: 1:00 P.M. ET

Venue: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

Weather: Live weather update

TV Channel: Broadcast locally on KDKA-2 CBS with Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts as commentators and Evan Washburn as the sideline reporter. Check the national broadcast map to see if the game is on in your area. A subscription to NFL Sunday Ticket gives access to all NFL games not otherwise shown in your area.

Online: NFL.com Game Pass offers live games for international viewers and replays of every game during upon conclusion with a paid subscription. A subscription to NFL Sunday Ticket gives access to stream games as well. fuboTV also allows you to stream NFL games online with a subscription. NFL Game Center will update the action on a play-by-play basis. The game is also available on the Yahoo! Sports App in some areas.

Radio: Steeler Nation Radio with Bill Hillgrove, Tunch Ilkin, and Craig Wolfley. The broadcast will be live on WDVE 102.5 FM and WBGG 970 AM in the Pittsburgh area or check the list of Steelers Radio Affiliates. Viewers can listen anywhere in the world online via Steelers.com, but the Steelers Official Mobile App does have geographical restrictions.

You can also follow Behind the Steel Curtain on Twitter or in the game thread article to catch all of the highlights. Be sure to check back with BTSC after the game for our post-match roundup, and subscribe to BTSC Steelers Radio on YouTube to catch The Steelers Post Game Show with Jeff Hartman and Lance Williams.

Steelers Injury Report: several key players still out on Thursday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/03/2019 - 2:57pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

One player injured on Monday returned to practice while many others still remain out

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back to the grind in preparation for their game against the Baltimore Ravens. According to the Steelers PR Department, six players sat out of practice on Thursday.

One player welcomed back to the practice field was defensive captain Cameron Heyward. Injuring his quadriceps on the first drive Monday night, Heyward returned to the game and registered 2.5 sacks. Heyward joins linebacker Vince Williams as the other player on the report returning from injury.

As expected, Roosevelt Nix and Anthony Chickillo are still unable to return from injury after each missing the last several games. Vance McDonald missed Monday’s game with a shoulder injury and was unable to get back on the field yet again on Thursday.

New players this week to the injury report were James Conner (ankle) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe) who both missed their second day of practice. Their participation in Friday’s practice will be key in playing on Sunday. While Conner’s status is still up in the air, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner is confident Smith-Schuster will play on Sunday.

JuJu injured his toe vs. Cincy. Per OC Randy Fichtner:

"JuJu got a little banged up early in that ball game last week. We held him a little bit today. Held him yesterday. Don’t have any feeling like he wouldn’t be back with us, but he gutted it out & I was really proud of him."

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) October 3, 2019

Maurkice Pouncey and Mark Barron both returned Thursday after they sat out of Wednesday’s practice as a coaches decision. Ramon Foster was given the day off on Thursday.

As for the Ravens injury report, it can be seen below courtesy of Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic. CB Jimmy Smith is still out with a knee injury as DT Brandon Williams returned in a limited capacity.

Ravens practice participation report: Did not practice - C Matt Skura (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (knee). Limited - TE Mark Andrews (foot), DT Brandon Williams (knee). Full-S Earl Thomas (non-injury related).

— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiec) October 3, 2019

3 games in Week 5 that can impact the Pittsburgh Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/03/2019 - 1:35pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

There are several NFL games this week where the Steelers’ past and future opponents collide

With a quarter of the season under their belt, the Pittsburgh Steelers are still somewhat of a mystery to how they stand in the rest of the AFC North as well as the NFL. While other teams have better records than the Steelers, the opponent the Steelers faced are a combined 10-1 after four weeks. With three of the Steelers past opponents playing teams they will face later on in 2019, some perspective can be given based on these upcoming games.

Here are the three games in Week 5 which could give the most perspective on what the Steelers have done so far this season, as well as what they can expect with future opponents:

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Thursday Night Football at 8:20 PM on FOX/NFL Network

While the Seahawks game is sort of an enigma for the Pittsburgh Steelers as they had two different quarterbacks playing each half, the Steelers still were in a position where they could have (and possibly should have) won the game. Since facing the Steelers, the Seahawks lost a close game to the New Orleans Saints and had a decisive win of the Arizona Cardinals to bring their record to 3–1.

As for the Los Angeles Rams, they will be visiting Heinz Field on November 10 for a 4:25 PM game. The Rams are also 3-1 after three straight wins over the Panthers, Saints, and Browns before falling at home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The matchup on Thursday night could be an indication as to the quality of the opponent the Steelers will be facing in Week 10. If the Seahawks can take down the Rams at home, it would improve Seattle’s perception of a quality opponent around the league, putting the Steelers close loss a little more in perspective.

Cleveland Browns at San Francisco 49ers Monday Night Football at 8:15 PM on ESPN

The 49ers are coming off their bye week after winning their third game of the season against the Steelers in Week 3. The 49ers have also defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cincinnati Bengals to achieve a perfect record.

As for the Browns, they have staggered their wins against the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens with their losses to the Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Rams. Currently the leader in the AFC North, the Browns are hoping to force some separation between them and the rest of the division with a win in San Francisco.

This game is one of those key matchups where the Steelers need their division opponents to lose to the same teams with which they have already lost. While San Francisco is still a bit of a mystery after their first three games, getting a victory over the Browns in prime time would help to elevate their status within the NFL. Should the Browns prevail, it will give them a win on a common opponent of the Steelers which will help in their overall record for the season.

Arizona Cardinals at Cincinnati Bengals Sunday 1:00 PM on FOX

Believe it or not, the matchup of two winless teams can give some perspective on the Steelers. With their lone win being against Cincinnati last week, if the Bengals can take out the 0-1-1 Cardinals, or at least play a close game, it will be an indication as to what the Steelers can expect when they travel to Arizona in Week 14. Other than showing how far at the bottom f the NFL either of these teams lie, there won’t be many other conclusions which can be drawn.

So there are the three main matchups which can give Steeler fans and indication as to the quality of wins and losses they have so far in 2019, and the quality of the opponents coming up later on in the schedule. While each week is a different game and upsets due to certain matchups are bound to happen, the greater the body of work which each team puts on the field can help to draw better conclusions.

So which of these games will be the most telling as it pertains to the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers? Make sure you vote in the poll and give your thoughts in the comments below.

After their first victory, Steelers fans are slowly starting to believe in the team again

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/03/2019 - 12:25pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 1-3, and while fan confidence remains low, it heading in the right direction heading into Week 5!

The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to win their first game of the 2019 season on Monday Night Football when they thumped the now 0-4 Cincinnati Bengals 27-3 at Heinz Field. The win has fans thinking positive thoughts again, and while there is still a large hill to climb, many believe the team is at least heading in the right direction.

Heading into Week 4, the Steelers fan confidence mark had jumped from 13% after the loss to the San Francisco 49ers, and moved up to 28%. After their big win it didn’t jump as high as many might believe, but it did increase to 31% of those taking the survey feeling confident in the direction the Steelers are headed.

The latest FanPulse results certainly paint a pretty accurate photo of how fans truly feel:

While the uptick in confidence is great, you also have to realize how long it has, and will, take to get fans back on board the Steelers bandwagon. Losing Ben Roethlisberger was a huge shot, but the way they lost in Week 1 to the New England Patriots hit the fan base even harder.

If the Steelers are going to prove they are capable of gaining the confidence of their most devout fans, a win over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at Heinz Field would go a long way. After all, the win over the Bengals, as nice as it was, certainly left fans wanting a win over a quality opponent.

The Baltimore Ravens would be just that when they make the trip to western Pennsylvania, and fans know it will be anything but easy. Why? Because nothing is easy with this 2019 Steelers team, but if they have any hope, or prayer, of making this season even remotely memorable, they will show up in a big way Sunday and pull off the upset.

Buckle up fans, this game Sunday game will be a big one!

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers ‘Bonehead’ decision of the week, Bengals Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/03/2019 - 11:15am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A new feature on BTSC gives fans an arena to let their displeasure be known about one specific facet of the game that was.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had their share of ‘bonehead’ decisions throughout their 1-3 start to the 2019 season. Every game, even games where the Steelers pull out the ‘W’, have their moments where fans are scratching their heads regarding a specific decision.

The overall crux of this article was built around the fact of giving fans a chance to have a space where they can put their collective heads together and try and figure out what went wrong, and why it went down the way it did.

For me, there wasn’t much to complain about after the Steelers’ 27-3 win over their AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals. However, there has been a trend the past few games I don’t agree with, yet the coaching staff keeps doing it.

What is it? How about using rookie Benny Snell Jr. as their short-yardage back.

Snell got another opportunity against the Bengals on Monday Night Football, and failed to gain the yards needed for a first down. Now, before you all get frustrated with me calling this decision boneheaded, realize this isn’t just a one game sample size. Snell has played sparingly, and has only converted one attempt on a critical down and distance.

Snell showed in the preseason he needs to improve his vision and downhill running style, and those two things are absolutely paramount when someone is labeled as a short-yardage back. A lot falls on the shoulders of the offensive line opening up lanes and getting a push, but I don’t see the need to take James Conner off the field in short yardage situations when he has proven he can get the job done in that regard.

I decided to reach out to Dave Schofield and BTSC podcaster Lance Williams regarding their bonehead decisions of Week 4. See what they had to say:

Dave Schofield

My bonehead decision was Mike Tomlin challenging the offensive pass interference call on Johnny Holton. It’s not that it was a bad call, because it was. It’s not because it shouldn’t have been overturned because it should have. It’s because it would’ve only given them 2nd and 10 versus 1st and 20. And when they got 11 yards on first down, they were in better shape then if the penalty would have been overturned.

Lance Williams

This was simple for me — giving Donte Moncrief a helmet. If you are going to dress Moncrief, and not use him, why dress him at all? The Steelers need players who can play, and since Moncrief isn’t being used in the offense and doesn’t play special teams it makes me wonder why the team even is making him active on game days.

It is here where you, the reader, gets to voice your concern/anger with something the Steelers did, or didn’t do, from the week that was! Let us know your bonehead decision of the week in the comment section below!

The Steelers may have moved on from Antonio Brown, but their receiving corps hasn’t

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/03/2019 - 9:45am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers receivers are still trying to move on from the presence of Antonio Brown.

Those who are better off without Antonio Brown, take one step forward.

Not to fast, Pittsburgh Steelers, specifically, your receivers. In fact, you guys should probably take one step back.

Addition by subtraction, that was the hope after the Steelers parted ways with the troubled but extremely talented Brown last spring. Despite his historic run as the most productive receiver in NFL history for a six-year period, the belief was that the organization would be better off without Brown’s distractions. The fact that Brown’s disruptive ways haven’t ceased, and he has already burned through two more teams since he left Pittsburgh, only strengthens that theory.

But someone needs to tell the Steelers—again, specifically, their receivers—that the best revenge is to live well.

The Steelers did turn in a thorough performance in their 27-3 blow-out victory over the Bengals on Monday Night Football. Unfortunately, it was their first win of the season, which improved their record to 1-3.

As for the receivers, they haven’t had a thorough performance going back to Week 17 of last season, when Brown was deactivated for the Cincinnati game for insubordination.

Brown’s absence was said to be a shocker for the team, which may explain why five active receivers contributed just 160 yards and a touchdown on 16 receptions in a sloppy 16-13 win.

But the offseason was supposed to be a reshuffling of team priorities, with third-year man JuJu Smith-Schuster being shuffled to the top of the deck as the Steelers new number one receiver. Smith-Schuster had 111 receptions for 1,426 yards in his sophomore season and had shown more than enough ability over his first two years to be trusted with the duties as the main focal point of the offense—certainly of the passing game.

Veteran Donte Moncrief was brought in as a free agent in the offseason and was considered a safe bet to assume the duties of the number two receiver. And if Moncrief wasn’t going to be up for the task, surely James Washington, the second-year man from Oklahoma State, would take that all-important leap.

Nothing like that has happened. Actually, the brightest spot of the receiving corps so far in 2019 has been rookie Diontae Johnson, but that may be damning him with faint praise, when you consider he leads all receivers in touchdowns with just two through four weeks.

As for Moncrief, he has three receptions for seven yards so far and enough drops that he’s now very limited in the offensive game-plan.

As for Washington, his best game sans Brown came in Week 17 of last year when he caught three passes for 64 yards. So far in 2019, Washington has just six catches for 88 yards—including zero catches for zero yards against the Bengals on Monday.

All-in-all, Steelers receivers have caught 66 passes for 713 yards and four touchdowns in the five games without Brown. They are averaging a paltry 10.8 yards per reception, which is very possession receiver-like. Finally, no receiver has even approached double-digits in receptions over the past five regular season games. As for 100-yard stat-lines? They’re a mere pipe dream at the moment.

Obviously, I’ve gotten pretty far into this article without addressing the giant elephant in the room, which is the fact that Mason Rudolph, the second-year man from Oklahoma State, has been the starting quarterback for 10 of the Steelers 16 quarters in 2019.

Fair point.

But it would also be fair to point out that the last 10 quarters with Ben Roethlisberger as quarterback may have been even less productive than the 10 with Rudolph. Actually, they were—and with a bullet.

So, what gives with the receivers?

Depending on who you talk to, either they aren’t getting open, or Rudolph doesn’t have the experience just yet to recognize the difference between Big 12 open and NFL open.

It may be easy to say it’s a combination of both, but judging by their last 10 quarters with Roethlisberger as their quarterback, I’m leaning toward the former.

I actually think the Steelers have enough talent to put together a really good receiving corps, at least when you’re talking about the trio of Smith-Schuster, Washington and Johnson. Unfortunately, Moncrief doesn’t appear to be a savvy enough veteran to not only take the heat off of Smith-Schuster, but to give the two less experienced guys a little more time to develop.

And that all adds up to one long first season for the receivers without Antonio Brown around to take the heat off of them by distracting opposing defensive backs.

Film Room: 5 plays that show the Steelers growth in their win vs. the Bengals

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/03/2019 - 8:45am
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Steelers fixed a number of their flaws and won their first game.

The Steelers got their first win when Cincinnati came to Heinz Field this past Monday, but they did more than that. Questions about Mason Rudolph, Randy Fichtner and the defense were answered in a positive way. Everything’s not perfect, the Steelers are still a work in progress, but they showed progress, and that’s always a good sign.

Devin Bush is adapting to the NFL

He’s right in the middle to start the play.

Here the Bengals go after Bush, starting with play action that Bush has consistently bit on too hard, putting himself in bad positions. Here he plays it better, following the runner, but keeping his angles and options open, and because of that the he is able to get around the guard and isn’t stuck trying to go through him. He makes a great play to cause a loss on the play. Bush is improving, his liabilities are slowly disappearing, and that’s going to put him in position to make more plays.

Mason Rudolph is getting more comfortable

The defense played great, but honestly, the real development was the offense moving the ball and extending drives to help the defense stay fresh and effective.

Notice JuJu Smith-Schuster in motion and the DB following.

Cincinnati is showing man, but on the snap they switch to zone. JuJu is the primary read, because he was ahead of his defender and that should be some easy yards. But with the defense actually playing zone the flat defender is right there, and the CB following JuJu drops into the hook zone right where Diontae Johnson is running his hook route. Rudolph scans through both to Conner, who has slipped through the line underneath the LBs. Conner does the rest.

San Francisco was able to kill drives with this kind of disguised coverage, repeatedly Rudolph threw to his pre-snap read even though the defense wasn’t what he had read and his target wasn’t open. This growth from Mason Rudolph set up the win more than anything else. The 49ers defense had a “Get off the Field” card they used over and over again. The Bengals tried using the same trick and the Steelers converted and extended drives.

Taking over the game

There were a good number of things blamed for the Steelers run game struggles, two of the most popular involve running out of shotgun and the OL being in a 2-point stance. While it wasn’t used a lot in the game, the Steelers did put Rudolph under center for 13 plays, and in this play both guards start with a hand on the grass in a 3-point stance.

Here the Steelers do a few things well in this run, running a counter that works, as the defense moves with the counter action giving the blockers a head start, but they also use James Washington as a lead blocker, even if he doesn’t find a defender to block. This play is from the Steelers last drive of the first half, the point of the game where the run game started rolling and the game started to break open.

Setting up the pass with the run

With the Steelers run game and short passing game moving the ball consistently the Bengals relied more and more on their “Big Base” defense that adds a third DT to their normal 4-3 defense. In this play the Steelers have 2 TEs on the field, and the Bengals counter with their big base. The Bengals send their SS on a blitz leaving the two CBs and a deep safety to defend the crossing routes. In this setup all Rudolph has to do is read the FS and throw to the WR facing 1v1 coverage. Dre Kirkpatrick expects a switch, William Jackson III stays on JuJu and what should have been a 1v1 is instead a wide open target. If you watch closely you can see JuJu watching Kirkpatrick and he cuts his route flatter right as Kirkpatrick commits to the switch. Jackson stays with JuJu and Rudolph throws to Johnson. But if Jackson switches, JuJu would have been open due to the flatter route.

This play is taking advantage of the defense committing to stopping the run and puts JuJu in position to read the DBs and make the play work. It’s a great design and call taking advantage of the Bengals adjustments.

Rudolph’s security blanket

Nick Vannett is on the line, top of the screen.

This is an important play for the Steelers, in a 1st and 20 hole and down a time out from a ridiculous Offensive PI call that was laughably upheld, they get 11 yards on an extended play.

Vannett does a great job of slipping out of his defender’s line of sight and then heading back toward Rudolph for an easy 11 yard catch. This kind of heads up play is what the Steelers had from Heath Miller, and Miller made Ben Roethlisberger’s life much easier and more productive for over a decade. Now Nick Vannett isn’t Heath Miller, but making heads up plays like this one help extend drives and frequently turn bad situations into much better ones.

The Steelers needed a win in Week 4, and they got one, but they did more than that, they showed growth. Growth from Mason Rudolph in his ability to succeed against NFL defenses, growth from Randy Fichtner who went outside of the Ben Roethlisberger offense and was creative in how he attacked the defense and helped his QB. Growth from Devin Bush and the defense.

This all makes the next game even more exciting, when the Ravens come to Heinz Field and give the Steelers another challenge.

9 Reasons for optimism at the Steelers’ 2019 Quarter Pole

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/03/2019 - 7:36am
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The case for hopefulness in Steelers Nation as Week 5 approaches.

Well that feels better.

Finally getting in the “win” column is always satisfying, but Monday’s Steelers victory over the Cincinnati Bengals was especially gratifying to watch. Randy Fichtner schemed around the players he’s got (instead of trying to run the killer B’s offense with none of them in uniform), and the Keith Butler/Mike Tomlin defense absolutely dominated all day, with almost three times as many sacks registered as points allowed (and this on the heels of their five takeaway performance last week).

There are undoubtedly skeptics who will suggest that Steelers Nation cool its jets, because the Bengals are a bad team (which they are). In fact, just this week the consternation was so acute that some were suggesting this would be a historically bad year in Pittsburgh, giving the Steelers a top-10 draft pick for the first time in almost 20 years (which, in 2020, would go to the Miami Dolphins, after the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade). Some of those skeptics may even pop up in the comments section here.

To them, I say: just like Coach Tomlin, I don’t live in my fears. So rather than artificially lower my expectations in the wake of a potentially season-altering route, I’m going to revel in the case for cautious optimism at the season’s quarter pole.

Here are nine reasons why the Steelers are in remarkably good shape for a 1-3 team:

1 – They’re in the thick of the division.

Beating the Bengals didn’t just staunch the bleeding on a wounded season; it put the Steelers only one game back on Cleveland and Baltimore in the AFC North, and gave them a 1-0 division record.

To be 1-3 in the AFC East or West (each of which boasts a 4-0 club) is already to be competing for a Wild Card spot at best, which will be tough this year. I have a suspicion that any dreams of postseason glory for the Steelers go through the division title. And in a division with a pair of 2-2 clubs at the top, a 1-3 record (with all four games against those leaders yet to come) is actually not a bad place to sit.

2 – The rest of the division is not as hot as advertised.

The Baltimore Ravens came out of the gates on fire, blasting Miami 59-10 in week 1, and leading the talking heads to declare that Lamar Jackson was going to revolutionize the quarterback position. (Side note: can we stop saying that? I’ve been hearing that running QBs will “change the game” since Randall Cunningham was an Eagle. It’s a style of play that works sometimes and doesn’t at other times; it’s never going to be a “revolution.”) Anyway, the Ravens defense also looked fast and mean in pounding the Dolphins and Cardinals, and their offense was going to be one of the best.

That is, until they ran up against a very good Chiefs offense that ran them all over the stadium. But hey, the Chiefs are a powerhouse, people said; Baltimore was still a force to be reckoned with. Until Sunday, against a mixed-bag Cleveland Browns team that blew them off their own field. These two opponents rolled up 500+ yards in consecutive weeks for the first time in Ravens history. Suddenly Baltimore’s six-point victory over winless Arizona in week 2—last year’s worst squad, incidentally—looks less like an anomaly on the Ravens’ march to the division crown, and more like a bellwether for an uneven Baltimore team. It’s possible that beating up on one of the worst teams in NFL history fooled a few folks.

Meanwhile, the Browns won the offseason, as we all know. And (as often happens with those teams) has largely looked flat on the field. They blasted the Ravens this weekend, but were themselves blasted by an unreliable Tennessee Titans team a couple weeks ago. This looks like it’s going to be an up-and-down squad all year—talented for sure, but lacking in stable leadership, and eminently beatable.

Lots of people want to claim that their victory over the Ravens was Cleveland’s coming out party – the game where it all started to gel – but it’s hard to feel confident about the up-and-down Browns.

In short: this division is up for grabs.

3 – Even during their 0-3 start, the Steelers didn’t look nearly as bad as people said.

The opener against New England was a shock and a shame. We didn’t know Ben Roethlisberger was hurting yet, or that Donte Moncrief’s hands were made of solid granite, so that game got ugly fast. But the other two losses were NOT awful.

In weeks 2 and 3, the Steelers lost to two teams who are a combined 6-1, and they lost by a combined 3 points. Moreover, both games came down to a real toss-up moment or two. Against Seattle, the overturned DPI call against Terrell Edmunds that extended the Seahawks’ scoring drive may have been the difference in the game. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, James Conner should have been able to bleed out the clock in the final five minutes, but fumbled on Steelers territory instead. In other words, the Steelers probably would have beaten the 49ers even after turning 5 turnovers into only 6 points, if not for a poorly timed mistake.

The Steelers didn’t play perfect football in either game, but they could very easily be 3-1 right now, despite opening against three playoff favorites and a division rival. 1-3 hurts, but (with the exception of the opener) these guys haven’t been blown off the field.

4 – History suggests that this team can end strong.

I know skeptics will point to last season, when the team dropped four games down the stretch to miss the playoffs, but that’s much more the exception under Mike Tomlin than the rule.

If Tomlin’s teams have a trend over the last half-decade, it’s starting slow and finishing strong. This might be a reflection of the players needing time to gel as a team, or new additions needing time to learn new assignments. Or it might be a sign that the Steelers study film better than we give them credit for, and are better prepared for opponents when there’s more game film to watch. But whatever the case, this is how the Steelers started and finished over the last six years:

(For context, it’s worth noting that the team’s final regular season losses the last two years came as result of two rules which were subsequently changed—the Jesse James touchdown catch against New England in 2017, and the Joe Haden pass interference calls against the Saints last year. Today’s rules would have given the Steelers a win in the first, and potentially a win in the second, creating a staggering 21-3 record over the final quarter of the last six seasons.)

That said, 19-5 is nothing to cough at either. Nor is the collective 36-12 record over these seasons’ second halves. (And please note, skeptics, I’m including last year’s swoon in these numbers.) Tomlin’s teams tend to improve as the season wears on. A slow start is not a death-blow for this squad.

5 – They’re not out of the woods, but the most challenging stretch may have already happened.

The Steelers’ first three opponents have a combined record of 10-1. It’s not like the schedule becomes smooth-sledding at any point, but that opening stretch was unusually brutal.

Moving forward, the team will play Baltimore twice and Cleveland twice, as well as tough games against the Chargers, Rams, Colts, and Bills(!) still to come. These are all respectable, even strong teams. But every one of them is flawed, and all of them are beatable.

The Rams, for example, just gave up 55 points in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Colts just lost at home to a Raiders team coming off of two consecutive blowout losses of its own.

The Chargers’ only convincing victory came Sunday, against the aforementioned horrific Dolphins. (They are 1-2 otherwise.)

And the defensive powerhouse in Buffalo just lost their promising-but-developing quarterback (for who knows how long).

Meanwhile, Cleveland and Baltimore have already taught us not to trust preseason hype or blowouts against bottom-feeders.

This season is more wide-open than it looks, especially for a team that came a breath from knocking off strong teams the last two weeks and stomped a division rival (albeit a bad one) this week. It would be foolish to predict that the Steelers run the table (ha!), but it would be short-sighted and defeatist to count them out at this point.

6 – Leadership and selflessness are bringing this squad together.

Here’s an example of leadership and selflessness: JuJu Smith-Schuster was one of the most statistically impressive wide receivers in the NFL last year. His career numbers are off the charts for a kid as young as he is. And he’s under some real external pressure to live up to both the “number one WR” moniker, as well as to play well enough to make everyone forget Antonio Brown. JJSS caught only three passes for 15 yards against Cincinnati. He didn’t play badly; he simply wasn’t a big part of the available game plan.

And instead of freaking out on the sidelines, getting into Mason Rudolph’s ear, and pouting about not getting the ball, JuJu had a blast anyway because the Steelers won.

He coached up Dionte Johnson after Johnson’s early fumble; he blocked like a madman all day downfield; and he harassed his teammates about their post-game plans to try to catch them on his MNF mic. In other words, he was fully a part of the game and the team even though he didn’t get his numbers.

How refreshing to see a WR1 who’s capable of catching a dozen balls—of going up for a contested catch anywhere on the field, converting the tough third downs, or outrunning the defense on a breakaway bomb—who is happier winning with his team than losing with his numbers. That’s exactly the kind of example team leaders need to be setting this fall.

7 – Creativity and fearlessness from the coaches is also helping.

Much is currently being said about Randy Fichtner’s wildcat game plan against Cincinnati. But I think three points are worth drawing out here:

-- This never would have been deployed if Big Ben was under center. Which is to say, Fichtner figured out that you have to scheme to your players sometimes, rather than fit your players to the scheme. That’s called smart coaching.

-- Mike Tomlin called it “a little gimmicky” in acknowledging that you’ve gotta do what it takes to win. Which is to say, we shouldn’t expect this to be the only Steelers offense we see all year. And that’s exciting. Significant schematic changes didn’t make as much sense when Big Ben was in the lineup, because he was the engine for everything. But now we might see some real creativity. I like it.

-- The Steelers didn’t run particularly well, unless they did. Many have suggested that Mason Rudolph will need a strong running game (like Roethlisberger had as a rookie) to help him acclimate to the game. The Steelers have inexplicably flat-lined as a rushing team this year, but Monday’s flip-passes and jet-sweeps, which frequently go into the stat sheets as passes, are effectively running plays – they utilize Jaylen Samuels in multiple ways, and get James Conner in space a little, where he’s clearly more effective and comfortable. In other words, they’re taking an unconventional route to accomplish a traditional goal. That’s creative, and it worked.

Meanwhile, I’m a week late in pointing at Minkah Fitzpatrick, but I love the fearlessness of going out and getting him. This is a team that recognized its defense was going to have to grow up quick, and so snagged a young, top-11 draft pick with a year of experience right now.

I remember the 2008 Steelers well enough to believe that you can win with a talented but unreliable offense, if your defense gets the job done. These guys aren’t the 2008 edition, but they are a whole lot better today than they were a year ago, when Artie Burns and Jon Bostic were in the starting lineup and we were impatiently waiting for Morgan Burnett to get healthy.

8 – Newcomers have started to play like professionals.

Let’s check in on some of the newest Steelers:

Rookie Devin Bush had a terrific game Monday, and is still very much in the discussion for NFL Rookie of the Year. He has lived up to expectations and more.

Rookie Dionte Johnson atoned for an early fumble Monday by catching six passes for 77 yards and a touchdown – his second deep score in two weeks. He is becoming Mason Rudolph’s favorite target, and (if he can get his consistency up), might wind up being a real asset for years to come.

Mark Barron played much stronger football this week than last. After looking overmatched and slow against the 49ers, Barron recorded a game-high eleven tackles and tacked on a back-breaking end zone interception to boot.

Nick Vannett slid seamlessly into the Steelers starting lineup at tight end. He blocked well all day and caught a 17-yard outlet pass on a busted play to convert a third and long. (He’s not Heath Miller for sure, but you could be forgiven for having flashbacks to Big Ben breaking from the pocket and hitting Heath for a first down on that play.)

Minkah Fitzpatrick seemed to play a quiet game (four tackles, no pass breakups or takeaways) after his explosion against the 49ers. But then again, he was part of a secondary that held the previously powerful Bengals passing game to 102 yards and 2.3 yards per attempt(!). When you win 27-3 and your safety plays 69 snaps but only gets in on four tackles, that’s not an indictment of the safety at all.

All total, this was a game that pumped some life into the Steelers’ hopes. Maybe it was just the Bengals. Maybe it was that Mike Tomlin Monday Night Football magic. Maybe it was all an illusion. But for now, I think there’s real reason for optimism in Steel City. Keep your fingers crossed. We’ll know a lot more when the rubber hits the road this Sunday.

Go Steelers.

The next step in Mason Rudolph’s quarterback development

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/03/2019 - 6:32am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the Steelers’ young QB grows each week, an one particular important step will help him and the team as the season progresses

First start. Check.

First win. Check.

The list will continue to grow for Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph as the 2019 season continues. With Ben Roethlisberger out for the year with an elbow injury, Rudolph will have 14 and a half games to get acclimated and show he is a quality NFL quarterback. While the game plan seemed ultra conservative in his first start, the offense was opened up a little more on Monday by using the wildcat. Add in going 24 of 28 passing with two touchdowns, Rudolph’s first win was a nice progression from the previous week.

So what is the next thing that Rudolph can do in order to make the Steelers offense better with every start? Most people would say he needs to take more shots down field. While I agree with this, I do not think it is the most important thing to happen. It may be the next thing, but there’s something else which will help the offense that many people may not have noticed.

Checking out of plays.

I’m going to site two specific examples from Monday nights game against the Bengals where Rudolph would have been wise to change the play at the line of scrimmage. It is unclear if he has the freedom to do this at this time, or if he simply lacks the confidence in changing what the coach has called. Either way, almost anything Rudolph checked to would have been better than the result of these plays (assuming there wasn’t a turnover). Both plays came on third down and went for a significant loss which resulted in a field goal on the very next snap.

So here is a breakdown of what Rudolph should have seen Monday night and why calling an audible could have been a good idea.

Play #1

2nd Quarter
1:48 Remaining
Ball on the Cincinnati 6 yard line
3rd down & 2 yards to go

The Steelers come out in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WR’s) with Rudolph under center for the play. The tight end is to the left of the formation as an H-back (off the line of scrimmage) with JuJu Smith-Schuster lined up on the line in tight next to him. Two wide receivers are lined out wide to the right. James Washington goes in motion from the right to lineup in the tight H-back position identical to the tight end on the opposite side. The defense has four down lineman with six players in a line 4-5 yards off the ball.

As Rudolph is under center, you can see he’s not even reading the defense with his head up. This might have been one of the problems in tipping off that it was a run play. If he had been looking and scanning the field, he would have seen the outside linebacker on the Steelers left side of the formation creeping up to the line to blitz where the Steelers were planning to run the ball.

At the snap, JuJu Smith-Schuster was unable to seal down for the block on the blitzing linebacker. James Washington pulled across the formation as a lead blocker for Jaylen Samuels to run off the left end. Unfortunately, Washington had to meet the blitzing linebacker before he could get to the outside.

The single blitzing linebacker blew up the play by causing Samuels to have to try to run to the outside. Because that was the direction Washington was blocking his man, he blocked him right into the play. The Steelers ended up losing 5 yards and kicking a field goal on the next play.

Had Rudolph been able to dissect that the Bengals were going to be blitzing a linebacker where the play was going, an audible to a play action pass could have been quite effective. Even if it wasn’t, throwing the ball away would have been better than the 5-yard loss.

Is the failure of the play on Rudolph alone? Absolutely not. JuJu Smith-Schuster missed the block. Jaylen Samuels needed to go inside behind James Washington rather than outside. But even if he did, there still wasn’t much there to get the first down. So while Rudolph was not responsible for the failed play, checking to something else in that moment would have been a wise decision.

Play #2

4th Quarter
6:37 Remaining
Ball on the Cincinnati 27 yard line
3rd down & 4 yards to go

The Steelers are yet again in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WR’s), but this time they are in shotgun with James Connor to Rudolph’s right side. The tight end is lined up on the left with two more receivers out wide and a single receiver split to the right. The defense has four down lineman with two linebackers up on the line of scrimmage over the center. Each wide receiver has a defensive back paired up with him on the line of scrimmage while one lone defender is three yards off the ball over the tight end. Ten defenders are up tight with one free safety deep.

Right away Rudolph should have been able to diagnose pressure was coming up the middle. If a pass play is called, he will need to make sure he gets the ball away quickly if he doesn’t have extra protection. Instead, a run up the middle is the play called where there were more defenders than blockers.

In this situation, Rudolph should have either changed the play to an outside run, or a pass with Conner helping to pick up the additional pass rusher. All three wide receivers had single coverage. It was a great scenario to get JuJu Smith–Schuster or Deonte Johnson free on the left side or take the deep shot to James Washington on the right with the single coverage and the safety shading towards the three-receiver side.

Once again, it is unclear how much liberty Rudolph has in changing plays at the line of scrimmage. Does he have the freedom to take a deep shot on third and four much like Ben Roethlisberger would? In this scenario, the team was already in field-goal range and the play called was destined to be a disaster (which it was). This was the perfect opportunity for the deep shot to Washington if a shorter route to one of the other receivers was not available.

As the Steelers attempted to run the play up the middle, Pouncey and DeCastro double-teamed the defensive tackle to start. But due to the blitzing linebacker, DeCastro had to come off early and Pouncey was not in the correct position to make the play on the tackle who blew up the run for a 4 yard loss.

So there are two examples where it would have been in the Steelers’ best interest for Mason Rudolph to check out of the play they were running and call an audible for something else. Hopefully as he becomes more comfortable with the offense and the calls, he will be given the freedom and the tools to make these plays.

Podcast: Will the Steelers be able to “stack wins” by beating the Ravens?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/03/2019 - 5:35am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially underway, and the news is really 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 flagship podcast The Standard is the Standard. On this show Jeff Hartman and special co-host Lance Williams break down all things Steelers!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Breakdown of the upcoming game vs. the Ravens
  • Predictions
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, and Lance Williams 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: Devin Bush was drafted for games like this Sunday vs. the Ravens

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/03/2019 - 4:32am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers are moving into Week 5 of the NFL regular season, and as the team prepares for the Baltimore Ravens, 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 when the Steelers traded up in the 2019 NFL Draft for Devin Bush, they moved up for games like this Sunday vs. the Ravens.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Steelers made a very aggressive move in the 2019 NFL Draft to go up and get Devin Bush. Games like this Sunday at Heinz Field vs. the Ravens is exactly why they got him.

Kevin Gorman: Steelers counting on LBs Mark Barron, Devin Bush

By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Neither Mark Barron nor Devin Bush has ever played against Lamar Jackson, so the Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebackers can only go by what they have watched on film.

Barron and Bush are impressed by the Baltimore Ravens second-year quarterback, who has evolved into the NFL’s most dangerous dual-threat playmaker.

“It’s most definitely a different dynamic with him being as high-level as he is, as far as running the ball,” Barron said. “As far as being a running quarterback, he’s probably the best one in the league at this moment.”

The Steelers are well aware of Jackson’s passing ability, given he has completed 65% of his passes for 1,110 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.

When the Steelers played the Ravens last season, Jackson had yet to supplant Joe Flacco as the starter and was still in a specialized role, with nine carries for 27 yards and only one pass for 12 yards in two AFC North games against the Steelers.

Now, the Steelers respect Jackson’s arm as much as his legs.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Thought the Steelers run defense has been tested so far in 2019? Think again...

Steelers run defense to face stiffest test against Ravens

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Overlooked in the Pittsburgh Steelers sacking Andy Dalton a career-high eight times Monday night was that the defense produced its best performance stopping the run in a 27-3 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Opponents averaged 139 rushing yards against the Steelers in their 0-3 start. The Bengals finished with just 73.

By stopping the run effectively, the Steelers turned up the pressure on Dalton, sacking him eight times and hitting him 12 others for the defense’s most dominant showing of the season.

“We all gush and talk about how we want to rush the passer and get the sacks,” said defensive captain Cameron Heyward, who had 2.5 sacks against the Bengals, “but if you don’t stop the run and get off the field, you’re not going to get those opportunities. When we do get those opportunities, we salivate those moments. But we have to make sure we get more of them.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The Steelers are home underdogs in Week 5, and this is pretty much uncharted territory for the black-and-gold.

Steelers a home underdog for only the 2nd time in almost 3 years

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Pittsburgh Steelers won their first game of the season Monday. The professional sports handicappers aren’t impressed that it will be enduring.

For just the second time since Week 7 of the 2016 season, the Steelers are a home underdog. According to www.BetOnline.ag, the Baltimore Ravens are 3 ½-point favorites for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Steelers at Heinz Field. Per BetOnline, before this week, the only time since mid-2016 the Steelers were underdogs at home was last season’s Week 15 game against the New England Patriots.

The Steelers won that game, 17-10. But they lost to the Patriots as a 7 ½-point home underdog on Oct. 23, 2016, when a Landry Jones-led Steelers team lost, 27-16.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

.@CamHeyward & @Bud_Dupree speak about the challenges of facing the Ravens. pic.twitter.com/FR5Xs8gLzr

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 2, 2019

.@BobLabriola: I don't want this team to develop the mindset that more gimmicks is always better.

FULL : https://t.co/MQPW28OtOy pic.twitter.com/PCVh2aWxK5

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 3, 2019

TURN ⬇️ FOR WATT‼️@_TJWatt pic.twitter.com/M03GK4qn5w

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 3, 2019

It was a special weekend for Tyler Sweet from Malone, N.Y., who enjoyed an experience of a lifetime thanks to the Steelers and Make-A-Wish.

More: https://t.co/DgLcUYFRP9 pic.twitter.com/yEN4BpxMvV

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) October 2, 2019

Taryn Christion talks to the media following his first practice about getting the call to join the practice squad, adapting to a new role, training since preseason and more. pic.twitter.com/2wzOrnxo3k

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 2, 2019

Steelers Injury Report: one key player returns to practice Wednesday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/02/2019 - 3:03pm
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Unfortunately, three other players from Monday night were not ready to go for Wednesday’s practice

The Pittsburgh Steelers are operating on a short week after their Monday night victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. As they prepare for another divisional game at Heinz Field, several players who missed Week 4 have a chance to come back against the Baltimore Ravens. According to the Steelers PR Department, eight players sat out the first practice on Wednesday.

Vince Williams returned to practice Wednesday and was a full participant after missing the last two games. The Steelers go up against the Ravens potent rushing offense, so getting their best run-stopping linebacker healthy will be much welcomed addition.

As expected, Roosevelt Nix did not participate in practice on Wednesday as there has been no indication given as to when he will be able to return to action. Nix has been out since leaving the Steeler’s Week 1 game with a knee injury. Additionally, Anthony Chickillo was still unable to return from his foot injury after missing the last two games.

Vance McDonald missed Monday’s game with a shoulder injury and was unable to suit up on Wednesday. Nick Vannett filled in for McDonald in Week 4 and had a solid Steelers debut after being acquired via trade from the Seattle Seahawks last week.

New players to the injury report were James Conner (ankle), Cameron Heyward (quadriceps), and JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe). None of these players practiced in any capacity on Wednesday, so their participation moving forward will be key in playing on Sunday.

Maurkice Pouncey and Mark Barron both sat out of Wednesday’s practice as a coaches decision. While Pouncey has traditionally been given off Wednesdays, Barron’s normal day off had been Thursday until this week.

As for the Ravens injury report, it can be seen below courtesy of Steelers.com. Both CB Jimmy Smith and DT Brandon Williams were unable to practice due to knee injuries.

Baltimore Ravens Participation/Injury Report, Week 5

Wednesday, October 2
TE Mark Andrews (Foot) - DNP
CB Jimmy Smith (Knee) - DNP
S Earl Thomas (Not Injury Related) - DNP
DT Brandon Williams (Knee) - DNP
DB Brynden Trawick (Elbow) - Limited

BTSC Bookie: Deciding between the spread or the moneyline for the NFL Week 5 games

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/02/2019 - 2:15pm
Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for the BTSC community to show they could cash in betting on NFL football games, this time deciding on the better payout between straight up or spread

It is time for the Week 5 installment of BTSC Bookie! This is a chance for the BTSC community to collectively choose games in which to place an imaginary wager of “BTSC Bucks.” Each week I will remind everyone of the rules and explain an aspect of betting in order to further educate those interested about the process.

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

The Process
  • We will start with $500 in BTSC Bucks for the season. If we bust, we may borrow from the BTSC Bookie, but will have to pay 20% interest each week it isn’t paid. It’s a steep price, but there are consequences to failure.
  • All games this week will be betting straight up against the moneyline or against the spread.
  • There will be 12 betting lines for users to place a vote. The values are as of Tuesday evening and they are locked in throughout the voting. The polls will run until Saturday night at 11:59 PM and the top three results will have wagers placed: $100 for the top choice, $50 for the second choice, and $25 for the third.
  • A write-in campaign can be staged for voting. If any comment in the weekly article brings up a different game in the comments to make the wager and can receive enough recommendations to place it in the top three vote-wise, it will be calculated accordingly. I know it’s highly unlikely for a comment to receive that many recommendations, but if it does it will count.
  • Thursday games will not be included due to obvious time constraints.
  • Some games may have the two opposing lines as an option. If so, only the higher vote-getter will be eligible for the wager. For example, if betting on the Steelers in Week 5 earns the most votes while betting for Baltimore is the second highest, only the bet for the Steelers will be placed. This will hold true for moneyline bets as well.
  • Betting both for and against the Steelers will always be an option.
Last Week’s Wager

For Week 4, the majority of the users voted for the Steelers to beat the Bengals straight up, even though the payout was so small it almost wasn’t worth the bet. Although the Steelers won 27-3, the moneyline was -210 so the $100 dollars only earned $47.62 toward the pot. Yes, the Steelers are our team and we were confident they were going to win, but placing a bet on that moneyline is high risk with little reward.

As for the other two games, the $50 wager was the smartest bet placed which was on Jacksonville to defeat Denver at +150 which came in second place in the voting. Since the Jaguars won the game, we earned $75. There is an important lesson t be learned here as a $50 bet gave a 50% larger total payout than the $100 bet.

The New York Giants vs. the Washington Redskins had a $25 wager on the Giants at -145. Although it was less than 1/1 odds yet again, the moneyline wasn’t nearly as terrible as the -210 in the Steelers game and earned a payout of $17.24. In all, we earned a $139.86 profit on all three games. While the profit was nice, putting up $175 and winning every bet didn’t gain us more than we invested.

Week 3 Balance: $615.69 Week 4 Net Gain/Loss: +$139.86 Week 4 Total: $755.55 Betting the Moneyline vs. the Spread

One other thing to consider while placing a bet is whether or not to bet the spread. One option is to place a wager against the moneyline for a team to win straight up. While this seems to be much easier, the payouts are less if picking a team favored to win but can be quite large when choosing an underdog. To better understand, here is a rundown on betting the moneyline vs. the spread according to Odsshark.com.

Moneyline vs Spread: Finding Betting Value

Typically, the moneyline odds on a favorite don’t appear to have much significance. Sportsbooks will give points to an underdog and take points away from the favorite. This can be pretty valuable when betting on a heavy favorite if their moneyline is outrageous at something like -200 where you’d have to bet $200 to win $100. That same team could be -8.5 favorites and if they cover that by winning by nine or more points, the odds could be lower at, let’s say, -130. In some cases, you can even find plus (+) money if the spread is very large. In scenarios like that, an NFL spread may be more useful because you are confident in a team winning but there may be more worth for that team to win by 8.5 or more points.

Continuing with the moneyline vs spread debate, a straight-up bet can be very profitable if you have an angle or consensus data on why the underdog is going to win the game. Unless it’s a close game with pick’em odds (where both teams are offered at -110), the dog usually has plus odds. For instance, the Seahawks could be -200 favorites to beat the Chargers, who are coming back at +150. If you feel that Los Angeles is going to win when you make your picks, you could lay down $100 and profit an extra $150.

When you are deciding to bet on the underdog, it’s always important to consider both the NFL moneyline and the point spread. If the point spread is low, such as +2.5, the odds will likely be greater to just bet that team to win outright rather than succumb to their opponent by two or fewer points. If an underdog team has a spread of +2.5, the odds for that may be -160 whereas for them to win outright would likely be plus-money, maybe at +130.

Final scores matter for both sports betting options, and sportsbooks will offer NFL odds on both spreads and moneylines, but it all comes down to where you think the betting value lies. Just remember that when you bet on a point spread, you’re actually betting on the number of points a team needs to cover and not the final score like you would with the moneyline.

Week 5 Options

Here are the options chosen for the Week 4 betting exercise. Make sure you cast your vote in the poll. If you want to play your own game, leave your choices in the comments below and keep track of your total throughout the season. I’ve expanded the field to 12 entries due to the restrictive nature of the choices.

For this week, payouts are based either on the moneyline, which will be in parenthesis after those selections, or against the spread with the payout listed. Remember a “+” moneyline has a higher payout while a “-” moneyline pays less than 1/1 odds. For each winner, a spread choice and a moneyline choice will be given. As stated earlier, only one choice per game will have a wager. In other words, between the spread and moneyline for each the Steelers and the Ravens, only one bet will be placed even if another choice is in the top three in votes. If you wish to vote for more than one, clear your “cookies” on your browser and vote again.

PFF puts a bow on the Steelers big win over the Bengals in Week 4

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/02/2019 - 1:15pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers were victorious in Week 4 vs. the Cincinnati Bengals, and the folks at PFF put a bow on their latest win before moving on to Week 5.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were big winners in Week 4 when they throttled the Cincinnati Bengals 27-3 on Monday Night Football. The extra day in preparation means a quick turnaround as the Steelers now have to prepare to face the Baltimore Ravens.

Before the Steelers host another AFC rival at Heinz Field, it is worth taking another look back at what went right, and what went wrong, vs. the Bengals Monday night. Luckily for us, the folks at PFF broke down the Week 4 game and have some interesting notes surrounding the game that was.

Take a look at what they had to say:

Mason Rudolph was handled with gloves tonight, as the Pittsburgh offense ran mostly jet sweeps and even brought in running backs to run wildcat plays on a large number of snaps. Rudolph was, however, hit a wide-open Diontae Johnson for a long touchdown on a crossing route where the defense miscommunicated on a switch.

James Conner bounced back from a down Week 3 with physical running all night long. He broke tackles and rumbled his way to first down after first down and scored a touchdown, as well. A number of his touches came on jet sweeps from wildcat quarterback Jaylen Samuels, which allowed him to get downhill quickly where the Bengals’ defense had a tough time limiting his yards.

Rookie Takeaways

Johnson took advantage of blown coverage and hauled in the long touchdown, but it was rookie Devin Bush that really starred for the Steelers. He made a positive impact rushing the passer, defending the run and staying back in coverage in what was an overall solid performance.

For those out there who might be concerned about Mason Rudolph not pushing the ball down field enough, PFF also took a look at that. See what they had to say:

After the original injury to Ben and being thrown in suddenly during Week 2, Rudolph had free reign and pushed the ball downfield with an 8.4 average depth of target. That week, Rudolph had the lowest negatively graded play rate among quarterbacks. In Week 3, the Steelers pulled back and hardly allowed Rudolph to throw the ball downfield and get into a rhythm with a 6.8 average depth of target. Wait, it gets even better – Rudolph’s average depth of target in Week 4 against Cincinnati dropped all the way to 3.0 and had just three attempts traveling 10 or more yards downfield. Again, this is #notgood.

As professed countless times by PFF, relying on the run is not a viable way to survive as a team in the NFL and leads to low productivity against average teams. Clearly, Cincinnati is not an average team – they are one of the worst in the league. What makes this an even more questionable strategy is the fact Rudolph has an excellent track record as a deep passer.

...

To recap, the Steelers were inefficient in their scripted run plays to start the game and opted to throw minimal passes downfield with a guy who’s deep passing is his greatest attribute. The Steelers were handed some lemons and they made gross, restaurant lemon water.

After looking at the above information, how do you feel about the Week 4 win? Is it a case where the Steelers seem to be on the road of improvement? Or was Week 4 just a win against a very bad team? Let us know what you think in the comment section below!

Steelers add another quarterback to the practice squad

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/02/2019 - 12:14pm
photo: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

In preparation for the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers bring in a player to emulate Lamar Jackson

Before taking the practice field on Wednesday, the Steelers made a move in regards to the practice squad to bring in former South Dakota State quarterback Taryn Christion.

We have signed QB Taryn Christion to our practice squad.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 2, 2019

A three-year starter at South Dakota State, Christion has 814 completions for 11,535 yards with a total of 104 touchdowns and 34 interceptions. Known for his mobility, Christian also rushed for an additional 26 touchdowns with 408 attempts and 1,515 yards.

Christion went undrafted in the 2019 draft, but was in the Dallas Cowboys training camp as a utility player.

Mike Tomlin said Tuesday the Steelers don't have a QB to imitate Lamar Jackson at practice this week. Just in time, they sign undrafted @GoJacksFB product Taryn Christion to the practice squad. Ran 4.49 at his pro day and spent training camp with Cowboys as a utility guy.

— Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) October 2, 2019

It is believed Christion will be tasked with fulfilling the Lamar Jackson role of the scout offense. In four games in 2019, Jackson has 36 rushes for 238 yards and a touchdown, averaging 6.6 yards per carry. With Baltimore averaging over 200 yards per game rushing this season, it is imperative for the Steelers to slow down both Jackson’s passing and rushing yards. In order to get the best possible look in practice, the Steelers felt it was necessary to bring in Christion.

In order to make room on the practice squad, the Steelers released TE Alize Mack. Brought in last week before the trade for the Nick Vannett, Mack was one of three tight ends on the squad.

We have released TE Alizé Mack from our practice squad.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 2, 2019

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

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