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ESPN predicts the Steelers to stumble, but still win the AFC North

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/12/2020 - 10:30am
Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 8-0 at the midway point of the season, but how will things end up? ESPN gives their predictions.

The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t the only 8-win team in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs are 8-1 heading into their bye week, but the Steelers remain the only undefeated team left heading into Week 10 of the 2020 regular season.

Considering the Steelers are halfway through their season, everyone wants to give their predictions for what the second of the season has in store. Of course ESPN got in on the mix, and Brooke Pryor, who covers the Steelers for ESPN, delivered the goods in more ways than one.

Take a look at the recap of the first half of the season:

First half in two words: Still undefeated. The Steelers have a perfect record, but they’re doing it in imperfect fashion. Of their eight wins, five have been decided by only one score — including each of the past three games. But what matters most is that the Steelers have figured out ways to win and have made the big plays in the big moments. The Steelers have shown plenty of weaknesses in the first eight games, such as an inconsistent run game and run defense. But they’ve shown strengths, too, like an ability to fight through adversity. They’ll have to do plenty more of that to put together a second half to match the first.

Of course, there are still questions remaining for the black and gold. They are coming off two come from behind wins on the road against the Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys. But what question remains the largest and looms over the second half of the season?

Biggest question left to answer: Can the Steelers keep it up? The past three games came down to the final possession, but Pittsburgh still managed to eke out wins against two of the top teams in the NFL and a pesky underdog in the kind of head-scratching game the Steelers historically lose. To maintain a clean sheet, though, the Steelers need to show they can put together four quarters of complementary football, something they haven’t done all season. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is playing well, although he and the offense have been fighting through slow starts, and the usually stout defense has been affected by injuries in its run-stopping unit. Can this team stop winning ugly and play like its record?

When you look at the Steelers’ upcoming schedule, you have to wonder how long this perfect streak can last. What game coming up is the most difficult?

Which is the toughest game left? The next one. Yes, it’s coach speak, but it’s true. Though undefeated, the Steelers haven’t played well enough to look ahead at the rest of their schedule to predict tough matchups down the road. Their perfect start was almost ended by a 2-7 Cowboys team on its fourth starting quarterback. The Steelers hold a lead in their division and the AFC, but with games left against divisional opponents such as the Baltimore Ravens and another against the surging Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh needs to win every single game to maintain its standing with Baltimore and the Kansas City Chiefs in close pursuit.

Okay, the big question on everyone’s mind is what will the Steelers’ final record be when the dust settles? And can they dethrone the Ravens as AFC North champions? With a 2.5 game edge over Baltimore, anything is possible with a rematch and 7 other games remaining in the regular season.

Final record prediction: 13-3. Without a second-half bye week, the Steelers won’t finish the season with a perfect mark, but they’ll still win the division.

The Steelers winning the division will be a huge step in the right direction, but can they lock up a bye in the new playoff format? There will be a lot of scoreboard watching in Kansas City and Pittsburgh as this very well could go down to the wire.

What do you think of the second half of the season? Do you think the Steelers will be able to step up their game and finish 13-3, or even better? Let us know in the comment section below!

Report Card: Grading the Steelers first half of the 2020 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/12/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The staff at BTSC gives grades for the Steelers upon the completion of one-half of their games

It seems like the 2020 NFL season has just started and yet the the Pittsburgh Steelers have finished their first eight games and have officially hit the midway point. For the first time in franchise history, the Steelers hit the midway point undefeated with a 8-0 record. But how are they performing as individual units? The staff at BTSC are throwing their grades on the Steelers offense, defense, special teams, and coaches as well as their overall performance.

Let’s see if BTSC judges the Steelers performance to date the same way…

Offense

Dave Schofield: B+
(previous: A-)
The Steelers are still scoring points at a great level, but the declining running attack has to drop the score.

K.T. Smith: B
(previous: A)
I love the Ben Roethlisberger improv routine. The rest of the offense, not so much.

Geoffrey Benedict: C+
(previous: B-)
The Steelers rank 18th in scoring percentage, last year with Ben missing 6 games by the halfway point, the Steelers ranked 18th in scoring percentage.

Jeff Hartman: B+
(previous: B)
Ben Roethlisberger continues to check off more boxes every week. His intermediate and deep passes are improving, and his come from behind magic has this unit trending upward.

Big Bro Scho: B
(previous: B+)
The one thing that jumps out is the inconsistency in the running game. The Steelers also have too many 3 and out possessions. The passing game is the strength of the offense right now.

Shannon White: B-
(previous: B)
Ben Roethlisberger is doing an excellent job utilizing his complete arsenal, with improved ball security. The uninspired game plans and stagnant running game drops this grade.

Bryan Anthony Davis: A-
(previous: A)
The Steelers offense hasn’t really started to click yet and they are still 8-0. The rushing attack is not in disarray, but they need to get back to milking clock, moving chains and sustaining drives. But when Ben Roethlisberger needs to get a crucial score, he and his receiving stable almost always get it done.

Anthony Defeo: B
(previous: B+)
Steelers offense is still quite productive—the team just recorded its lowest point-total of the season with 24 against Dallas—but one has to be concerned about the offensive line and the running game.

Defense

Dave Schofield: B+
(previous: B+)
The pass defense is improving while the run defense is moving in the wrong direction. Hopefully health will improve the situation.

K.T. Smith: A-
(previous: A-)
The run defense is a concern minus Devin Bush. But they weathered Bush’s injury, acquired help in Avery Williamson and remain undefeated. That’s an A.

Geoffrey Benedict: A-
(previous: A)
Devin Bush, Mike Hilton and Tyson Alualu being out hurts. Two games with bad run defense drops the grade, but I expect a bounce back once Hilton and Alualu return. Still a top defense.

Jeff Hartman: B+
(previous: B+)
Not a change from the quarterly grade for a reason. They are still getting after the quarterback at a ridiculous clip, but their rush defense is leaking oil. Still work to be done.

Big Bro Scho: B+
(previous: B+)
No change. Injuries to key players has hurt. Too may rushing yards of late, but the D continues to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Will Butler & company please stop playing so much zone that gets players in horrible matchups?

Shannon White: B
(previous: B-)
The coaches are doing an excellent job of initiating the young newcomers, and they are improving by the week. They continue to excel at rushing the passer and creating turnovers. The rush defense will get a huge boost with the returns of Hilton and Alualu.

Bryan Anthony Davis: A-
(previous: C)
The Steelers lost talent due to injury in the second quarter of 2020 and are still top shelf. Tyson Alualu’s injury may be the most debilitating, because the run defense has struggled in his absence. But when they need to get a stop, they get that stop. The 263 yards given up to the Ravens is an anomaly. This unit is still a huge strength and they score points too.

Anthony Defeo: ) B-
(previous: B)
Keith Butler’s unit is still getting after the quarterback at an incredible pace and still creating more than enough takeaways, but I fear the unit may be weaker than we realize without Devin Bush.

Special Teams

Dave Schofield: B+
(previous: A-)
Until game 8 everything seemed fine. Hopefully it was just an outlier.

K.T. Smith: A-
(previous: B+)
Admit it — Jordan Berry has been great since his return. If he can continue to kick well, the Steelers weakest position group may no longer be a liability.

Geoffrey Benedict: B
(previous: B)
One very bad game hurts, but the special teams were playing great coming into week 9.

Jeff Hartman: B
(previous: A)
If the Dallas game never happened, this unit would still be an A, but the coverage units fell flat on their face. Bad vibes heading to the midway point.

Big Bro Scho: A-
(previous: A)
The drop comes totally off of the last game. Return coverage issues as well as the PAT/FG blocking scheme.

Shannon White: B+
(previous: A)
This grade had to drop after the complete disaster against the Cowboys. Hopefully they got whatever that was out of their systems moving forward.

Bryan Anthony Davis: B-
(previous: B+)
Danny Smith Jr. has seen his unit suffer some losses over the past quarter, but they are hanging in there. The punting is suspect and Boz has missed way too many extra points (3), so that is a concern.

Anthony Defeo: A
(previous: A)
I don’t know what the holy heck happened to the unit in the game against the Cowboys, but I’m not going to drop my grade over the performance in one game. The special teams have been magnificent in 2020.

Coaching

Dave Schofield: B-
(previous: B-)
Tomlin brings this grade up while the coordinators bring it down. Scripted plays on the offense and exploiting matchups on the defense are the biggest concerns.

K.T. Smith: A+
(previous: A)
Coaches get the credit when things go well and the blame when they go bad. The Steelers are 8-0. That’s full credit for the coaches.

Geoffrey Benedict: A+(+++)
(previous: A)
4-0 is impressive, 8-0 is historic. Chuck Noll and the greatest group of players ever assembled didn’t do that.

Jeff Hartman: A+
(previous: A)
How do you argue with 8-0? Never been done in franchise history. Any complaints would be nit picking, in my opinion.

Big Bro Scho: B+
(previous: B+)
Being undefeated should bring it up, but play calling by both Feitchner and Butler still leave me scratching my head at times.

Shannon White: A-
(previous: A)
Undefeated eight games into the season for the first time in franchise history. Unbelievably there is still plenty of room for growth. Still searching for a balance between being over reliant on Ben's improvisational skills and an actual creatively inspired game plan.

Bryan Anthony Davis: A+
(previous: A+)
8-0. It starts with the guys wearing the headsets.

Anthony Defeo: A+
(previous: A+)
If you want wins, you keep getting them. If winning is all that matters, Mike Tomlin and his staff deserve the winningest grade of them all.

Overall

Dave Schofield: A
(previous: A)
The Steelers are 8-0. This is a case where the sum of the parts is greater than what they are individually. The only thing holding back from an A+ grade is the Steelers failed to cover the spread in two of the eight games.

K.T. Smith: A+
(previous: A+)
This is not a perfect team. But they do have a perfect record.

Geoffrey Benedict: A+
(previous: A+)
While the individual games haven’t been as impressive, the Steelers have a 100% win percentage, and that entitles them to an A+

Jeff Hartman: A
(previous: A)
Even with the some issues, this team is 8-0. Can’t complain at the halfway point. Onward and upward from here, and fans are wondering just how far this team can go in 2020.

Big Bro Scho: A
(previous: B+)
How can you not give the last undefeated team an A overall? Are there things to clean up?Sure, as the grades for units point that out, but collectively they have been enough to win each week, so the Steelers as a team deserve an A.

Shannon White: A+
(previous: A+)
Many pundits considered the just completed stretch of four games to be the Steelers toughest of the whole season. They pondered aloud on how many of those games the Steelers would suffer defeat. The answer turned out to be none. Enough said.

Bryan Anthony Davis: A
(previous: A)
To say that this team has exceeded expectations would be an understatement. You might not be comfortable with the close games and you may be waiting for the carriage to turn back into a pumpkin, but this is an amazing ride and the Steelers are becoming excellent drivers.

Anthony Defeo: A
(previous: A)
In the pass/fail world of professional football, the Steelers have a 4.0. Make sense? Probably not, but can’t beat 8-0.

So what do you think? Who at BTSC got it right? What grades do you give to Steelers for each position? Hopefully you answered each poll, but feel free to leave your comments below.

Scouting Report: Steelers vs. Bengals is all about the quarterbacks

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/12/2020 - 8:30am
Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals will square off in Week 10 at Heinz Field, and this matchup is all about the quarterbacks.

This week we are previewing the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0) and the Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1) at Heinz Field. The Steelers eked out a 24-19 win over the Dallas Cowboys last week to complete their first 8-0 start in franchise history. The Bengals were on their bye week. In Cincinnati’s last outing, they upset the Tennessee Titans 31-20.

Pittsburgh’s struggle in Dallas can be seen one of two ways. It can either be forgiven as the natural product of a letdown against a bad team at the end of a three-game road trip after three straight games (Cleveland, Tennessee and Baltimore) that either determined the lead in the AFC North or the conference in general.

Or... it can be seen as a harbinger of trouble. The Steelers gave up 364 yards to an offense led by Garrett Gilbert, who was last seen piloting the Orlando Apollos of the doomed Alliance of American Football (the “Aaaa-hf”). For the third week in a row, they played unevenly. They blew a big lead and held on in Tennessee. In Baltimore and Dallas, they played feckless first halves and had to come roaring back. All three games were not decided until the final play. Eventually, the Steelers’ failure to play sixty solid minutes, and their trend of taking games to the wire, seems destined to betray them.

So, are the 8-0 Steelers an elite team worthy of their unblemished record or are they a flawed team tenuously masking their deficiencies? At times, they have been both. While this gives us little indication of what to expect of them moving forward, in the year 2020, when the unanticipated has become routine, that seems fitting.

The next obstacle in Pittsburgh’s uncertain path is the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are unquestionably a flawed team. Their pass defense is bad. Their run defense is atrocious. They’ve registered just 11 sacks in eight games. Their rushing attack is middling. And yet, there is great optimism in the Queen City these days, all of which centers on top draft pick Joe Burrow. In just eight games, Burrow has cemented himself as Cincinnati’s quarterback of the future. He’s thrown for almost 2,300 yards, including a 406 yard performance in the Bengals’ 37-34 shootout loss to Cleveland in week seven. In Cincinnati’s last outing, Burrow was an efficient 26-37 for 249 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions as the Bengals upset the Titans. Burrow looks like a veteran already and has emerged as a favorite to win the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

The Steelers are heavily-favored in this match-up (they opened in Vegas at -9.5) but, given last week’s result, cannot take anything for granted. Containing Burrow will be a top priority but will not be the only thing they will have to do to win on Sunday. Here’s a closer look at what it will take for the Steelers to defeat the Bengals and get to 9-0.

Let Ben Roethlisberger continue to command the offense

The Steelers’ best offense the past two weeks has been when they’ve gone to a 01 personnel grouping (0 backs, 1 tight end, 4 receivers) and had Ben Roethlisberger call plays at the line of scrimmage. Against Baltimore, they completed an eight-play, 80-yard drive from this grouping late in the fourth quarter to score what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. Against Dallas, they turned a similar trick, moving 79 yards in six plays for the decisive fourth-quarter score. That’s 159 yards in 14 plays for an average of 11.3 yards-per-play. It’s a small sample size but an impressive one nonetheless.

The problem is the rest of the offense. Minus the improvisational 01 package, the Steelers ran 99 plays against Baltimore and Dallas for 417 total yards. That’s a pedestrian 4.2 yards per play. Their rushing attack has been especially ineffective, accounting for just 94 yards on 34 carries (2.7 ypp). Nothing epitomized their struggles in the run game better than a two-play sequence early in the second quarter versus Dallas.

On a 3rd and 1 from the +35 yard line, the Steelers aligned in a traditional 2x2 set with tight end Eric Ebron on the line to the right of the formation. They ran a simple inside zone play. Curiously, rookie Anthony McFarland, all 5’8-205 of him, was the running back on the play. McFarland took the hand-off and had a great opportunity to make a jump-cut into a big hole to his left for what would have been a first down. You can see the hole in the image below:

However, in his eagerness to get downhill, McFarland blew right past the cut. That mistake was compounded when right guard David DeCastro got beat across his face by Dallas’ pinching 3-tech and center Maurkice Pouncey was late chipping off of his double team on the 1-tech. This allowed linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (55) to come through unblocked. Vander Esch stoned McFarland for no gain:

On 4th and 1, the Steelers stayed in 11 personnel but replaced Ebron with Vance McDonald and McFarland with Benny Snell Jr. Here, however, right tackle Chuks Okorafor gave up penetration to a pinching lineman and left guard Matt Feiler could not sustain his block. Snell ran into a wall of white jerseys and the Steelers were turned away.

These two plays underscore some of the problems the Steelers have had the last two weeks in their base offense. Granted, had McFarland cut to his left, the 3rd and 1 would have succeeded. That doesn’t eliminate the fact that four different offensive linemen got beat or failed to execute properly on these two downs. When the Steelers line up in traditional looks and declare their intentions, or when they are predictable by down-and-distance or by formation, they often struggle to execute. They are not, to be blunt, an “impose-your-will” kind of offense.

Once it became obvious they could not move the ball on the ground against Dallas, they abandoned the run game. From midway through the second quarter until their final drive, they threw on 36 of 37 offensive plays. That’s right: 36 passes, 1 run. The results were positive as they scored all 24 of their points in that span. This week, with the league’s 29th-ranked run defense coming to town, the Steelers may be tempted to pound the ball inside in an attempt to get the run game back on track. This approach did not work in Dallas and will probably not work against Cincinnati. They are simply better when they spread defenses out and challenge them horizontally with crossing routes, sweep plays and quick perimeter throws. These spread sets force defenses to simplify their looks and allow Roethlisberger to take what is presented.

Case in point: On the game-winning touchdown pass to Ebron with just over two minutes remaining on Sunday, Roethlisberger recognized man-coverage against Pittsburgh’s empty formation. Linebacker Jaylen Smith (circled below) was assigned to Ebron, who was the #3 receiver in the trips look to Roethlisberger’s left. Roethlisberger made a simple site adjustment at the line, calling for hitch routes from his two outside receivers that would run their defenders off, and sent Ebron on a quick out away from Smith’s leverage. The result was an easy pitch-and-catch (punctuated by Ebron hurdling a Dallas defender into the end zone) that put the Steelers ahead for good.

Fully entrusting the offense to Roethlisberger is a dangerous proposition. He’s 38, surgically-repaired and got dinged up in Dallas. Mason Rudolph looked like a JV quarterback by comparison when Roethlisberger exited briefly just before the half. But their base offense is far less dynamic than Roethlisberger’s improv routine. While some structure will always be necessary, for now, discarding the play script and letting Roethlisberger engineer the offense is their best bet.

Throw the kitchen sink at Joe Burrow

The most disappointing element of the defensive game-plan in Dallas was how infrequently the Steelers blitzed journeyman quarterback Garrett Gilbert. With 7:11 remaining in the fourth quarter, CBS showed a graphic that revealed Gilbert had gone 12-15 for 126 yards and a touchdown when the Steelers did not blitz him. When they did, he’d gone 3-9 for 34 yards with an interception. The Steelers blitzed Gilbert aggressively over those final seven minutes and he went 6-14 for 83 yards in that span, leaving him just 9-23 for 117 yards against the blitz overall.

Why did they wait so long to pressure Gilbert? Why did they hang back in their base 3-4 defense and let Dallas shift and motion their way into favorable matchups with their receivers against the Steelers’ linebackers? Anyone from Garrett Gilbert to Gilbert and Sullivan could have looked proficient sitting in a clean pocket throwing to CeeDee Lamb against T.J. Watt, which occurred on Dallas’s second quarter touchdown. We’ve seen that recipe before from a Keith Butler defense. It often ends in disaster.

The Steelers were fortunate to get away with it in Dallas. Against Joe Burrow, they may not be so lucky. Entering the Baltimore game a few weeks back, Burrow was fourth in the NFL when kept clean in the pocket, a statistic that suggests he is already pretty good at diagnosing zone coverage and throwing accurately into open windows. Undoubtedly aware of this, Baltimore opted to pressure Burrow. They blitzed him relentlessly and forced him into his worst day as a pro. Cincinnati was routed 27-3 while Burrow went 19-30 for 183 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. The pressure kept Burrow from getting comfortable and disoriented him into taking seven sacks and, well, looking like a rookie:

Conversely, Tennessee chose to sit back in a two-high shell and rush four at Burrow (much like they did against Ben Roethlisberger when Pittsburgh visited Nashville a few weeks ago). To quote the late Hank Stram, Burrow effectively “matriculated the ball down the field” with the short and intermediate pass, throwing accurately into the windows in Tennessee’s zones:

Burrow also demonstrated great pocket awareness in that Tennessee game, understanding how to move his feet and find space while keeping his eyes down the field. Watch him below as he slides away from the pass rush and then, rather than continue to bail, re-sets the pocket, allowing him to step in to his throw. His composure and ability to extend plays is reminiscent of a young Roethlisberger. It will take more than three or four rushers to make him uncomfortable.

For Pittsburgh, that means returning to the aggressive formula they displayed throughout much of the first eight weeks of the season. Last week, they played a good deal of base 3-4 because they were worried about Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys rushing attack. Cincinnati ranks 24th in the league at just over 100 rushing yards per game. The base 3-4 may not be necessary to stop the run on Sunday, allowing the Steelers to get more exotic with their personnel packages and subsequent pressure schemes. The more they throw at Burrow the better. He is already too good to defend with vanilla looks and moderate pressure.

Is 9-0 in the cards for the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers? In this strange and uncertain year, it’s hard to say. But giving Ben Roethlisberger the keys to the offense and suffocating Joe Burrow with pressure feels like the hand they should play.

The Steelers are developing some impressive, and young, defensive line depth

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/12/2020 - 7:15am
Mitchell Layton-USA TODAY Sports

Young Steelers defensive linemen Henry Mondeaux and Carlos Davis each made an impact against the Cowboys.

Most successful NFL franchises that have a surplus of talented veteran players that have any amount of tenure with the team face the reality of staying salary cap compliant. Market value across the league dictates all negotiations for star players and established performers. The hard truth for many teams that have sacrificed countless man hours and finances in drafting and developing a talent laden roster is the continuously closing window of opportunity to win the Super Bowl as the bill for all that talent comes due.

The timing of those contracts can be manipulated obviously, and a little good fortune never hurts. Every team has areas of their roster where their depth issues could be considered a weakness. It isn't financially feasible to have proven depth at every position, but the teams that can avoid the drastic drop off in production from their starters to their top backups have the best chance of sustained success. That's where the ability to recognize and develop inexpensive young talent is imperative.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the most consistently competitive franchises during the salary cap era due to their personnel and coaching stability, and established core values. They have a way that they do business, and they don't depart from the plan. The Steelers built through the draft, where they can draft players that fit their system and culture, and teach them the Steelers Way. They are seldom big players in free agency, so player development is crucial for the perennial contender.

One often overlooked aspect is their incredible ability to recognize and develop inexpensive young talent, late round selections and undrafted free agents that have the talent and internal drive to be a professional football player. The ability to unearth these hidden gems has long been a specialty of the Steelers organization. The laundry list of players are too numerous to mention, but the Steelers stand head and shoulders above the rest of the NFL.

We will concentrate our efforts on two examples of that ability for this article. The Steelers presently have three young defensive linemen on their active roster that perfectly illustrate the point of this article. Isaiah Buggs, Henry Mondeaux, and Carlos Davis make up the Steelers defensive line depth. With the Steelers dealing with numerous injuries along the line, these young men have been pressed into service. There have been the inevitable miscues, but they have also flashed impressive potential for those paying attention.

Isaiah Buggs has been garnering snaps for a couple of weeks now, ever since Tyson Alualu went down with a knee injury, and has had his moments. I have covered his solid performances in some recent articles, therefore we will focus on Mondeaux and Davis against the Dallas Cowboys this past Sunday.

Mondeaux made his debut three weeks ago against the Tennessee Titans, and drew attention on two occasions. One was positive, the other not so much. On the plus side, he made a effective block as a fullback that resulted in Benny Snell walking into the end zone for a touchdown. Later he was drawn offside by a hard count, resulting in a first down on an eventual scoring drive for the Titans. I asserted after the game that he didn't quite appear ready for primetime.

That was actually to be expected. Mondeaux went undrafted in 2018 after three years as a starter at Oregon, and after short stints with the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs, he has been a on and off again member of the Steelers practice squad since 2019. Listed at 6'4" and 280 lbs. he doesn't possess the prototypical measurements of a Steelers defensive lineman. For him, the importance of finding the right fit and scheme for his specific skill set should not be underestimated.

Mondeaux showed real improvement in his performance against the Cowboys. He was disruptive and aggressive during his limited opportunities. He appears to have strong hands and displayed impressive leg drive as he drove his blocker backwards as he gained leverage. He just missed a huge sack when Cowboys QB Garrett Gilbert eluded his grasp and scrambled for a long gain. He was credited with a single tackle in the game, but it was a tackle for a loss, something of a Steelers specialty this season. The best compliment I can give the young man is this. He continues to work hard to improve, and he looked like he belonged out there on Sunday.

Carlos Davis has already exceeded expectations this season, especially mine. I gave his seventh round selection out of Nebraska the lowest grade of the Steelers 2020 NFL Draft class. He was unimpressive on basically all the film l could find on him in college, even the highlight packages. He ran a 4.82 forty at 6'2" and 320 lbs of athletic muscle, but he didn't display the motor or consistency to be productive at the NFL level in my opinion. I said he would be lucky to garner a spot on the practice squad. Shows what I know.

The Steelers were so impressed with Davis during training camp that they gave him a roster spot, preferably to captain the weekly inactive list as he honed his craft as a professional in an impromptu redshirt season. The Steelers coaches were that concerned he would be poached off the practice squad. His performance on Sunday, though brief, helped explain that concern.

Wearing #73, he was hard to miss. He appeared both quick and powerful, especially for his size. He was credited with two tackles, with one TFL. However small the sample size, he definitely didn't look overmatched or out of place.

Maybe Mondeaux and/or Davis have a NFL future moving forward, and maybe they don't. But based on what I know about the Steelers proven track record of evaluating and developing diamonds in the rough, I wouldn't bet against it.

3 games to watch in Week 10 which give perspective to the 2020 Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/12/2020 - 6:00am
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There are several NFL games this week which will help get a better understanding of teams the Steelers will or have faced in 2020

The Pittsburgh Steelers are rolling with the first 8-0 start in franchise history. The Steelers escaped Dallas with a win and return to Heinz Field for the first time in almost a month. Of course, this game is the only one that matters this week, but there are some other games which could tell Steelers fans more about this 2020 team.

At the suggestion of one of our faithful BTSC community members, I’m going to include a brief rundown of the previous week’s three games in question to see how they helped shape the narrative of the Steelers 2020 season.

Baltimore Ravens (24) at Indianapolis Colts (10)

The Ravens looked shaky in this game to start off. I thought the Colts might pull one out against them at first, but the fumble which was returned for a touchdown was the difference in this game. Add in Philip Rivers tripping on the turf monster and flailing on his back like a turtle and that play was definitely the play of the game.

New York Giants (23) at Washington Football Team (20)

This game got zero votes in last weeks poll, and rightfully so. Even though the Giants pulled out the victory, it’s still hard to gauge what the Steelers will see when they face the Washington Football Team as they are forced to make another quarterback change.

Houston Texans (27) at Jacksonville Jaguars (25)

Although it wasn’t exactly a “Clash of the Titans,” Houston did pick up their second win of the season over the struggling Jaguars. Surprising to many, it was not due to the poor quarterback play with Gardner Minshew missing the game.

Now that we have closed the page on Week 9 of the NFL season, it’s time to get focused on the next set of games as there is little time in the NFL to dwell on the previous week. For Week 10, here are the three games which could give the most perspective on what the Steelers can expect with some of their future opponents as well as the quality of some of their wins:

Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans Thursday 8:20 PM on FOX/NFLN

I almost didn’t pick this game because the Steelers don’t face the Colts until Week 16, but since they’re playing a team the Steelers have already defeated this one will be interesting to pay attention to as a Steelers’ fans. I think the Colts defense is pretty strong, but I still don’t trust Philip Rivers when it all comes down to it. This game will go along way to see how impressive of a victory the Steelers had over the Titans. I might regret choosing this game as an option over the Bills and Cardinals.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Green Bay Packers Sunday 1:00 PM on FOX

I honestly didn’t want to include this game. I have a feeling this one’s not going to be pretty. But since Jacksonville is the next team on the schedule for the Steelers, it has to at least be a choice. If the Jags can make this game respectable, it could go along way in shaping the narrative for next week.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots Sunday at 8:20 PM on NBC

The Steelers second matchup against the Baltimore Ravens is on the horizon. Even after these two teams face off again, Steelers fans are going to pay attention to what’s going on in Baltimore. If the Steelers manage to get a second win over the Ravens then nothing they do will matter. Until then, the Ravens luck out facing a reeling Patriots team rather than the monster matchup this game could have been once it was known this past January that these two would square off in 2020.

So there are the three main matchups which may give Steelers fans an indication as to the quality of upcoming and past opponents in 2020. As games begin to pile up in 2020, what to expect from each team is getting much easier to judge.

So which of these games will be the most telling as it pertains to the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers? Make sure you vote in the poll and give your thoughts in the comments below.

Podcast: Keeping pace for the rest of 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/12/2020 - 5:30am

The Oracle Dave Schofield shares his thoughts in the AM platform with the classic stats show with the Co-Editor of BTSC.

At the midpoint of the 2020 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are half way to perfection. To do so, they need to keep pace with their performance and stats through the first eight games. This is just one of the topics that will be discussed on the Thursday episode of the AM slate of the BTSC family of podcasts. Join Co-Editor Dave Schofield as he breaks out the Steelers slide rule and geeks out only like he can.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Keeping pace for the rest of 2020
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

You can listen to the show in the player below.

A visual of how dynamic the Steelers’ offense has become

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 11/12/2020 - 4:30am
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense is extremely versatile. How versatile? Let us show you...

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense is both versatile and dynamic. Those two adjectives couldn’t always be used when describing the Steelers’ offense. Even in the days of the Killer Bs, when Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown all patrolled the offense, the Pittsburgh offense often just ran through those three players.

With the trio all long gone from the organization, no one can project which Steelers pass catcher is going to hit it big any given week.

This is great for the Steelers organization, and fans should be ecstatic to watch such a diverse attack developing throughout the 8-0 start, but it can be mind-numbingly painful as a fantasy football owner.

The days of being able to insert Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell into your lineups and being able to get double-digit point totals from both every week are long gone. They have been replaced with guessing if James Washington, Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson or Eric Ebron will be the one who get the majority of targets, and by default the fantasy football points.

Want a visual to know what I am talking about? Check out the graph below. The bottom line are the weeks of the regular season. The vertical line indicates who had the most fantasy football points that week.

Just look at the top names for every week and it is almost different week in and week out.

It's a lie if someone has confidence in which #Steelers WR is about to go off. Upside WR3 roulette for all. pic.twitter.com/f3UiLoaGA2

— Hayden Winks (@HaydenWinks) November 9, 2020

The craziest aspect of the above graph is this isn’t just pass catchers. As you can see, James Conner is included into this chart. When you have receivers out-gaining your running back it says a lot about the game that week, but also how the team moves the football.

Look at the point leaders for each game:

Week 1: Diontae Johnson
Week 2: James Conner
Week 3: James Conner
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Chase Claypool
Week 6: James Conner
Week 7: Diontae Johnson
Week 8: Chase Claypool/JuJu Smith-Schuster
Week 9: Chase Claypool

Again, having a diverse offense with a wide array of targets isn’t a bad thing, but at the same time it can be frustrating for fantasy football owners. I think I speak for everyone when I say most people would gladly sacrifice their fantasy football league for the Steelers’ perfect start.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the Cincinnati Bengals to invade Heinz Field in Week 10.

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