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It’s a little too early for the Steelers and their fans to be flirting with Aaron Rodgers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/07/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Could Aaron Rodgers possibly join the Steelers in 2022? Who cares? The Steelers, including Ben Roethlisberger, their current quarterback, are fighting to right the ship in 2021. Rodgers ain’t got nothing to do with that.

I think we’ve established a lot of things about Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers during his last two appearances on Pat McAfee’s podcast: Rodgers likes yinzers, yinzer accents, the way yinzers pronounce Giant Eagle, Primanti Bros. and its world-famous sandwich, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Dad, the Steelers, head coach Mike Tomlin, and probably the view when exiting the Fort Pitt Tunnel (inbound, of course).

Rodgers and Tomlin seemed to be openly flirting with one another during Sunday’s game between the two teams at Lambeau Field, a 27-17 loss for your Steelers and an outcome that dropped the team to 1-3 to start the year.

McAfee, a former NFL punter and Pittsburgh native, has been kind of encouraging this mutual admiration between the Steelers and Rodgers in an “It’s a shame you two are both in toxic relationships because I think you’d be perfect together” kind of way.

For their part, a lot of the fans seem to be energized by this open flirtation and are already dreaming about the possibility of Rodgers wearing black and old next year.

Anyway, holy cow! The Steelers haven’t even reached their bye, and people are already punting on 2021 and looking ahead to 2022?

See, this is why the Steelers are totally allergic to the thought of rebuilding; heck, I bet they aren’t even allowed to use that word around the office. Why? Because you can’t handle it, that’s why. Just look at yourself. You might as well go and buy one of those cheeseheads and wear it to Heinz Field this Sunday.

Sure, the Steelers are in hell right now. Their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, appears to be holding a lit match at the moment and not a water hose.

You know what they say about going through hell, right? You just keep going.

Look, I’m not saying Roethlisberger isn’t done. In fact, there is more evidence to suggest he’s absolutely washed (a new word the cool kids are now using for “washed up”) than there is that he will ever turn things around at the age of 39.

But is this how the Roethlisberger era should end, with many folks—maybe even his own bosses—pining for Rodgers before the old cowboy has even had a chance to ride off into the sunset?

This is the same organization, and fanbase, that refused to lie down and play dead two years ago, even after Roethlisberger was lost early in the season with a major elbow injury. I remember that trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick. I saw you wearing that Duck hat. I even know some folks who still have Duck jerseys.

It was fun to fight through the adversity, wasn’t it? I don’t remember much giving up or looking to the future. Did it happen in the 2020 offseason? Sure it did. People wanted Jameis Winston. They even desired Marcus Mariota.

But at least it was the offseason. It wasn’t in October, and Roethlisberger wasn’t the active starting quarterback of the Steelers.

Shame on you. Shame on Tomlin. Heck, shame on Pat McAfee.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that there shouldn’t be current discussions about what’s best for the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers moving forward, namely, should Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins be given a chance to start at quarterback?

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I don’t think I’d mind it if Roethlisberger was gently nudged to the bench, even for just the next few games.

What could it hurt? How could this offense possibly perform any worse than it has over the past 12 games or so? Besides, at least Rudolph and Haskins are Steelers. At least they’re around to fight the team’s battles in 2021.

Do you know who can’t possibly help Pittsburgh out of its present funk? Rodgers, the man who should be giving all of his love and attention to his current team, the Packers. OK, I get it, Rodgers may not feel like devoting much love to the Packers. Word is, he doesn’t like his bosses very much.

However, what does it say about Rodgers that he seems to be at least greasing the wheels for a possible move to Pittsburgh in 2022 when he still has 13 games left to play for his current team in 2021, the organization that originally drafted him and has paid him a lot of money over the years?

For the record, I’m a huge Rodgers fan, and he’s one of my favorite players in the NFL. But I don’t have to deal with him. Word has it, he’s a bit of a diva. Heck, I don’t even think it’s much of a secret, actually. Wasn’t he openly critical of his bosses at a press conference right before the season? He made Passive-Aggressive Ben look like Troy Polamalu by comparison.

What makes you think Rodgers wouldn’t bring that same attitude to Pittsburgh in 2022? What makes you think he won’t have the same “My way or the highway” swagger he apparently has with the Packers?

Most importantly, what makes you think Rodgers won’t also fall off the cliff at 38, an age he will reach in December?

You know what comes after 38, right? Would a 38-year old Rodgers be worth the multiple first-round picks it would likely cost to acquire him in the offseason?

Maybe he will. Then again, we all thought Roethlisberger deserved MVP consideration as recently as last Halloween when he was 38 years and seven months old.

Finally, as far as stories are concerned, Rodgers coming to the Steelers next year would be huge. But that’s next year’s news.

The 2021 Steelers are comprised of 53 players who are still trying to figure some things out. Roethlisberger is one of those players.

Maybe Ben Roethlisberger will work things out. Maybe he won’t. But he at least deserves a proper breakup from the franchise and fan base he has spent 18 years making mostly wonderful memories with.

Flirting with Aaron Rodgers in early October when Roethlisberger is still living under your roof is the exact opposite of that.

Podcast: Points may be a premium in the Steelers’ Week 5 matchup vs. Denver

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 10/07/2021 - 4:30am

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

The Steelers and the Broncos aren’t teams that do a whole bunch of scoring. Couple that with tough defenses, scoring may be at premium in their Week 5 matchup. Thank goodness for the Stat Geek to break it all “dahn”. 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 pulls out the Steelers slide rule and geeks out only like he can.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Don’t expect a lot of scoring in the Steelers’ Week 5 dance with Denver
  • and more geeky numbers!

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.

Steelers Injury Report: Chase Claypool limited in practice Wednesday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/06/2021 - 3:07pm
Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

For the third-straight week, the Steelers are hopeful to get back players who missed the previous game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the midst of a three-game losing streak and are looking to bounce back in Week 5. As the Steelers take the practice field for their first day of preparation for the Denver Broncos, 10 names were on the list. In the first injury report of the week courtesy of the Steelers PR department, there were four players who did not participate while five players were limited.

Steelers PR Department

As expected, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not practice on Wednesday as it is his scheduled day off. Just like last week, rather than have him listed as a coaches decision, Roethlisberger is listed as having an injury. This week, it is listed as a pertoral/hip injury versus just the pectoral label the last two weeks.

After missing Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury, Chase Claypool returned in a limited role on Wednesday and is hopeful to get back on the field this week. Another starter who missed this past Sunday’s game was Chuks Okorafor who is still in the concussion protocol. On Wednesday, Okorafor was a full participant and is on his way to be cleared.

Two other players who were out on Sunday due to injury was defensive tackle Carlos Davis and guard Rashaad Coward. After missing three-straight games, Davis still did not practice with his knee injury. As for Coward, he returned in a limited fashion with his ankle injury.

Two players who left Sunday’s game due to injury were Cam Sutton with a groin and Kevin Dotson with a hip flexor. Unfortunately, both players did not practice on Wednesday and their availability for Sunday is now in doubt depending on their progress the rest of the week.

Even though he was able to play this past week, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was limited on Wednesday with a rib injury. Much like last week, Smith-Schuster‘s participation in the final two days of the week will determine if he carries an injury status.

The final two players on the injury report were guard Trai Turner with an illness and defensive tackle Cam Heyward with a neck injury. Both players participated in a limited fashion.

As for the Broncos’ injury report, you can see the names below when available.

Podcast: Is the Steelers biggest problem the first thing that needs fixed? 

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/06/2021 - 2:00pm

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

The Steelers have a lot of problems. There’s a ton of fans and media that believe that they have pinpointed the biggest problem. But is the Steelers’ top dilemma the first thing that needs remedied? This will be just one of the subjects that will be discussed in the latest installment of the BTSC family of podcasts, The Scho Bro Show.

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

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Is the Steelers biggest problem the first thing that needs fixed?
  • Dave and Rich 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.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Steelers continue to keep tabs on the top college quarterback prospects

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/06/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With uncertainty surrounding Ben Roethlisberger growing by the day, so is the list of college quarterbacks the team has got eyes on.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team facing a period of transition. We would all be lying to ourselves if we didn't think the end of the Ben Roethlisberger era was upon us, and the organization is showing it’s beginning to prep themselves by some of their recent actions.

The Steelers are a team that always does its due diligence, but now it’s becoming obvious they are putting a big effort into scouting the 2022 NFL quarterback draft class. The Steelers recently took in a game between the Liberty Flames and Syracuse Orange. Why this is important is because possibly the top passer of this draft class, Malik Willis, plays for Liberty.

#NFL Scouts at #Liberty at #Syracuse game here in the Dome tonight (9/24/21):
Washington
Seahawks
Ravens
Bears
Titans
Bills
Lions
Vikings
Falcons
Panthers
Bengals
Cowboys
Patriots
49ers
Steelers
Eagles
Giants
Raiders
Texans
Packers
Colts

— DT Sports Media (@CallDT) September 25, 2021

Willis is a big arm, uber athletic quarterback prototype that has been lighting up the NCAA as an independent school. The rest of the roster really doesn't feature a lot of high end talent, so anyone watching this game was clearly fixated on the guy wearing number seven in red white and blue. Willis is a threat not only to put numbers up in the air, but he has 1,000 yard rushing potential. He has come close to that number in a shorter college football season, and he did it as a high school senior, so assuming his game translates to the NFL he could easily be a guy that consistently hits that number year after year, much like Lamar Jackson.

This is far from the first time the Steelers have taken to the road to witness a quarterback prospect in person. Just a few weeks ago the Steelers general manger Kevin Colbert was spotted at Chapel Hill watching Sam Howell throw the football. This team is making its rounds with all the top passers in college football, and rightfully so. We have seen organizations like the Browns pick the wrong quarterback time after time for nearly 20 years. If the Steelers want to remain a successful organization hitting on the next quarterback selection will become paramount.

Many young Steelers fans don't know of a time when the Steelers were quarterbacked by anyone not named Ben Roethlisberger. If he continues to play like what we have seen in the early portion of the season I would caution people to mentally prepare for the change to be made. Whether it happens during the season remains to be seen, but one thing looks for certain, the Pittsburgh Steelers should be looking to add a quarterback in the 2022 offseason. The big question becomes who that player is, and how they will acquire him.

But what do you think? Do you expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to select a quarterback with their first pick of the 2022 NFL Draft? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Antony McFarland Jr. returns to practice on Wednesday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/06/2021 - 11:44am
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers now have 21 days to activate McFarland to the 53-man roster.

The Pittsburgh Steelers begin their preparation for their week five game at Heinz Field on Sunday. In some good news for the Steelers on Wednesday, running back Anthony McFarland Jr. returned to practice. McFarland is still officially on the Reserve/Injured List, but by practicing on Wednesday the clock has started as now the Steelers have 21 days to work him back to the active roster. If not, McFarland will have to remain on the Reserve/Injured List for the remaining of the 2021 season.

RB Anthony McFarland Jr. will return to practice today but remains on the Reserve/Injured List.

We have 21 days to activate him to the 53-man roster. If he is not activated during that period, he cannot return to the active roster for the rest of the 2021 season.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 6, 2021

There was no formal announcement as to the injury which placed McFarland on the Reserve/Injured List. All that was said prior to him spending one day on the active roster and landing on IR was he did not travel for the Steelers final preseason game in Carolina, much like Zach Banner.

McFarland is entering his second year in the NFL where he was active for 11 games in 2020. A fourth-round draft pick out of Maryalnd, McFarland had 33 carries for 113 yards along with six receptions on nine targets for 54 yards in his rookie season.

While McFarland could be activated as early as this week, it could be through the bye week before he rejoins the 53-man roster. Exactly how this will shake out the running back room for the Steelers remains to be seen. Other than first-round draft pick Najee Harris who has seen almost all the snaps at running back, the Steelers have only given Benny Snell three carries for 1 yard and one target which he did not catch. As for Kalen Ballage, he saw his first offensive snaps of 2021 in Week 4 but did not receive a carry on any of his four snaps.

With McFarland returning to practice, the only player still on the Reserve/Injured list for the Steelers who is eligible to return is defense end Stephon Tuitt. No update has been given on Tuitt since he went on the IR at the beginning of September.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for breaking news, player updates, injury reports, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare to take on the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field.

Power Rankings: Third straight loss has the Steelers nearing the bottom

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/06/2021 - 11:30am
MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost three in a row, and are now in the bottom third of the NFL in the latest Power Rankings.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were not victorious in their second road game against the Green Bay Packers in Week 4, and the loss to Green Bay has dropped them well out of the Top 10, according to the latest Power Rankings.

These Power Rankings are something which should be taken with a grain of salt, but if nothing else they are good for some healthy debate.

Yes, Power Rankings can be an interesting exercise, and while we don’t put too much stock into these rankings it does give you a taste of how the experts at certain sites view the Steelers. Who do they have topping the rankings this week? The Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers? The Baltimore Ravens? How about the Green Bay Packers?

Time to take a look at the latest Power Rankings:

ESPN

1. Buffalo Bills
2. Arizona Cardinals
3. Los Angeles Rams
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5. Green Bay Packers
6. Cleveland Browns
7. Baltimore Ravens
8. Dallas Cowboys
9. Los Angeles Chargers
10. Las Vegas Raiders
...
24. Pittsburgh Steelers

Biggest surprise: Pass rush struggles

Why it’s a surprise: The Steelers got plenty of pressure out of the four-man rush in Week 1, but haven’t been able to replicate the same results the past two weeks. Without T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, the Steelers didn’t record a single sack against the Bengals, and against the Packers, they only had two — including one that appeared to just be a trip by Watt. Watt, who sustained a groin injury against the Raiders, said he felt healthy enough to play against the Packers, but he — and the rest of the Steelers’ front — haven’t performed to the same level they did in Week 1. The Steelers have shown an ability to play championship-level defense, but the lack of replication is surprising.”

NFL.com

1 Arizona Cardinals
2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3 Buffalo Bills
4 Green Bay Packers
5 Baltimore Ravens
6 Dallas Cowboys
7 Los Angeles Chargers
8 Kansas City Chiefs
9 Los Angeles Rams
10. Cleveland Browns
...
20. Pittsburgh Steelers

“Beating the Packers at Lambeau Field requires a precision performance by the offense. The Steelers couldn’t deliver that on Sunday, and they’ll take a three-game losing streak into Week 5 as a result. The running game remains non-existent in Matt Canada’s offense, and Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers aren’t doing enough. On Sunday, Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster left points on the field with failures to connect on two pass plays that should have gone for scores. Roethlisberger could have been more accurate on the throws, while Smith-Schuster could have helped his QB by flashing the playmaking ability that marked his first two seasons in Pittsburgh. The attack is not as dynamic as it needs to be, and it’s made the Steelers a middling team.”

CBS Sports

1 Arizona Cardinals
2 Green Bay Packers
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4 Buffalo Bills
5 Cleveland Browns
6 Los Angeles Rams
7 Los Angeles Chargers
8 Dallas Cowboys
9 Kansas City Chiefs
10. Baltimore Ravens
...
28. Pittsburgh Steelers

“They just can’t get the offense going. In a division with three 3-1 teams, they face huge odds to get back into the race.”

The Sporting News

1. Arizona Cardinals
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. Los Angeles Rams
4. Buffalo Bills
5. Green Bay Packers
6. Cleveland Browns
7. Baltimore Ravens
8. Dallas Cowboys
9. Kansas City Chiefs
10. Los Angeles Chargers
...
21. Pittsburgh Steelers

“The Steelers’ defense is trying to hold up its end of the bargain, but it’s getting tougher every week with Ben Roethlisberger struggling. There’s no easy solution for the offense until 2022.”

What do you think of these rankings? Think the Steelers are too high? Not high enough? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to check out one of our newest podcasts where we do some rankings of our own! Check out the “Steelers Power Half Hour” in the player below:

Podcast: Steelers’ fantasy identity near the first quarter mark of 2021

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/06/2021 - 11:00am

Join BTSC’s Jeremy Betz for weekly fantasy football talk as it pertains to the Pittsburgh Steelers, your draft and for success in any of your leagues.

The Steelers have may or may not have found their true identity on the field through the first four games of the 2021 season so far. Fantasy owners are struggling to find out exactly who the black and gold are as well. Where do the 2021 Steelers fall in the landscape of Fantasy Football? Get those answers and more as BTSC continues with the new weekly show surrounding all aspects of the world of fantasy football with a black-and-gold twist. Welcome to the Steelers Fantasy Football Fix. Join BTSC’s Jeremy Betz for weekly fantasy football talk as it pertains to the Pittsburgh Steelers and for success in any of your leagues.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Previewing the Steelers vs. Broncos for any of your fantasy leagues.
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeremy Betz of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers in the landscape of Fantasy Football and then some.

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 brief history of the Steelers turning their season around, Part 2

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/06/2021 - 10:00am
This picture is so bad MY neck hurts. | Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK

This isn’t the first Steelers squad that started one way and may finish another.

With the 2021 Steelers floundering over the season’s first month, I thought it might be useful to track the ways the team has flipped the script on a season. It’s happened more often than you might think.

When a team catches fire late in the year, it’s easy to forget how disheartening the opening stretch had been. Similarly, when a team collapses late in the year, too many of us only remember the frustration, forgetting how strong they’d been.

I’m not here only to walk down memory lane, though, or remind us all that we’ve seen this movie before — and it doesn’t necessarily end in disaster. Instead, I also want to try to see if there’s anything we can learn about what it takes to change the game.

Part 1 (The Chuck Noll Years) is posted HERE.

Here’s part 2: the Steelers from 1992 to 2006, under the Chin, Bill Cowher.

Bill Cowher Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images My god, look at that thing. It takes up half of his face. 1995

Remembered for: Super Bowl appearance and loss to Dallas

Opening Record: 3-4

Low Point: Weeks 6 and 7, where the Steelers lost to the expansion Jaguars (in their second ever franchise win), then got blasted by Jeff Blake’s Bengals 27-3 at Three Rivers.

Turnaround Streak: 10-1 (before Super Bowl loss)

High Point: Wild Card victory over four-time AFC champion Bills 40-21 (or possibly 49-31 revenge win over Bengals in week 12). I could say the AFC title win over the Colts, but that was way closer than expected, and made me nervous for the Super Bowl (for good reason, it seems now).

How it turned around: Turnovers appear to be the key again.

During the opening streak, the team was minus-8 in that department, then plus-9 during the 10-1 closing run. The Super Bowl told the same story: minus-3 in turnovers, and a loss. Almost no other statistical categories saw a meaningful change, at all.

1998

Remembered for: The Thanksgiving debacle at Detroit, where Jerome Bettis lost the overtime coin toss, despite making the right call.

Opening Record: 7-4

High Point: Probably the 27-20 win over two-time defending NFC Champion Packers (who the Steelers would have played in Super Bowl if they’d have won 1997 AFCC).

Turnaround Streak: 0-5

Low Point: Thanksgiving. This loss was the first of the 0-5 streak, which led to the first of three straight non-playoff years. Seems like they just never got over it...

How did it turn around: Total offensive collapse.

Steelers scored only two offensive touchdowns in the final five games of this season. Two defensive touchdowns make the team appear “really bad” instead of “absolutely awful,” but that’s an illusion. The one-time Super Bowl favorites averaged 11 points per game during this slide, and saw their offensive output drop by 45 yards per game over the season’s last month-and-change. Notably, they also committed twice as many turnovers in the final five games, averaging 1.5 giveaways/game in the first 11 weeks, then 3.0 in the final five.

It’s not clear what caused this, but the Steelers offense simply hit a wall for over a month that season.

1999

Remembered for: Nothing, really. Just a down year.

Opening Record: 5-3

High Point: Three game winning streak from weeks 6 to 8, in which the defense gave up only one touchdown.

Turnaround Streak: 1-7

Low Point: Five game losing streak in which they lost to all five of AFC Central opponents in succession (including the next-generation Cleveland Browns, who recorded their second victory, ever, at Three Rivers... Hmm, I feel like I just wrote something very similar a couple entries ago. Weird).

How did it turn around: Total defensive collapse.

This is a confusing time. In 1998, the team started strong, then the offense fell off a cliff. Now, in 1999, the team starts strong, but it’s the defense’s turn.

Over the second half of 1999, the Steelers defense gave up nearly 100 yards per game more than they did in the first half. That’s 41 ypg rushing and 57 yards passing. But it’s also 13.0 more points per game allowed — nearly double the first eight weeks.

It’s not clear what caused this. There aren’t any important injuries I can tell, and while the offense committed a lot more turnovers in the second half of the season, that can’t explain this shutdown. They seem to have just fallen apart.

2000

Remembered for: Not really remembered, though it probably should be — this was a good defense.

Opening Record: 0-3

Low Point: Zero passing touchdowns in first three weeks; only four total TDs.

Turnaround Streak: 9-4

High Point: Beating eventual champion Ravens 9-6 at midseason – final game Baltimore lost in 2000. Also midseason 4-0 streak that featured two shutouts, and only 9 points given up (2.25 ppg). This team went 21 straight quarters without allowing a touchdown.

How did it turn around: Quarterback change, with ripple effects on scheme and performance.

Kordell Stewart was reinserted at QB over Kent Graham, and the offense immediately became more rushing-focused — amassing 54 fewer passing yards per game, but 44 more rushing yards over the season’s final 13 weeks. The defense also became truly great (as noted above). Controlling the clock by rushing more may have helped the defense, but I suspect the hard-nosed attitude helped too. Those intangibles can be hard to track, but I think defenses feed of that stuff sometimes.

One more note on that D: over final 13 games, the passing defense improved by almost 100 yards per game. Wow.

2005

Remembered for: Super Bowl XL title, becoming first #6 seed to win it all

Opening Record: 7-5

Low Point: 3-game losing streak midseason, which essentially handed the division to Cincinnati.

Turnaround Streak: 8-0

High Point: All three playoff wins, and Super Bowl game. (The Steelers are still the only team to beat the 1-2-3 seeds in AFC and 1-2 seeds in NFC during one streak.) Probably the Divisional upset of the Colts was the high point, but pick your poison; they were all high points.

How did it turn around: Focus.

The team stopped looking too far ahead. Bill Cowher supposedly shut down every discussion about future games, playoffs, etc., and laser-focused the team on one game, series, play at a time. This team had been 15-1 the previous season. It was more of a great team that had hit a skid, and then remembered who it was, rather than a team that turned a corner and became something new.

Okay, stay tuned. The last 15 years (also known as “the Mike Tomlin era”) are next. And we’ll see what we can learn from all this.

Broncos dealing with key injuries heading into Week 5 game vs. Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/06/2021 - 9:00am
Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

The Steelers have their share of injuries, but so do their opponents in Week 5, the Broncos.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a banged up team in many ways. Whether it’s the offensive line, or the rash of groin injuries which continues to work its way through the team, but the Steelers’ Week 5 opponent, the Denver Broncos, are dealing with their own injuries.

The biggest injury concern for the Broncos would be the concussion to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. While Bridgewater is officially in the NFL’s concussion protocol, head coach Vic Fangio wasn’t ruling out Bridgewater from possibly returning to practice this week.

“He can’t go out and full practice, but he may be able to do some stuff,” Fangio told media of Bridgewater’s potential return.

If Bridgewater can’t play Sunday, it would be the second straight season Drew Lock would start vs. the Steelers defense at Heinz Field. Last year it was Lock who was injured in a loss to the Broncos in Week 2.

Other injuries of note would be to Diontae Spencer and cornerback Pat Surtain II. This information from the Denver Broncos official website:

Diontae Spencer, who suffered a chest injury one play before Bridgewater took a hit to the head, will be day to day this week. Pat Surtain II is also day to day with a “midsection” injury.

Other than those two players, the Broncos will certainly have some question marks along the offensive line too.

Guard Dalton Risner will “probably” be able to return this week, but Fangio remains unsure about guard Graham Glasgow’s status.

Fangio said Risner was “not close enough” to being able to play against the Ravens after being listed as questionable.

Wednesday is the first reported practice for both the Steelers and Broncos. This will be a huge storyline to watch throughout the week considering just how it can alter both teams’ lineups before the game.

With that said, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for their latest game Sunday at Heinz Field.

Steelers Vertex: Why the Steelers run game was more successful in Week 4

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/06/2021 - 8:00am
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Steelers rushing attack is not good yet, but it is getting better.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the midst of a three-game losing streak. Falling on the road to the Green Bay Packers, the Steelers managed to have more success in the run game, even if that success is not taking the league by storm. So what was different in the running game in Week 4? This is the topic of this week’s vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

First off, it’s important to identify the factor in why the Steelers run game was deemed more successful in Week 4. Was it because they rushed for more yards? It was not. The Steelers rushed for 62 yards in Week 4 and they had 75 yards rushing in Week 1. The difference is the Steelers had 21 rushing attempts when they faced the Buffalo Bills versus 16 against the Green Bay Packers. For this reason, the Steelers had their most yards per attempt of the 2021 season of 3.88 versus 3.57 in Week 1.

It should also be noted in the game against Buffalo the Steelers had three kneel downs which cost them three rushing yards on three attempts. But another note would be the Steelers gained one-third of their yards on an end around play to Chase Claypool. So while the Steelers had more yards against the Bills, it was not the conventional running game which was finding success. For example, Najee Harris only rushed for 45 yards on 16 attempts.

Another aspect of the Steelers improved running game, which was mentioned by Mike Tomlin in his press conference, was the Steelers did not have many negative plays. Coming into Week 4, Najee Harris had eight plays in which he had zero or negative rushing yards. In Week 4, Harris only had one play where he didn’t gain yardage which was a play in the second quarter on second and 10 when he was thrown for a 2-yard loss. Otherwise, Harris gained positive yardage on every carry.

One last aspect of the running game was Harris received two third-down rushing attempts against the Packers and converted them both. On the Steelers opening drive, Harris was given the ball on third and one and gained 2 yards for the first down. In the fourth quarter, on a third and three, Harris rushed for 4 yards and a first down.

Harris only had two third-down rushes before Week 4. In the third quarter of Week 1 against the Bills, Harris gained 2 yards on the third and one. His other attempt came just before halftime against the Bengals on third and 10 where the Steelers tried to run out the clock by handing the ball off to Harris for a 2-yard gain.

So what was different about the running game against the Packers? Was it merely the quality of opponent? The Green Bay Packers are 12th in the league in rushing defense while the Steelers other opponents were 4th (Buffalo), 9th (Cincinnati), and 23rd (Las Vegas). Based on this information, it seems the quality of opponent is inconclusive.

So what was the reason for the improved run game for the Steelers on Sunday? This will come down to looking at the film.

The Film Line:

There are a lot of elements that make up a successful run game, but the main three are the offensive line, the run scheme, and the runner himself. We already know Najee Harris is a fantastic back, I’m not going to go into detail on that, this film room is going to look at the scheme and the blockers to see what was different this time that let the run game get off to a good start.

Steelers v Packers, 1st quarter, 14:32

Watch the right side guard, #69, Kevin Dotson and the center, #53 Kendrick Green.

Green has struggled keeping low and winning leverage battles in his first few games as a pro, this time he doesn’t dominate his opponent, but he’s holding his own 1v1. If you look to the left you see Trai Turner losing a little ground but getting his player out of the run lane. But the beautiful part of this run for me is Kevin Dotson driving linemen from both teams outside then turning back to seal the run lane he just created. We haven’t seen Dotson being the absolute beast he was last season a lot so far this year, but it showed up on this play. Also notice the job both tight ends (farthest two to the left side of the screen) do in blocking. Zach Gentry slows down the defensive end enough to take him out of the play, and Pat Freiermuth comes across the formation to seal the backside, helping Dan Moore Jr. who has been consistently in over his head as a rookie forced to start.

It’s good to see the blocking improve, but I also need to point out how Matt Canada’s scheme helped this play work. Gentry’s block on the edge, #52, is aided by the jet sweep motion, which causes the edge defender to pause before attacking the run, giving Gentry time to get in position and shortening the time he needs to block. Also notice Harris runs right to where the DB #23 was standing, but the sweep took that DB out of that lane. When you add in the pre-snap motion, it’s even better.

Look at the middle linebacker hop back 2 yards right before Smith-Schuster reverses course into the jet motion. Matt Canada’s run scheme spotted the run blockers a full step from the middle linebacker, a half-second delay from the edge defender and cleared room for Najee to run into. Notice the safety and corner to the top move as Smith-Schuster motions, when he turns and goes into jet motion the safety doesn’t move back, and the corner moves outside. Football is a game of inches, and you can see here the goal of a lot of Matt Canada’s motion, a little delay from one defender, a yard out of position for another, and yet another starting the play moving away from the runner. An inch here and an inch there and the window of success for the play opens a bit more, giving the blockers a slightly easier job.

Compared to last season, when defenses often reacted to the play before the snap, seeing defenders move even an inch the wrong way is a nice thing.

Steelers v Packers, 1st quarter, 12:21.

Watch the middle of the line.

Man, it feels like we’ve waited a long time to see that again. The blocking isn’t perfect, but seeing the defense get pushed off the line of scrimmage and the Steelers lining up in a power set and picking up a first down with a run right up the middle? Man, that felt good to see. Seeing Kendrick Green handle his man 1v1 (not easy for a center in this kind of situation) is big. He’s improving and a game like this will hopefully do a lot for his confidence.

Steelers v Packers, 1st quarter, 11:41.

Dan Moore Jr. is second from the bottom on the line.

Dan Moore Jr. hasn’t been good so far this season, but there are bright spots, and he does a great job here steering his man into the middle to open a lane for Najee Harris. Love the scheme here to have Gentry step out to block the linebacker with JuJu Smith-Schuster coming inside to lead block for Harris. Lastly, the run by Najee is fantastic. He runs right up the middle and slips outside at the last second. Look at the middle linebacker approach the run, he has no chance of cutting this run off earlier, because he’s moving laterally to the point of contact. Good scheme, good blocking, smart running leads to a solid gain even with the middle linebacker making a really good tackle on Harris.

Steelers v Packers, 1st quarter, 4:10.

Watch the guard and tight end to the bottom of the screen.

A four-yard gain on first down is a win, but the fun part is how they did it. Look at the right tackle come up to block the middle linebacker, look at the left guard come across with a trap block on the edge defender to his right, see the tight end from the backside function as the lead blocker. See Najee Harris start this play with a step to his left, before running right.

This is THE Steelers counter trap run. This play goes back to Chuck Noll, and variations of it abound in Steelers history since. Jerome Bettis ran it, Willie Parker ran it, LeVeon Bell was fantastic on these runs, and here we see Matt Canada using it with Najee Harris. With all the awful play we’ve seen so far, I can’t tell you how much hope this play injects into my heart. Seeing a Steelers running back gain 4 yards on first down off counter trap. . . that’s a small slice of Steelers gold on a gloomy day.

Steelers v Packers, 2nd quarter, 13:22.

Najee Harris is the running back.

#52 for Green Bay slips through the line, from Najee Harris’ reaction I’m pretty confident that wasn’t by design. Doesn’t matter though, Harris is able to get past him and gain yards. While they let one defender through, all the rest are moving backward, and that lets Harris power into traffic for another 4 yard gain on first down

Steelers v Packers, 2nd quarter, 10:55.

Count the blockers and defenders in the box.

That’s 5 offensive lineman and Derek Watt versus 7 defenders in the box. The result? Najee Harris runs right into the middle of the line for an 8-yard gain. My favorite part is Derek Watt realizing he can’t reach the end in time to keep him from collapsing the line so he just dives at him, getting enough of him with his hands to accomplish his assignment. No style points here, just offensive lineman bullying the defense and Najee Harris taking that small opening for a great gain on first down. While we’ve talked a good bit about the run game facing +1 defenders in the box like this, when an offensive line is rolling it doesn't really matter. The last time we consistently saw run blocking like this Willie Parker was thinking about leading the NFL in rushing.

The Point:

The run game was successful against Green Bay. It wasn’t great, but it was good, and at this point, after the last three seasons, I’ll take it. The best part is games like this help the offensive line build cohesion and confidence, hopefully they can string together some more games like this one, and hopefully the rest of the offense can step up and do something more that they did in week 4.

While the offense sputtered against the Packers, the run game, especially on first down runs was setting the team up for success. Najee Harris ran nine times on first down, gaining 33 yards on 8 of the runs (4.1 yards per rush) with 5 going for 4+ yards. The ninth run was a 1-yard touchdown. If the run game can continue to produce on first down and not put the Steelers behind the sticks like in Week 3, it will be much easier to sustain drives for the offense and keep the defense resting on the sidelines.

6 players mentioned by Mike Tomlin during Tuesday’s press conference

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/06/2021 - 7:00am
Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The Steelers head coach held his weekly press conference with the Pittsburgh media on Tuesday heading into Week 5.

The 2021 NFL regular season is underway and teams are starting to get into a routine with what occurs during a typical game week. As the Steelers begin their preparation for their third home game of the season, head coach Mike Tomlin held his regularly scheduled press conference on Tuesday. With many players discussed, it’s time for another players mentioned by Coach Tomlin during his media time. Remember these are current players where a specific question was asked during the Q&A period.

Ben Roethlisberger

Instead of calling this article “6 players mentioned…” I should have called it “10 questions about Ben Roethlisberger.” Getting right to it, Coach Tomlin was asked about where Roethlisberger inconsistency is coming from and how to fix it. In his response, Coach Tomlin mentioned Chase Claypool but he will be addressed later.

“It’s him some. It’s us, collectively, some. We’ve just got to keep working. Sometimes it could be attributed to altering of plans late in the week because of player availability or guys not being available. We lost Chase Claypool in the middle of the week or toward the latter part of the week last week, so we had to alter our plans in some instances. But we’re not looking to make excuses. We’ve had some big play opportunities. We haven’t cashed in on them and we need to cash in on them. They’re a big component of moving the ball and scoring, particularly when you’re not working as efficiently as you’d like on possession downs, which we aren’t. Chunk plays eliminate a lot of execution, we say in the coaching world. We’re gonna continue to work to get better from an efficiency standpoint. We’re also going to continue to work to connect on higher percentages of these chunk opportunities because that aids us in terms of ringing up the scoreboard as well.”

In the next question, Coach Tomlin was asked if reviewing game tape to fix things with Roethlisberger is done by him, offensive coordinator Matt Canada, or quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan.

“No question, that is a Coach Sullivan task, along with Ben. Positional coaches really focus on technical aspects of play, and they analyze that continually, whether he’s playing well or he isn’t. That’s just a component of play. Skill development is big at any position, but doubly so at the quarterback position. Positional coaches, regardless of position, spend a great deal of their time working with and dealing with the aspects of technical play or skill development with guys that they work with. Coordinators and guys like myself take a more global approach and talk about schematics and big picture things and how those individuals fit into 11 man football.”

Coach Tomlin was then asked if Roethlisberger is the best quarterback for this offense.

“Absolutely. What he does and what he’s done makes me really comfortable in saying that.”

In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked his level of concern about Roethlisberger’s safety at quarterback with him continuing to have different injuries.

“Not out of the ordinary. I’m sure if you reviewed the tape and looked at these visits from the first 11 weeks of last year, I probably said similar things, and he was upright and we were undefeated. It’s probably a component of just being in your late 30s and playing this game and playing that position, and particularly when you’re not playing winning football you get somewhat one dimensional. There’s collateral damage that’s associated with that for him and for us, and I think we all understand that. I think that’s why it’s important that we continue to work to improve, and have a well-rounded approach to play and get better in all areas.”

Coach Tomlin was asked about how much freedom Roethlisberger has to make audibles at the line of scrimmage, particularly on fourth down.

“He has a lot of freedom in that regard, but maybe not in those moments. Those moments are so weighty and there’s so much preparation in those moments, oftentimes, those decisions are had and thought through and discussed prior to being in them. There’s more fluidity in that decision-making and more certainty in terms of the play selection.”

Coach Tomlin was later asked if Roethlisberger is more limited in the no huddle than he has been in years past.

“He’s not limited in any way. If there are any alterations to that approach besides the plays themselves— the plays change—it’s always got something to do with who’s available to us, their level of experience, their ability to execute, particularly in those moments when you’re talking no-huddle. Usually, you’re talking about those weighty moments, and so you want execution to be at a certain level and you work in the wheelhouse of the people that are in the huddle.”

Coach Tomlin was then asked what he would say to fans who wants to move on from Roethlisberger.

“I think Ben and I have been at our jobs long enough that we know and understand what comes with it. We love Pittsburgh, PA. We love Steeler Nation and appreciate the passion that they have, and we understand the responsibilities that come with our roles. Him being a quarterback, me being a head coach, oftentimes we get too much credit when things are going well, and we’re always ready to absorb the negativity of our positions when things aren’t going well. That’s just life for us.”

In the final question of the press conference, Coach Tomlin was asked what he has seen on film from Roethlisberger that is fixable versus things that they just don’t expect Ben to do as well at his age.

“Everything except mobility. I don’t have an answer for that, or lack thereof. Ben used to be able to run really well when he was young. Those days are behind him. Other than that, I don’t see much that’s not a discussion in terms of technical alterations or quality of play that can be improved.”

Najee Harris

Finally, we get to talk about another player other than Ben Roethlisberger. Coach Tomlin was asked a question that started off mentioning Roethlisberger’s comments about rookie running back Najee Harris, and what Tomlin and has seen from Harris in the first few games when it comes to challenging tacklers.

“I’m encouraged and excited about his continual development and the progression of that development. He’s good, we’ve seen that, but he’s continually getting better, and that’s been on display throughout the first four games of the season as well. I think it’s reasonable to expect that to continue. This guy’s unbelievably talented. He’s a competitor. I like his preparation. He’s passionate about football. I’m excited about what the near future and the future in general holds for Harris”

Chase Claypool

In yet another question that was ultimately about Ben Roethlisberger, Coach Tomlin once again brought up wide receiver Chase Claypool and how he was absent form Sunday’s game. Coach Tomlin was asked a follow up question about the ability to audible on fourth down and if it was something that changed from previous coordinators.

“I was just talking about specifically as it pertained to Sunday. We were working in a hostile venue, communication was limited, we had a good plan. We had an alteration to that plan based on availability in the latter part of the week with Claypool being removed from availability and so forth. There weren’t a lot of discussions about changing or altering our plans because of those variables and circumstances specifically.”

Devin Bush, & Joe Schobert

In the only question about players in the entire press conference that didn’t connect with Ben Roethlisberger, the inside linebackers were brought up. Coach Tomlin was asked his assessment of Devin Bush and Joe Schobert and their cohesion working together this season.

“Based on the variables, Devin working himself back to health and Joe being new to us, it’s a work in progress but a work in progress that I think is going rather well. I’m excited about it continuing to improve and get better.”

Mason Rudolph

With Ben Roethlisberger dealing with a hip injury, there is a possibility he will not be able to play this week. Coach Tomlin was asked if Roethlisberger can’t go, what his confidence level is in Mason Rudolph.

“I have a lot of confidence in Mason. We’ve called on Mason in the past and he’s been able to play winning football for us. I think it’s reasonable to expect that to not only continue but to improve. I know he clocks in here every day with an attitude geared toward getting better and being that guy when called upon.”

For more information on Mike Tomlin’s press conference, check out the podcast below:

If you want to watch Mike Tomlin’s press conference, you can do so below:

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media ahead of our game against the Broncos. https://t.co/uY35bSRwN5

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 5, 2021

Najee Harris leads all rookies in yardage after four games

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/06/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Despite the teams slow start, Harris has been gobbling up the yardage.

The Pittsburgh Steelers season has started off slow, to say the least, but one player that has brought it every week. That would be none other than super rookie Najee Harris. Despite having some blocking problems in front of him, Harris has been able to rip some decent yardage each and every game.

The stats are backing up Harris as well.

Currently, Harris leads all NFL rookies in total yardage. When you factor in the league’s veterans, Harris slips back down to a respectable 18th place. But that ranking is above players like Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones, and Justin Jefferson.

Most scrimmage yards by a rookie this season:

363 — Najee Harris
295 — Ja’Marr Chase
237 — DeVonta Smith

(Submitted by @CAWafflez) pic.twitter.com/XtxCohuDEk

— StatMuse (@statmuse) October 4, 2021

Despite having the big numbers that back Harris up, the Steelers offensive woes almost make this stat line hard to believe. Upon first reading this tweet myself I had to check the stats to be positive Harris is really THAT close to averaging 100 yards per game. Another wild fact about about Harris’ statistical success is that it is almost a 50/50 split between rushing and receiving yards. Of course, his receiving totals get a big boost because of his 100 yard game against the Las Vegas Raiders, but it is still pretty interesting. Harris’ rushing totals have also grown every week since Week 2. Having his highest rushing total in Week 4 against the Packers totaling 60 yards.

Harris also hasn't cracked 20 rushes in a game yet. Of course the Steelers have trailed in every game so far and really haven't had the opportunity to end games running the clock out. Despite all this, Harris is still on pace for about 1,550 total yards and 8 touchdowns on the year, with about a 800-750 split between rushing and receiving yards.

Najee Harris has run 148 routes through the first four weeks of the NFL season.

That ranks 1st among all running backs.

D'Andre Swift has run the second-most routes among RBs — with 110.

— Kate Magdziuk (@FFballblast) October 4, 2021

I think these stats show Harris’ tremendous talent. If he played in an offense with a better line, and more consistency I would bet you his stats would be off the charts and perhaps leading the entire NFL at this point in the season. The Steelers have a great player in Najee Harris and need to do whatever it takes to play better around him so he can reach his true potential. We all know about running backs short shelf lives so getting this kid some better help is a huge priority moving forward.

But what do you think? Are you surprised Harris is leading all rookies in total yardage? Has he impressed you through the early part of the season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Podcast: A slow start doesn’t equate to a lost season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 10/06/2021 - 4:30am

BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman presents his AM studio show to the BTSC family of podcasts with the Wednesday episode of “Let’s Ride“.

A majority of Steeler Nation has given up on the 2021 season already, but the Men of Steel have examples in their 88-year body of work of making the postseason after a slow start. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the flagship morning show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on the Wednesday episode of “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Steelers News and Notes
  • A slow start doesn’t equate to a lost season
  • The Live Mailbag
  • Much More!

Jeff Hartman of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the black-and-gold.

Be sure to check out this and all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

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