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Mock Draft Monday: Steelers create a two-headed monster at TE

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/28/2019 - 12:25pm

The Steelers create a dynamic duo of TEs in the 2019 NFL Draft.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are not really that ready to move on from Antonio Brown, but it has become increasingly inevitable that he is no longer a Steeler come next season. Whether they keep him or not, however, they have to start preparing for some change on the offensive side of the football. Le’Veon Bell is gone, and AB won’t be here that much longer even if he somehow does work out his issues with the organization.

Therefore, I did a mock up to the Steelers’ selection at No. 20, and here is what I came away with, even if it is a bit more controversial.

  1. Arizona Cardinals — EDGE Nick Bosa
  2. San Francisco 49ers — IDL Quinnen Williams
  3. New York Jets — EDGE Josh Allen
  4. Oakland Raiders — ILB Devin White
  5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — OT Jonah Williams
  6. New York Giants — EDGE Brian Burns
  7. Jacksonville Jaguars — QB Dwayne Haskins
  8. Detrioit Lions — EDGE Clelin Ferrell
  9. Buffalo Bills — IDL Ed Oliver
  10. Denver Broncos — ILB Mack Wilson
  11. Cincinnati Bengals — QB Drew Lock
  12. Green Bay Packers — EDGE Jachai Polite
  13. Miami Dolphins — QB Kyler Murray
  14. Atlanta Falcons — IDL Jeffery Simmons
  15. Washington Redskins — S Deionte Thompson
  16. Carolina Panthers — OT Cody Ford
  17. Cleveland Browns — CB Greedy Williams
  18. Minnesota Vikings — OL Dalton Risner
  19. Tennessee Titans — CB Byron Murphy
20. Pittsburgh Steelers — TE Noah Fant, Iowa

I know, please, do not kill me for selecting a TE here, I will explain. For one, with Antonio Brown theoretically gone here, the Steelers have a few options here. They can get a WR to replace Antonio Brown, or there is another option, and they can get a receiving Tight End who can pair with Vance McDonald and be a nasty mismatch.

In comes Noah Fant, who is just a ridiculously good Tight End. Not only can he block pretty well, but the man moves and runs routes like a receiver. He can work in-line, out in the slot, or outside. That gives OC Randy Fichtner a myriad of new options for his offense and packages. Just check out how good Fant moves here anyways.

It’s stupid how well Noah Fant moves for a TE. Dude runs routes like a WR and gets vertical as fast as them too. He’s gonna be a huge issue in the NFL, especially since he grew as a blocker last year. He’s a monster. pic.twitter.com/CzYIC1GmtR

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) January 21, 2019

This is an amazing route by Fant for a Tight End. Look at how he sets the CB up to the inside and then uses that foot speed to catch the outside and thus gain the leverage. Then, like a natural receiver, he simply stacks the guy as he gets vertical and thus gains the long separation. Stuff like this is at a premium for receiving Tight Ends. Not many guys can actually do this.

So, when you are looking to replace a guy like Antonio Brown, a guy like Fant can be a huge help in creating mismatches and being a player who can bail you out. You have that in JuJu Smith-Schuster, but honestly, Fant takes a ton of attention away from JuJu, and even more so, it will open up the way for James Washington.

I can’t say it enough. I love the way Iowa uses TE Noah Fant. They move him all over the field with various motions and formations in order to create mismatches. He’s a match up nightmare for LBs and DBs. pic.twitter.com/6b8TMxFDjw

— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) June 24, 2018

And when you can stretch the field vertically like this as a TE, and be a huge weapon on motions, it is pure offensive art. Fant is not a reach talent wise, and would add a huge weapon to the Steelers offense that they otherwise would not have.

Former Steelers CB Bryant McFadden shares story about a late night card game before Super Bowl XLIII

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/28/2019 - 11:00am

But while the story is amusing to hear now, it might not have been so funny if Steelers had not won the game the next day against the Arizona Cardinals.

For all the stories that have been circulating in the press about the Pittsburgh Steelers as of late, it was refreshing to finally hear a new one Saturday that did not involve Antonio Brown. Sharing a tale from the night before Super Bowl XLIII, former Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden revealed some surprising pre game activities that would have been extremely controversial if Pittsburgh had not won the game the next day.

As part of a podcast series that began in November, McFadden has been reliving some memories from the Steelers 2008 season that ended in a sixth Super Bowl victory. Featuring former teammates and coaches, the player turned media analyst for CBS Sports has produced a series that is a must listen for fans of the Black and Gold.

In his latest episode that centers around the team’s preparations for Super Bowl XLIII once they had arrived in Tampa to play the game, McFadden makes a surprise admission that no one will have heard before. A story that CBS Sports felt deserved its own animation to accompany it.

Whoa! @BMac_SportsTalk uncovering a crazy tale about Super Bowl XLIII.pic.twitter.com/eof8lbUwvN

— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) January 25, 2019

If the media had known that certain members of the Steelers had been playing cards until the early hours of the morning on the day of the contest, it would have dominated the sports pages. Had they lost the game, it would have become a cautionary tale of how not to prepare for the Super Bowl for years to come and an anecdote retold every season in the run up to the big game.

In an extended version of the tale discussed by James Farrior and McFadden on the podcast, all of the players involved in the card game appear to have known how bad things would look for them if word got out about what they had been up to the night before.

New episode alert Super Bowl LIII is set, but if you want to revisit Super Bowl XLIII and epic matchup between the Steelers and Cardinals, check out part 1 of our Super Bowl episode on 'The Season: 2008 Steelers.'https://t.co/cv18U7dyxC.

— Bryant McFadden (@BMac_SportsTalk) January 22, 2019

Thankfully, everything ended well and we can all laugh about it now. But had that final drive come up short, McFadden would have be well advised to take that story with him to the grave.

Coaches Corner: The failed fake punt and what Mike Tomlin should learn from it

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/28/2019 - 9:24am

One of the worst plays of the 2018 regular season should teach head coach Mike Tomlin a valuable lesson.

Welcome to BTSC Coaches Corner, where we examine situations from the 2018 season to get a feel for how the Steelers’ staff schemed for their opponents. The focus here is on the philosophy of the coaching staff, their strengths and weaknesses, and the ability of our players to execute their schemes. We may look to the upcoming draft for candidates who could be good fits for these schemes as well.

This article examines the failed fake punt attempt in the fourth quarter at New Orleans and offers some thoughts on what Mike Tomlin and his staff might learn from it.

The Failed Fake Punt

In my personal catalog of gut-punch Steeler plays, this ranks pretty high. Not “4th and Goal Incompletion to Barry Foster in the ‘94 AFCCG” high. And certainly not “He Who Shall Not Be Named in Super Bowl XXX” high. But high enough that I don’t need to clarify the date or location. Any time the conversation is about soul-crushing Steeler moments and someone mentions “The Failed Fake Punt,” I’ll know exactly what they mean.

My initial reaction was disbelief. Something like, “Oh my God, it’s a fake,” said out loud, to no one in particular, as my eyes widened and pushed my eyebrows up my skull. I would have been less surprised had a “Breaking News” banner announced Democrats and Republicans were holding a Love-In on Capitol Hill.

The element of surprise, or what might otherwise be deemed “timing,” is no doubt integral when attempting a trick play. It’s often said in coaching circles that if you’re going to run a gadget, run one before your opponent does, when neither team is anticipating it. In this instance, we had surprise in spades.

Let’s reset the scene. Week 16 in New Orleans. Four minutes to play. Steelers 28, Saints 24. Our punt team takes the field for a 4th and 5 from our own 42 yard line. With huge playoff implications hanging in the balance, a fake seemed far too risky. Maybe if it were 4th and 1 or 4th and 2. Maybe if the ball were on the plus side of the field. But not here, with five long yards to gain and the Steelers with their base punt unit on the field. Nothing to see here. Move along, everyone.

We know the fake caught the Saints by surprise because not one Saint defender acted unusually. Even when up-back Jordan Dangerfield motioned out of the formation towards the sideline (presumably to remove a defender from the box), there was no discernible reaction from the Saints that indicated they believed a fake was coming. No hand-gesturing or pointing. No one adjusting their alignment in any way. The ball was snapped and the Saints got off like they were expecting a punt. Watch:

Their edge rushers rush. Their interior players shoot their hands into the chests of the Steelers’ interior players in an attempt to hold them up as long as possible before releasing them to cover the punt. All of these actions are consistent with a punt return team executing their normal duties. The Saints were not expecting this to be a fake.

Unfortunately, timing is only one of the elements of a successful trick play. The other is execution. Simply stated, the fake punt in New Orleans failed because the coaching staff tasked players with executing a scheme that did not compliment their abilities. This was a recurring problem in 2018, and is perhaps the biggest lesson head coach Mike Tomlin and his staff need to learn moving forward.

The Scheme

The scheme the Steelers used was fairly straightforward. As seen below, they attempted to gap-block the Saints on the back side of the play while having Sean Davis kick out the front-side edge player. That left linebackers Anthony Chickillo and Tyler Matakevich (circled) to on-block the defenders lined up across from them. The short snap went to fullback Rosie Nix, who attempted to run to daylight between the blocks of Chickillo and Matakevich.

This scheme is fine if you can execute it. The problem is, expecting a couple of linebackers to on-block opposing defensive players (one of whom was a defensive lineman) is a tough ask.

Let’s start with Chickillo. Chickillo is assigned to turn out linebacker Craig Robertson, who is using a hold-up technique against him. On a hold-up, the defender is going to fire off and shoot his hands into the chest of his target. He wants to drive that player two or three yards into the backfield to delay his ability to run down and cover the punt. Bottom line - “hold up,” despite its passive-sounding name, is an aggressive technique.

This is exactly what Robertson does. His hands come out quickly, he gets inside on Chickillo’s chest and he drives him back into the hole where Nix is trying to run. Chickillo, meanwhile, stands up passively, does not strike with any force and makes himself a target. When you microscope the block, it’s easy to see how Robertson was able to fall off and make a play on Nix.

Matakevich’s situation is even worse. It will be easy to watch him get completely blown up here and say all sorts of derogatory things about him as a football player. Before you do that, consider what the staff has asked him to do on this play. Matakevich, a 235 pound linebacker who last played offense in high school, where he was a running back, not a lineman, has to aggressively on-block 6’4-300 pound defensive tackle David Onyemata, who makes his living taking on blocks. The assignment given Matakevich here violates one of the most basic coaching principles: don’t ask players to do things they are not capable of doing.

Onyemata, lined up outside Matakevich, gets off the ball quickly and drives him towards the center. Matakevich’s get-off is more aggressive than Chickillo’s but his two-point stance compromises his ability to gain leverage and his base is too narrow, meaning his feet aren’t wide enough apart to create stability. Like Chickillo, Matakevich also loses the battle of hand placement as Onyemata gets into his chest, allowing him to shed Matakevich and throw him to the ground once he notices the short snap. Nix runs hard, so hard he tricks himself into believing he’s made the first down, but he can’t overcome the poor blocking. It all amounts to a disaster.

Here’s the play in its entirety:

I have no problem with calling the fake punt in this situation. I understand the logic of it. Not wanting to give the ball back to Brees. Not trusting the defense to stop him. Mike Tomlin remarked after the game that he had wanted to “stay aggressive” in that situation. I think most fans understood what he was really saying. And I think many agreed.

But was this the best utilization of our personnel? Asking Matakevich and Chickillo to execute drive blocks? Putting the ball in the hands of Nix, a great blocker but a player who hadn’t had a single carry all season? A trap scheme, which would have created angles for all of the blockers, would have given them a better chance to succeed. Heck, leaving the offense on the field and giving Ben, AB, Juju etc a shot to make five yards would have been preferable to asking Chickillo and Matakevich to make those blocks.

It’s possible special teams coach Danny Smith was anticipating a different alignment from the Saints. Perhaps something that gave him an “I-O” block at the point of attack, meaning there would be a defender lined up inside of Matakevich and outside of Chickillo. Each player would then have an angle on their defender and would have an easier job turning them and creating a hole for Nix. If that was the case, there should have been a “hot” check to either change the aiming point for Nix or call the play off entirely. There was no hot check and the play failed. Our season seemed to fail with it.

Looking Ahead

I am by no means in the doom and gloom camp when it comes to the state of this franchise. Heck, I believe, had things shaken out just a little differently, we could be the ones awaiting the Rams in the Super Bowl. We have some holes in the lineup but who doesn’t? We can beat any team in the league on any given Sunday. Those holes aren’t the reason we’ve been sitting home for a month.

My enthusiasm for the upcoming Super Bowl was dampened by about 90% the second Rex Burkhead crossed the goal line in overtime in Kansas City last Sunday. I don’t have the energy to hate the Patriots anymore. It’s exhausting. I would rather just ignore them and hope they eventually go away. That said, it’s impossible not to marvel at their brilliance. To have sustained this level of success in a league built on parity is remarkable. They have had some luck along the way and I have no doubt they have bent some rules. But their success is earned.

What is even more remarkable is that, when you look at the Patriots roster, you are surprised at the lack of so-called “big” names. They have had great players over the years, Tom Brady being the obvious, but the secret to their success has always been Bill Belichick’s unique ability to find ordinary players to excel in specific roles and to tailor his schemes to the strengths of his roster. Tom Brady is hardly ever touched in the pocket. But quick - name one of the Pats starting offensive linemen. How many Super Bowls have they won with marginal running backs and receivers whose careers thrive while in New England and fizzle everywhere else? How many Mike Vrabel’s have they rescued from obscurity, found a role for and created an environment in which to thrive?

Belichick credits Bill Parcells for teaching him the value of having the right players in the right roles. Parcells’ New York Giants, for whom Belichick was defensive coordinator, won two Super Bowls with players like Phil McConkey, Dave Meggett, Stephen Baker and Jeff Hostetler playing integral roles. A lights-out defense built around legendary linebacker Lawrence Taylor certainly helped. But it was Parcells’s ability to have his players prepared, for them to know their roles and to put them in positions where they could succeed that allowed the Giants as heavy underdogs to topple juggernauts like the Joe Montana 49ers and Jim Kelly’s Buffalo Bills. Belichick has taken the lessons he learned from Parcells and crafted them into an art form.

When we reflect on the Steelers’ 2018 season, we see some troubling examples of the opposite in play. Steeler linebackers matched up on wide receivers. Terrell Edmunds playing cover-2 (not yet a strength of his) in obvious passing situations. Steven Ridley carrying the football out of the I-formation in crunch time. Josh Dobbs quarterbacking the team unnecessarily in a crucial road game. The linebacker assignments on the fake punt. All are examples of players put in roles for which they were not suited.

That New Orleans game still stings because it was one of the best games the Steelers played all season. It showed that this team could go into one of the toughest environments in the league and stand toe-to-toe with an elite team. The fake punt call did not lose that football game for us. But its reliance upon players being asked to do things they were not capable of doing just might have. This is the primary lesson I would encourage Coach Tomlin and his staff to consider as they self-evaluate this off-season. How can they reduce the number of times players are put in positions of weakness? How can they scheme to the strengths of their players? The answer to these questions may very well bridge the gap between continued disappointment and that elusive seventh Super Bowl

5 Winners and 5 Losers after the 2019 Senior Bowl

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/28/2019 - 7:57am

Senior Bowl week truly revealed some gems.....and some duds

With a week in Mobile having flown by and the game now officially in the books, there was a lot of shakeup of draft stock at the Senior Bowl this year. All teams, including our beloved Steelers, were paying close attention to see what players stuck out and could be potential targets on draft day for them.

Some guys took the opportunity and ran with it all the way home. Others fell flat upon their face as they plummeted their draft stock more than even most draft pundits could have predicted.

It is that discrepancy that makes this week so unpredictable and yet, so intriguing to anyone who is interested in these prospects.

Thus, here are five winners and five losers in Mobile this week.

Winners

South Carolina WR Deebo Samuel

Samuel was the best player in Mobile and it was not particularly close. No CB could ever cover him in coverage in any drill during practices and then during the game, he was wide open more often than not, he simply just did not have many on-target passes that he could actually catch.

WR Deebo Samuel doing whatever he wanted out there. The CBs struggled to match him all day. #SeniorBowl pic.twitter.com/0iIXh4UVF2

— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 25, 2019

Samuel put his route running and quickness on full display, and that is without even showing his YAC ability on top of it all. If AB has to be replaced, Samuel is one of the strongest options out there to do it with.

Kansas State OT Dalton Risner

Versatility is the name of the game for Risner. He can play all five positions along the offensive line and showed his ability to be a rock solid offensive tackle this week. His strength and hand usage and placement were on full display this week in Mobile. Risner was a star among a strong OL group.

Dalton Risner Smashpic.twitter.com/rnHMbmiWGl

— Raphão Martins (@raphaomartins) January 24, 2019

His ferocious mentality was fantastic too. He was always fiery and had something to prove each and every play. He is one of the smartest guys there too, so that could prove that he could become a starting C someday.

Temple CB Rock Ya-Sin

He is not 6’2” like he was listed at Temple, but it is more than okay because of what he truly showed at the Senior Bowl. Ya-Sin had some great ball skills, fluidity, and processing skills in this draft. He is progressing along mentally well and could be a slight project, but I believe he is more refined than most people think about him currently.

Deebo Samuel re-sets line of scrimmage against Rock Ya-Sin with outside double stutter release.

Ya-Sin therefore gets no jam on Samuel from the press alignment.

Ya-Sin shows his ++ traits, flashing a speed turn to recover and a fast break. Great path to knock ball incomplete. pic.twitter.com/U6qVWZ88de

— Matty F. Brown (@mattyfbrown) January 27, 2019

Ya-Sin’s ferocious mentally and lengthy arms are ideal for press. and his fluidity and recovery speed are ideal for zone. This is a very scheme diverse player that can compress roles. He is awesome folks.

New Mexico State ILB Terrill Hanks

This guy plays with a chip on his shoulder and lets everyone hear it. Hanks is one of those Darius Leonard-type of leaders who are just infectious to the defense. He is a leader of men and an incredible alpha male who was the leader of that Aggies defense, and at the Senior Bowl, he showed off.

Wow Terrill Hanks @elev8yourgame is definitely up to the task #SeniorBowl #NFL #ISAFamily pic.twitter.com/u0eR0eveAh

— Int'l Sports Agency (@isasports) January 22, 2019

This dude can straight up run! Downhill, sideline-to-sideline type of player that just stood out. He is a converted safety, so he is a fantastic coverage LB too who can process well. He needs to work on his tackling and angles, but man, he is the type of guy you just want. This year’s Fred Warner.

Georgia State WR Penny Hart

He is only 5’8”, but he is a stick of dynamite out of the slot that teams will just love because he is a fantastic special teamer on top of being a productive slot guy. The dude is just blazing fast and is so quick he literally works through press based off of it alone.

There’s more to Penny Hart than quick-twitch:

•Cut off and contacted, Hart disengages by pressing the DB’s shoulder
•Jab steps with a head fake to open the DB’s hips
•Threatens space that requires the DB to overextend his his flip and shift his weight opposite of Hart’s break pic.twitter.com/N52v5EVDIy

— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 25, 2019

I love his twitchiness and attention to detail in his routes. He is a great route runner and has a diverse route tree too. This is the type of slot WR every team looks for, so look out on Day 3.

Losers

West Virginia QB Will Grier

Grier did not have himself a good week at all. He looked out of his element and his footwork was everywhere this week. He missed guys, processed things wrong, and tried to play far too much hero ball. From all accounts, Grier was the worst QB there besides Trace McSorely this. Even in the game, he made a crazy throw that Hunter Renfrow bailed him out on.

What a play! @WVUfootball's @willgrier_ ➡️ @ClemsonFB's @renfrowhunter on 3rd down!

: @seniorbowl only on NFL Network pic.twitter.com/jbXjMBRezb

— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) January 26, 2019

You just do not make that throw. That throw was a duck 50/50 ball that he was incredibly lucky was not intercepted. Great play by Renfrow, but a hazardous and honestly maddening play from Grier. He is not worth a day 1 or day 2 pick, the earliest I would touch him is Day 3.

Louisville WR Jaylen Smith

Smith has a ton of tools. He is a big receiver with speed and big play ability down the field. That should translate to separation and big plays, but he has not been anything other than mediocre this week. He had drops, could not gain separation, and when he did, he never fully saw the ball into his mitts.

Temple CB Rock Ya-Sin with nice coverage on Jaylen Smith #SeniorBowl pic.twitter.com/KPuYaSNv5K

— Titans Film Room (@titansfilmroom) January 26, 2019

He showed very little semblance of solid route running and his releases left a lot to be desired, to say the least. Smith is a Justin Hunter-type of WR that should be strayed away from.

Penn State CB Amani Oruwariye

Oruwariye not only sustained a knee injury (that was minor), but he just did not have a consistent week. He had those great plays where you see his IQ on display and he makes a beautiful play, but at other times, he looked lost and preemptive on some of the plays. He bit on some double moves and that is no bueno.

Awesome job for Amani Oruwariye at first, but needs to play the ball pic.twitter.com/bmModk6vcm

— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) January 23, 2019

It is not that he had a bad week, it is that he just did not show that round 1 pedigree that you were hoping to see. He firmly is now below DeAndre Baker on the CB totem pole. Baker has proven to be better and this only re-affirmed such thoughts.

Northern Illinois EDGE Sutton Smith

Remember Risner smashing that one guy into the ground? That was Northern Illinois EDGE Sutton Smith who should never play EDGE ever. He is a gifted pass rusher with insane bend, but he is so undersized that he gets manhandled.

Never ever think Sutton Smith is an EDGE. Can he play off-ball? Sure. I like Smith there, but his size is a detriment to him having any EDGE aspirations. pic.twitter.com/KBVA01YyVG

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) January 27, 2019

Smith should move to off-ball, where he can move and process more than well enough to thrive. Joe Schobert 2.0 is not out of the realm of possibility, but he did have limited reps there, so overall, all he did was end any aspirations of playing off the edge.

Virginia S Juan Thornhill

Thornhill just looked outmatched in man coverage and honestly slow. The processing and ball skills were there, but he didn’t have the strength to fight off TEs nor the quickness to beat the shifty slot guys. Thornhill might be a strict deep guy at this point, thus deterring from his once thought of versatility.

Another rough throw by Duke QB Daniel Jones as Virginia DB Juan Thornhill drops an easy INT... pic.twitter.com/NhaSFpPLZ8

— Mark (@MHeaneyJr) January 26, 2019

The dropped INT in Saturday’s game was a cherry on top. Thornhill is still a very good prospect, but Darnell Savage simply might be better.

Recent reports surrounding Antonio Brown suggest he has spoken with Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/28/2019 - 6:42am

If two recent reports are to be believed, it appears the Steelers might finally have had some communication with their star receiver.

Despite a whole host of names to talk to at the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl less than seven days away, it would appear that Antonio Brown is still the only topic in football. But while talk about a possible trade continues to dominate the headlines, two reports from the last few days finally indicate that some progress might have been made between the Pittsburgh Steelers and their star receiver.

According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, reached out to ESPN on Friday to deny a recent report in the press, and in doing so appeared to suggest that some form of contact has been made with the Steelers since the season had ended.

Drew Rosenhaus to ESPN on Fansided report of possible Antonio Brown/PIT reconciliation: "(Reporter) has no idea what our position is. We have not shared it with anyone outside of the Steelers. We have shared our thoughts w/ the Steelers but will keep those discussions internal"

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) January 25, 2019

A fact seemingly confirmed in a report from Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network on Sunday.

More on Antonio Brown: The #Steelers are exploring trade options, but Brown hasn’t closed the door on returning. He’s maintained a steady dialogue with some in the organization he’s close with to express that sentiment. Still, he should draw significant interest on the market.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 27, 2019

Heading to ATL for @SuperBowl, the future of #Steelers WR Antonio Brown remains the dominant non-SB story. Where things stand: While a fresh start is now the preferred outcome, the team has not yet given Brown & his agent permission to facilitate a trade. It’s in the team’s hands

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 27, 2019

Ignoring the speculative parts of Rapoport’s tweets, it is interesting to note that he claims the Steelers have not officially given Rosenhaus permission to try and trade his client, even if he does seem to suggest it is the desired option.

If Brown is to remain in Pittsburgh 2019, it will be no thanks to those in the local media who appear to be going out of their way to bait him as of late. When it is not the radio talk shows trashing his name on air, it is senior beat reporters taunting him on social media.

I bet 75% of the reason why @AB84 would want to leave. We have quit a few jokes in Pittsburgh media. https://t.co/LoA0fKLQ6A

— Steel City Dawg (@RealPittBull) January 26, 2019

Stay woke https://t.co/PE2ti54C1n

— Antonio Brown (@AB84) January 27, 2019

The idea of a fresh start with a new team where the local media doesn't hate him must seem increasingly appealing to Brown right now.

Podcast: Analyzing the Steelers’ free agents, who should stay and go

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/28/2019 - 5:30am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers season is over, but the news is just starting to heat up. With a surge of Steelers news, it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC flagship podcast The Standard is the Standard. On this show Jeff Hartman and special co-host Lance Williams break down all things Steelers, including a fun game of “True or False!”

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Recapping the week that was
  • Analyzing the Steelers’ free agents
  • Super Bowl 53 predictions
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

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

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

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

Black and Gold Links: AFC wins Pro Bowl, and good news on JuJu Smith-Schuster’s injury

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/28/2019 - 4:30am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, but if you think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over — think again. For the drama-filled Steelers, things are just heating up, and this is where the daily links article comes in. You might have missed some key news, and we fill you in and give you the latest, and sometimes greatest, news surrounding the Steelers.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article we take a look at the American Football Conference (AFC) besting the National Football Conference (NFC) in the most meaningless football game every played — the Pro Bowl. However, after JuJu Smith-Schuster left the game with a leg injury, it was good to see the Steelers’ budding superstar reportedly is okay.

Let’s get to the news:

AFC wins Pro Bowl, Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster hurts knee

By: The Associated Press, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Pro Bowl long has been considered a laughable representation of the NFL game.

It reached a new level of comedy Sunday as several players swapped positions.

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey caught a touchdown pass in the final minute, capping a dominate performance for the AFC defense in a 26-7 victory over the NFC in steady rain.

Pittsburgh Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster left the game with a bruised knee, but the injury was not considered serious. However, he was limping on the way to the bus and declined comment. Smith-Schuster had one catch for 16 yards.

Teammate James Conner ran six times for 11 yards. Cameron Heyward had 1.5 sacks and tied for the team high with six tackles.

It was the third consecutive victory for the AFC, all of them at Camping World Stadium.

The last two were played in sloppy weather, with the latest one also coming amid temperatures in the mid-50s. It was far from ideal conditions, raising speculation about the game’s future in Orlando but fairly fitting considering the effort players provided. It was two-hand touch most of the day, with officials blowing plays dead at the slightest hint of contact.

“Who cares, man?” New York Jets safety Jamal Adams said. “At the end of the day, we’re like little kids out there just playing in the mud, playing in the rain.”

Regardless of the elements, the AFC made the plays the NFC didn’t.

Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Indianapolis’ Eric Ebron on the opening possession, helping Mahomes earn the offensive MVP. Mahomes pleaded with voters to give it to Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman, who caught three passes for 92 yards and ran for a score.

(To read more, click the link in the headline...)

John Steigerwald: Chuck Noll the reason Pittsburgh became football town

By: John Steigerwald, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh always has been a football town.

How many times have you heard that? It’s probably the consensus among the national media, but it’s only an accepted truth in Western Pennsylvania by people who are not old enough to remember when it clearly wasn’t.

Granted, that group is getting smaller every day, but those of us who were around when Chuck Noll was hired 50 years ago Sunday know his hiring is what eventually would change Pittsburgh into a football town.

On January 27, 1969, Pittsburgh sports fans were excited about the Pirates going to spring training. They also were preparing to say goodbye to Forbes Field because they were going to open the 1970 season at Three Rivers Stadium. (As it turned out, Three Rivers wasn’t ready until June 1970.)

January 1969 was not a good time to be a Pittsburgh sports fan. The Pirates finished 17 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals, going 80-82 and taking sixth in the 10-team National League. Roberto Clemente, who had been booed early in the 1968 season, hit .291, the only time he was below .300 in the 1960s. And the Pirates were, by far, the best and most popular team in town.

When Noll showed up for his first day on the job, Pittsburgh was a baseball town, and it wasn’t close. The Steelers were something to do in between Pirates seasons. They were a civic embarrassment and a community joke.

Pitt football was so bad, it made the Steelers look like the Green Bay Packers.

There have been periods of hard times for local sports fans over the last 50 years, but it was never as bad as when Noll showed up.

The Steelers finished 2-11-1 in 1968 and fired Bill Austin, who went 5-8-1 and 4-9-1 in his first two seasons. I was 20 years old. They had managed four winning seasons in my lifetime, three of them since my 10th birthday.

They shared Pitt Stadium with the Panthers.

Are you ready for Pitt’s record the three years before Noll showed up to coach the Steelers?

(To read more, click the link in the headline...)

Jerome Bettis honored to win Dapper Dan Lifetime Achievement Award in ‘adopted hometown’

By: Nubyjas Wilborn

As it is for many people, the trajectory of Jerome Bettis’ life can be traced through a set of fortuitous phone calls and sound decisions.

Bettis received a phone call on April 20, 1996, that would change everything.

The 5-foot-11, 255-pound running back had just completed a tough season with the Rams. Bettis only had 623 yards on 183 attempts in 1995, which was the Rams’ first in St.Louis after leaving Los Angeles. In his rookie campaign, Bettis rushed for 1,429 yards and followed up with 1,025 in 1994.

Steelers head coach Bill Cowher called Bettis to let him know that he would be coming to Pittsburgh.

“He said something that I’ll never forget,” Bettis told the Post-Gazette. “’If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’ He was referring to my rookie year. We played against them they couldn’t stop me. It felt good to know he recognized my talent that way.”

Bettis played the remaining 10 seasons of his career with Steelers and ran for 10,571 of his 13,662 career yards wearing the black and gold.

“It’s an amazing organization. You don’t realize it until you get inside the culture. At first, you think it’s like any other team. But once you’re in, you see it’s different,” Bettis said. “It starts from your teammates to the coaches, to the administration and all the way up to the owner. Everybody in the building was on the same page. We were able to talk to the owner on a first-name basis. I appreciated that coming from a close family. It was an amazing opportunity to play for what I feel is the best organization in football.”

(To read more, click the link in the headline...)

JuJu Smith-Schuster limps off the field after awkward tackle during the Pro Bowl

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 01/27/2019 - 3:05pm

Any Steelers fans watching the Pro Bowl did not want to see anything like this happen...

If you are one of the few NFL fans who are actually watching the annual Pro Bowl in Orlando, one thing is certain — you don’t want to see any of the players participating from your favorite team get injured.

This is where Pittsburgh Steelers fans had to hold their collective breath when dynamic wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster limped off the field, and was being checked on the sideline, after an awkward tackle during the second quarter of the game.

Here is video of him being evaluated on the sideline.

Uh oh. Juju Smith-Schuster came up limping on that last play and is being looked at on the sideline. #ProBowl #Steelers pic.twitter.com/PLV9cwWt3K

— Roto Street Journal (@RotoStJournal) January 27, 2019

Smith-Schuster has yet to return to the game, and likely won’t considering it is a meaningless game, but the hope is the injury isn’t serious and is nothing time won’t heal.

To compound this situation is the fact the Steelers and Antonio Brown remain in an impasse with the future of the perennial Pro Bowler in serious doubt. This isn’t to suggest the injury to Smith-Schuster is serious, but to just acknowledge the depth at the position for Pittsburgh heading into the 2019 season.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest updates on this story, as well as others, as the Steelers continue throughout the offseason and prepare for the 2019 regular season.

2019 Pro Bowl: Time, TV schedule, rosters and open thread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 01/27/2019 - 1:40pm

All the information you need to know to keep up with the action from the Pro Bowl.

While it would be hard to call it much of a contest, the 2019 Pro Bowl will mark the last time fans will get to see anyone wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers helmet play football this season. Well represented on the AFC roster with six players, only the Chicago Bears (7) will have more players taking part in the game.

With four of these selection set to feature on offense, the matchup should have something of a Pittsburgh feel to it at times with running back James Conner, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and offensive linemen Alejandro Villanueva and Maurkice Pouncey all likely to be on the field at the same time, with Smith-Schuster the only one not named as a starter.

The defense will be represented by defensive end Cam Heyward and linebacker T.J. Watt and while neither was named as a starter, but both should get a chance to lineup alongside each other at some point in the game. With J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans unsurprisingly named as a starter, T.J. should also get a rare opportunity to take the field with his older brother.

If not for injuries that prevented them from making the trip, Pittsburgh would have seen wide receiver Antonio Brown and offensive lineman David DeCastro in this game, but both officially withdrew soon after the regular season had ended. While Smith-Schuster and T.J. Watt were added to the contest as alternates once other players had dropped out.

Game information:

Game: AFC vs. NFC

Date: Sunday, January 27.

Kickoff: 3.00 p.m. ET.

Venue: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida.

Weather: Live weather update.

Watch:

TV Channel: ESPN, ESPN Deportes, ABC and Disney XD, with Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten and Booger McFarland as commentators and Lisa Salters the sideline reporter.

Online Streaming: NFL.com Game Pass, via ESPN’s online streaming service WatchESPN or with DisneyNow.

Rosters:

Full list of each roster for the AFC and NFC from NFL.com.

List of players the Steelers met with at the Senior Bowl continues to grow

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 01/27/2019 - 12:28pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers continue doing their due diligence meeting with prospects prior to the NFL Scouting Combine.

The 2019 Senior Bowl is in the books, but reports of players meeting with specific teams in pre-draft visits continues to grow. While college prospects now turn their attention to the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, news continues to spill out of Mobile, Alabama of which teams met with specific prospects.

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, while many meetings are not reported, there have been several listed by WalterFootball.com. On top of meeting with a tight end prior to the game, it now looks like the Steelers have gone all defense in the most recent round of reported meetings.

Take a look at the prospects who reportedly have met with Pittsburgh, and a little information on each of them:

Isaiah Buggs, DT/NT, Alabama

Isaiah Buggs is a burly interior defensive lineman who plays on the edge for Alabama in their base packages on early downs. That role won’t suit his lack of athleticism well in the NFL, but Buggs is a power-playing, slow-burn pass rusher who can discard offensive linemen with his hands or run through them to the pocket as well. He’s a load when he brings it, capable of lining up all over the defensive front as a capable pass rusher and consistent point-of-attack threat against the run. Can Buggs ever be a high-impact player at the next level, especially without special traits?

via The Draft Network

John Cominsky, DE, University of Charleston

Video Highlights:

Amani Oruwariye, CB, Penn State

Oruwariye’s size, length, strength and ball skills make him an ideal fit as an outside zone/press corner. Complementing his impressive stature is a trust for his technique and outstanding processing skills. Oruwariye has the traits needed to matchup with “X” receivers in man coverage, making him a scheme-versatile defender. Oruwariye has the upside to start early in his career on the boundary and emerge as a productive playmaker with his ability to make game-changing plays on the football.

via the Draft Network

...

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news on the prospect meetings leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft, and all the latest black-and-gold news.

NFL will test out several new innovations during the Pro Bowl

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 01/27/2019 - 10:45am

The league will use the Pro Bowl as an opportunity to try out a number of new game day innovations they are interested in implementing.

With the Pro Bowl seen as more of an exhibition game than a competitive matchup, the league will once use this annual event to test out a number of game day innovations that might one day be approved for use during the regular season.

Six new modifications will be tested for their viability on Sunday, with perhaps the most significant being the installation of multiple coach-to-player communications devices to be used simultaneously during the game. Under current rules, only one player on either side of the ball is permitted to wear a helmet that allows them to talk to the coaching staff on the sidelines, signified by a green dot on the helmet, but this testing could help change that rule one day.

A look at some of the game day innovations that will be tested at the 2019 @NFL Pro Bowl.

Tune in Sunday at 3:00 PM ET on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and Disney XD and simulcast on ABC. pic.twitter.com/H4bmYNeWhe

— NFL345 (@NFL345) January 25, 2019

As per the NFL Communications department, this is the full list of changes the league will be testing throughout the game.

  • Optical performance: Testing the new prism football shield to enhance player vision on-field.
  • Multiple coach-to-player on-field communication: Multiple players on each side of the ball to have communication equipment in helmet for future evaluation.
  • Adjustment to game clock: Modifying both game and play clock for understanding and maximizing pace of play.
  • Camera angles: Helmet camera, officiating hat camera, pylon 1st down camera, and pregame camera in locker room to provide unique perspectives.
  • Player & Legend captains wired for audio: Expanding on ESPN’s existing use of player audio in the “Monday Night Mic” segments.
  • 360-degree camera: A 360-degree camera under the goal post with a view of the entire back line of the end zone, providing a unique look at potential scoring plays.

New camera angles and audio sources should enhance the viewer experience, even if the game itself is not much of a contest. The potential of helmet cameras is an exciting addition that the NFL first used with great success in the World League of American Football back in 1991 and an innovation that many have wanted to see in the NFL for decades.

The Pro Bowl will kick off at 3 p.m. ET and will be broadcast nationally on ESPN, ESPN Deportes, ABC and Disney XD. More information on how to watch the game and all the players taking part can be found here.

JuJu Smith Schuster's superstar ascension was all part of the Steelers’ plan

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 01/27/2019 - 9:36am

The Pittsburgh Steelers knew exactly what they were doing when they selected JuJu Smith Schuster with their second round pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. They realized he would never be the next Antonio Brown, which is precisely why they drafted him in the first place.

I was wrong and I readily admit it. I couldn't understand why the Pittsburgh Steelers used a second round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on a wide receiver from USC that I honestly had never heard of till the NFL Combine commenced. Mainly I was shocked because I didn't consider the wide receiver position to be high on the Steelers list of pressing needs.

Martavis Bryant was expected back from his year long suspension and appeared to have made strides in his personal life and even managed to add muscle mass to his freakishly athletic frame. He had much to prove and should have been plenty motivated to have a monster season. Obviously the Steelers were wish to hedge their bet by selecting JuJu and resisting the urge to gamble on Bryant's return to form. I believe his reaction to Smith Schuster's selection and resulting tweet was our first glimpse of things to come.

I had been lulled into a false sense of security because the Steelers had proven capable of finding quality wideouts in the later rounds of the draft, or even undrafted free agents, seemingly at will. So why were the Steelers selecting a receiver that early in the draft when they had so many other positions of need? Especially a guy that, judging by his combine numbers and collegiate statistics, wasn't going to have teams running up to the podium to select him.

JuJu on paper had three main attributes working in his favor. His frame, his hands, and his age. Even though he was one of the youngest players in the draft, he already possessed a NFL ready physique and a strong set of hands. Nothing else necessarily jumped off the screen watching his workouts and highlights, or off the page going over his numbers. He wasn't particularly fast, tall, or explosive. He appeared to be merely a solid selection, mainly due to his age and potential for continued growth and development, whose ceiling was probably a WR2 at best. The hardest attributes to measure for any prospects is their intangibles. Thankfully the Steelers had a man on the inside at USC that knew JuJu's intangibles very well.

Steelers legend Lynn Swann just so happens to be the Athletic Director at his alma mater USC and was able to advise the Steelers concerning JuJu's character and potential. I'm certain this insight proved vital in JuJu's selection.

This week JuJu has been enjoying the Pro Bowl festivities in Orlando Florida, an invitation that he received interestingly enough, only after Antonio Brown had to withdraw due to injury.

His youthful enthusiasm has been on full display and has been breath of fresh air to those in attendance. His relaxed demeanor and easy charm allows him to make new fans wherever he goes, even with individuals who are definitely not Steelers fans normally. You simply can't fake sincerity, and JuJu has it in abundance. He has proven to be quite the ambassador for the Steelers. You could see his love for competition during his outstanding performance in the best hands challenge. It was refreshing to witness his joy, not burdened by expectation or concern for his brand. That is JuJu's business, to make people smile. Partly because he is present, engaging, and relatable.

With all the uncertainty surrounding Antonio Brown's availability next season, JuJu realizes that he may be forced to take over the WR1 position sooner rather than later. That scenario is definitely not what JuJu wants, but he has no say in that decision. There is no doubt that he has benefited immensely from AB's greatness on the other side of the field, and he doesn't want that to change. He has also learned by example from a skilled craftsman and one of the hardest working players in the league, and he remains appreciative.

Whatever happens, JuJu understands he can never replace the greatness of Antonio Brown, he can only be the best JuJu Smith Schuster he can be.

He will continue doing his best Hines Ward impersonation, and being his carefree, happy go lucky, no drama self.

Somehow I get the feeling that was the Steelers plan all along.

Critics of Steelers 2017 draft class refuted by trio of selections in Pro Bowl

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 01/27/2019 - 8:26am

The Steelers have not have always had the success they would have like in the NFL Draft as of late, but the 2017 is shaping up to the one of their best.

For a team that has become synonymous with building through the draft, it would be fair to say the Pittsburgh Steelers have not necessarily enjoyed a high level of success as of late. But while there have been notable misses over the past few years, it would appear the future is looking bright the class of 2017.

When the AFC takes the field at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, half of the Steelers representatives in the game will be made up of players drafted just two years ago. With the trio of T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner all set to take part, Pittsburgh has achieved something no previous draft class in the Kevin Colbert era has ever matched.

Dating back to 2000 when Colbert first joined the team, the Steelers have never seen as many as three players drafted in the same year ever make the Pro Bowl at any point in their careers with Pittsburgh. Let alone in only their second season in the NFL and all at the same time. The closest he came before happening with the 2010 draft class with Maurkice Pouncey, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Even if Sanders was with the Denver Broncos when he finally earned a Pro Bowl selection.

However, this was not the future some in the media first projected for the 2017 draft class. Looking back at the initial draft grades published by a variety of outlets, there were one or two “experts” who could not possibly have imagined seeing three of them in the Pro Bowl on Sunday back then.

While it should be noted that there were many who gave positive reviews, there were also those who were rather unimpressed. Luke Easterling of DraftWire was far more enamored by the Cleveland Browns selections of Myles Garrett and DeShone Kizer among others, rating them an A-. while the Steelers only received a C.

“Another roller-coaster class, the Steelers addressed some needs, added depth and got more athletic, but not without some head-scratching picks along the way. The good? Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt and Tennessee’s Cam Sutton bring much-needed versatility and athleticism to the defense, while Josh Dobbs and James Conner add depth and fantastic locker room presence to the offense.”

“The bad? Spending a second-round pick on a reliable pass-catcher with a low ceiling (USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster), ignoring tight end completely and spending a pick on a long snapper. There’s just as much to like about this group as there is to make you bury your head in a Terrible Towel.”

Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated was only marginal more impressed giving Pittsburgh a C+.

“OLB T.J. Watt (pick No. 29) tested off the charts and the Steelers will love his effort level, but there were edge defenders deep into Day 2 who might have been capable of providing just as much pop as pass rushers. We’ll see. I understand the JuJu Smith-Schuster pick at 62—he was a value there, and the Steelers can’t really depend yet on Martavis Bryant—but I’m not sure I get it. The glaring needs were elsewhere on the roster. CB Cameron Sutton (No. 94) could be a good one, and RB James Conner (No. 105) is destined to be a fan favorite, plus he’ll pick up tough yards. No surprise they found a quarterback: Josh Dobbs (No. 135). Not sure that’s a replacement plan if Big Ben walks soon. Docked points for drafting a long snapper in Round 6 (Louisville’s Colin Holba, pick 213).”

While the rest of the draft class might be a bit further away from a Pro Bowl berth than the three playing on Sunday, Josh Dobbs has done well enough to secure the backup role to Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Sutton and Brian Allen remain in the mix as options as cornerback. Colin Holba is the only pick not still with the team and Keion Adams was on the practice squad this year having spent his rookie season on injured reserve.

Certainly seems better than a C so far.

This Week in Steelers Stats: Various numbers from the 2018 season and Championship Sunday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 01/27/2019 - 7:04am

A compilation of Steelers and AFC/NFC Championship games statistics from various Tweets over the past week.

Compiling statistics can take hours upon hours in order to find the proper numbers. To save you the trouble, here are some of the best statistics about the Steelers, championship games, and upcoming Super Bowl published during this past week.

I will begin with a few statistics of my own before going on to other various Steeler sources. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @STLRSuperFanDad in order to get some of BTSC’s geekiest stats.

The 2018 New England Patriots are the 1st NFL team to ever reach the Super Bowl with 5 losses to non-playoff teams (Jacksonville, Detroit, Tennessee, Miami, and Pittsburgh).

— SteelersSuperFanDad (@STLRSuperFanDad) January 23, 2019

There were 25 games in the NFL this season in which a team did not reach 15 rushing attempts. In those games, teams were 2–23. The only wins were Miami v. Oakland in Week 3 (14 attempts) and Pittsburgh in Jacksonville in Week 11 (11 attempts).

— SteelersSuperFanDad (@STLRSuperFanDad) January 22, 2019

With the win in the 2018 AFC Championship game, Tom Brady improved his road record to 4-4 in the playoffs. His neutral-site (Super Bowl) playoff record is 5-3 while his home record is 20-3.

— SteelersSuperFanDad (@STLRSuperFanDad) January 21, 2019

For the first time ever, both the AFC and NFC championship games have gone to overtime in the same year.

— SteelersSuperFanDad (@STLRSuperFanDad) January 21, 2019

Home teams are 2-3 all time in OT in NFC Championship games. If including AFC Championship games, the home team is 2-4.

— SteelersSuperFanDad (@STLRSuperFanDad) January 20, 2019

The visiting team in the NFC Championship game has only won 3 times when trailing at halftime: 2012 49ers, 2007 Giants, and 1998 Falcons.

— SteelersSuperFanDad (@STLRSuperFanDad) January 20, 2019

The #Steelers are one of two #NFL teams (Chicago) with at least three of its 2017 Draft Class selections in the 2019 #ProBowl:

OLB T.J. Watt (@_TJWatt)
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu)
RB James Conner (@JamesConner_)

(credit: @EliasSports)

— Dom Rinelli (@drinelli) January 25, 2019

The Pittsburgh Steelers selected as our Offensive Line of the Year for their work in 2018https://t.co/CTSyXRWfZx pic.twitter.com/G6w9Ditpjx

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 24, 2019

Jesse James had a great season with the Steelers this last year – especially in pass protection.https://t.co/iLVj6lQ92P pic.twitter.com/DVFrHj4QsN

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 23, 2019

1️⃣9️⃣ #ProBowl pic.twitter.com/tETy7Q5vW4

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 23, 2019

9️⃣7️⃣ #ProBowl pic.twitter.com/oAKPuvu3JJ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 22, 2019

Big Ben tied for the league lead in deep pass touchdowns at 15 this year. pic.twitter.com/xFZV3s12vd

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 22, 2019

3️⃣0️⃣ #ProBowl pic.twitter.com/1yW4WwULtM

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 22, 2019

9️⃣0️⃣ #ProBowl pic.twitter.com/bhAaGx7vIC

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 21, 2019

5️⃣3️⃣
7️⃣8️⃣#ProBowl pic.twitter.com/3XYW2fQoAs

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 21, 2019

The @Saints now have 27 takeaways this season (including playoffs).

It is their most since 2009, when they had 47 en route to winning Super Bowl XLIV.

Speaking of... It had been 1,904 days since Demario Davis recorded his one and only career INT (11/3/2013).#Saints #Rams

— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 20, 2019

A Letter from the Editor: The NHL has it right when it comes to an All-Star game

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 01/27/2019 - 6:02am

While the other professional sports mess around with tradition, the NHL knows how to attract some attention.

At the time of this article being written, my laptop rests on my lap as the NHL All-Star game plays on the television in front of me. It seems fitting as the NFL’s Pro Bowl is set to air Sunday, and the NBA All-Star game not far on the horizon.

With that said, I have to admit I give the NHL a lot of credit. Considering they are the lowest on the four major sport totem pole, they sure do think outside of the box when it comes to displaying their All-Stars every year.

Like the NBA and MLB, the NHL’s All-Star game falls during the season, unlike the Pro Bowl played after the season, and no one really wants to put forth a ton of effort in this contest either. However, unlike MLB, this game carries no significance whatsoever.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the most enjoyable of all the All-Star games.

When you look at all of the festivities for the other sports, you have the same old stuff.

NBA

  • 3-point shooting contest
  • Slam Dunk contest
  • All-Star Game

MLB

  • Home Run Derby
  • Futures Game
  • Celebrity All-Star Softball Game
  • All-Star game to see which league gets home field advantage in the World Series

NFL

  • Skills competition
  • Pro Bowl

When you look at those sports, it is really just the same old, same old. Nothing new to see, and with the NFL being the most popular of all the sports, they should take a page out of the NHL’s All-Star playbook.

There was a time when the NHL would just throw out their best players and watch them light up the scoreboard. In the days of Gretzky, Yzerman, Lemieux, Bure and Jagr that was fine. After all, that was pre-strike and when ESPN was a proud provider of hockey. After that strike came the Outdoor Life Network, the Versus Network and finally finding a home on NBC.

The league recognized the need to get some attention, and while the game can be archaic from a rules standpoint, they at least get the All-Star festivities right.

The skills competition is both unique and intriguing. Skills like the fastest shot, fastest skater (which also had a female professional participate this year), and a very unique skills relay race with shows just how talented some of these players are with the puck on their sticks.

But the uniqueness doesn’t stop there. The All-Star game itself is both developed, and played, in a way which makes it interesting to watch. All-Star teams are developed by division, not conference. There you have a 3 vs. 3 bracket style tournament with both East and West divisions battling it out for the $1 million dollar prize for the tournament winner (which equates to an extra $90,909 per player).

The league realizes no one will really be playing defense, so why not just open up the ice and let the skill players go to work? And that is exactly what they do. Defensemen are on the rosters, but if you aren’t good with the puck don’t expect to play much. Goalies are hung out to dry, but it isn’t about goaltending, but goals scored.

Players leave the game free of injury, the fans leave seeing multiple games with plenty of goals scored and the league’s best crop of talent on the ice at the same time.

I call that a win-win.

Let’s bring this full circle when looking at the Pro Bowl. Why do fans hate it so much? Because it doesn’t even come close to actually resembling football. Running backs are held up rather than being tackled, and there hasn’t been a hard hit in the Pro Bowl since Sean Taylor did this:

If a player did that Sunday in Orlando, I’m pretty sure the NFL would have them arrested in today’s game. In other words, it just won’t happen.

So, how do you fix this problem with the Pro Bowl?

Easy.

First, scrap the stupid skills competition we witnessed earlier in the week and bring back the quarterback skills competition, etc. What I saw, which wasn’t much, was better than what it was just 5 years ago, but it could be so much better.

Second, as for how to fix the game itself, ditch the pads. The product on the field isn’t football, so why fake it? Put some flags on these guys, and let’s see some 7-on-7 play. In fact, to take it a step further, you could even take a page out of the NHL’s playbook and have a bracket with teams playing in a modified college football overtime scenario.

Is it football? Not really, but would be an improvement over what we see now. If it isn’t football, don’t pretend like it is. This is exactly what the NHL did, and their ratings have been rising steadily since the league has returned to NBC.

This from SB Nation in 2017:

The straight viewership alone went up 42 percent from last year, and the overnight rating — which measures viewership that occurs on the same day of the original broadcast — reached 1.6, also the NHL’s highest All-Star rating since 2004.

Viewership hit a peak at 2.529 million while the Metropolitan Division and the Pacific Division clashed in the All-Star Tournament final. It’s not a surprise either that the league’s biggest markets for the game were Pittsburgh (6.1 rating) and Buffalo (5.3 rating).

In 2018, the NHL saw a dip in their viewers while trying to go head-to-head with the NFL and the Pro Bowl on Sunday, but again showed a willingness to change and moved the game to Saturday in 2019. My guess is their viewership will return to form when all is said and done.

Not many love All-Star games, but it doesn’t mean leagues can’t make them more exciting. The NHL is ahead of the game on this one...

Black and Gold Links: When the Pirates’ manager chimes in on the Steelers and Antonio Brown, the horse is dead

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 01/27/2019 - 5:01am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, but if you think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over — think again. For the drama-filled Steelers, things are just heating up, and this is where the daily links article comes in. You might have missed some key news, and we fill you in and give you the latest, and sometimes greatest, news surrounding the Steelers.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article we take a look at the fact of when Pittsburgh Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle is asked to give his thoughts on the Steelers saga with Antonio Brown, you can consider this horse dead. Yet we continue to beat it repeatedly.

Let’s get to the news:

Pirates’ Clint Hurdle on Antonio Brown/Steelers: ‘They’ll figure it out’

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Clint Hurdle spoke publicly for more than 2½ hours Saturday. The gregarious Pittsburgh Pirates manager is never afraid to speak eloquently and offer his thoughts and opinions on a variety of topics, sometimes whether they have anything to do with his team or his sport or not.

But even Hurdle doesn’t have any answers to the major Pittsburgh sports winter story du jour: the seemingly-pending divorce between the Pittsburgh Steelers and star receiver Antonio Brown.

Hurdle was asked during a sitdown with members of the media Saturday if he ever had clashed with potential future Hall of Fame-level players during his 16 years as a major league manager and if he believes in giving star players differing level of treatment.

The question had an obvious root in the Steelers/Brown saga , something Hurdle was sure to respectfully and deftly avoid immersing himself in.

“I have all the respect for the organization across town,” Hurdle said. “There’s things that happen sometimes that are never the way you draw them up. However, I’m the last person that’s going to get in that advice column and send something over to anybody about any of that. So, they will figure it out. They have smart people over there. They will figure it out.”

VIDEO: What is Antonio Brown’s legacy in Pittsburgh?

Watch Josina Anderson, John Fox and Jeff Saturday discuss by clicking HERE.

Paul Zeise: When will the Steelers learn?

By: Paul Zeise, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

About a month ago, Antonio Brown quit on his team. He blew off the coaching staff and the owner, he was insubordinate in his refusal to get an MRI and then hid behind his agent the day of the season finale. He still hasn’t called back the owner of the team and he has spent time openly mocking the Steelers on social media.

This is how he repaid Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II after they spent his entire career enabling him and making his excuses for his behavior. They kept telling us, “That’s just Antonio being Antonio,” even as it was clear his behavior was moving from harmless idiocy to self-destructive. He had become a locker room cancer long before he blew off the Steelers.

A number of players told reporters, off the record and on, that they wanted nothing to do with Brown. They were angry that he quit on them and angry that the Steelers decided to pay him for that final game even though he chose to not play. But hey, give Brown credit, he did stay on the sideline of that Bengals game until half time.

Oh, and did I forget the part where the Bengals game was an absolute must-win? The Steelers needed to win that game and get some help from the Browns in order to make the playoffs.

Rooney was quoted right after the season that he had “a hard time imagining” Brown back with the Steelers for training camp. I thought that statement wasn’t nearly strong enough, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I was willing to believe that the Steelers finally understand that some players aren’t worth the trouble. Sometimes a team needs to get rid of players — no matter how talented — in order to take a step forward. Brown has been with the Steelers for nine seasons now and has put up big numbers. It hasn’t translated to a lot of winning when it matters, but he does have great stats.

That was all about a month ago and it seemed clear that Brown was going to be sent elsewhere for the good of the team. It was going to be the dawn of a new era with the Steelers, absent of two of the three Killer B’s and also absent of all the drama and nonsense they bring with them.

Fast forward to today, and I’m not so sure that the Steelers have learned their lesson. There are now reports leaking out that the market for Brown might not be what they had hoped and that they aren’t likely to get as much in return for him as they want. And at the Pro Bowl, team leaders like Cam Hewyard, Maurkice Pouncey and JuJu Smith-Schuster have been quoted as saying they really want him back.

(To read more, click the link in the headline above...)

2019 Senior Bowl: How to watch, game time, channel, rosters and open thread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/26/2019 - 1:05pm

Get all the information you need to enjoy the 2019 Senior Bowl.

While fans of the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots are mentally preparing for Super Bowl 53, all other NFL fan bases are starting to turn their attention to the 2019 NFL Draft with their teams’ season over.

Two weeks ago the East/West All-Star game got things kicked off, but the Senior Bowl has a different draw with more talent than any other pre-Draft game.

For fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, there will be several prospects to keep an eye on, but also just positions in general. Keep an eye on positions like RB, WR, EDGE, ILB, DL, OL and CB (not in any particular order) to see who might stand out prior to the NFL Scouting Combine takes place at the end of February.

Want to get the low down on the Senior Bowl? Check the information below, and be sure to chime in on the game with fellow black-and-gold fans in the comment section below:

How to watch the 2019 Senior Bowl
  • Date/Time: Jan. 26th, 2019 at 2:30 p.m. EST
  • Location: Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, AL
  • TV: The game will air on NFL Network
  • Online Stream: NFL.com/NFLNetwork
  • Series Leader: South lead the all-time series 36-33
  • Streak: South have won the past three games
  • Rosters: North and South
  • North Coach: Oakland Raiders
  • South Coach: San Francisco 49ers

Shaun Sarrett is more than ready to take over as the Steelers Offensive Line coach

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/26/2019 - 12:34pm

Working under Mike Munchak, Shaun Sarrett is more than ready to take over the offensive line room.

The Pittsburgh Steelers fan base was rocked a few weeks ago when there was the potential for offensive line coach Mike Munchak to become the head coach of the Denver Broncos. Fans had worried about this the year prior when the Arizona Cardinals tried to poach the Hall of Fame coach away from the Steelers. Needless to say, when Munchak chose to return to Pittsburgh there was a lot of rejoicing.

Hoping the talented position coach would be fine just remaining the offensive line coach in the Steel City, when the Broncos wanted to interview him for the head coaching position it seemed as if the demand for him to return to the head coaching ranks would remain high for teams in search of a new coach.

The Broncos didn’t choose Munchak for their new coach, but the gut punch was delivered to Steelers fans when Munchak elected to take a lateral position with the Broncos.

With Munchak out of the mix, who would step up and take over? Fans recalled memories of the Swiss cheese offensive lines prior to Munchak taking over, but the Steelers wasted little time promoting long-time assistant Shaun Sarrett to take over for Munchak.

Who is this Sarrett? What does he bring to the table?

In a sit-down interview with Steelers.com reporter Missi Mathews, Sarrett shared how he learned from Munchak, is more than ready to take over the position room and details how he is prepared and excited for the new opportunity presented to him by head coach Mike Tomlin.

Check out the interview below, and hope the newly promoted Sarrett can not just pick up where Munchak left off, but also help to continue the molding Munchak did with lesser talent, turning them into starters for the black-and-gold.

How he found out he got the promotion, what he learned from Mike Munchak, and much more in this week's Face Time with new Offensive Line Coach Shaun Sarrett. pic.twitter.com/qq6TNyltjN

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) January 24, 2019

Terrell Owens reveals Antonio Brown has been seeking his advice as ‘somewhat of a mentor’

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/26/2019 - 11:25am

If Antonio Brown really is getting advice on how to handle his situation with the Steelers from Terrell Owens, fans should be prepared for a rough offseason.

If the latest revelations about Antonio Brown from Jeremy Fowler of ESPN were not bad enough, comments from Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens on Friday were even harder to hear. After appearing on a podcast for Pro Football Talk and a segment for the NFL Network, Owens became the latest name to exploit his connection to Brown for a little bit of media attention.

Adding yet another voice to those who believe Brown will be playing elsewhere in 2019, Owens’ suggestion that the Pittsburgh Steelers star receiver had expressed a desire to leave was disappointing to hear. But the discovery that AB had been seeking him out for advice as a mentor of sorts was far more disturbing. As reported by Mike Florio of PFT.

“I’ve talked with Antonio Brown throughout the course of year and I’ve kind of known some of what has been going on. He’s leaned on me for advice, as somewhat of a mentor, so to speak. . . . I think with him, I think it’s a fresh start to go elsewhere and part ways with the organization and with some of the things than he and Ben have been confronted with.”

“He wants to move on. . . . I don’t like how Ben [Roethlisberger] has kind of thrown him under the bus in certain instances. . . . I think Ben owes him a lot more respect than he has given him. . . . I mean even from the standpoint of him saying he didn’t know anything about a blowup [at practice prior to Week 17] when he was part of the blowup.”

Speaking with Lindsay Rhodes on the NFL Network, Owens would repeat many of the same comments.

“I’ve talked to A.B. throughout the course of the year and over the season and he has called me and leaned on me for advice somewhat of a big brother, mentor and I think he has done what needed to be done. He has gone out and had his play do the talking for him, so I think with all of the things surrounding him there in [Pittsburgh], I think it is best for him to part ways ... you have seen tweets and messages from management that they don’t anticipate him being in training camp, and I think Antonio has made it clear where he stands with where he wants to be and this is not in a Steelers uniform.”

“I think there is fault on each side, you know two sides to every story. I think if you saw how the Le’Veon Bell situation played out that has probably factored into doing why he is doing what he is doing. There are no guarantees and I think the best advantage going forward for Antonio is that he is playing at a very high level and is productive, so if they can work out something, because they are not just going to release him. ... I think that bodes well for both sides.”

”Well I have talked to him in recent weeks especially after the season, and I didn’t know, but the cat is out of the bag because Jerry Rice has mentioned him about being in a 49er uniform, but when I spoke to him I thought we were just discussing possible options but he kept asking me -- ‘Yo, how is the Bay Area?’” Owens said. “And I’m like OK, it was nice when I played there and they have Jimmy [Garoppolo] there and you have a great QB to compliment you on the football field, but he kept asking me, ‘Well what is the Bay Area like?’ And, well, it is sunny and shining and they have a great quarterback; management is starting to turn around. They have a new stadium there, and he is a guy that is smart and savvy. He will be in Silicon Valley, and with A.B., business will be boomin.’”

Regardless of who you think is to blame in this situation, for those of us hoping for a resolution than ends with Brown staying in Pittsburgh, the fact that Owens has the receivers ear is rather worrying.

It would be charitable to describe Owens as having been a challenging teammate when he was with the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills or Cincinnati Bengals, and the notion that he could have any constructive advice that would help Brown mend fences with the Steelers is absolutely laughable. Looking at the list of people Brown has surrounded himself with since this latest drama unfolded, Owens might be the most concerning name from a group that already includes Chad Johnson and James Harrison.

Latest report about Antonio Brown highlights the Steelers leadership issues

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/26/2019 - 10:15am

Revelations in an ESPN report released on Friday suggest the Steelers have been turning a blind eye to Antonio Brown’s behavior for far too long.

Just when it looked like cooler heads might prevail in the ongoing Antonio Brown saga after the relatively calming words of Maurkice Pouncey and Cameron Heyward this week, it would be fair to say things took a step backward on Friday. More revelations about the Steelers star receiver would emerge and Brown was back to upsetting the fans on social media with an image of himself in a San Francisco, just a day removed from posting an encouraging message to his teammates at the Pro Bowl.

Few could have read the report from Jeremy Fowler of ESPN and taken much comfort in the picture he painted within the Steelers organization. But while Brown’s perpetual lateness issues and the star treatment he received might have been the headline driving parts of the piece, the sense of a team lacking leadership at all levels was perhaps the overriding theme of the article.

Far from being seen as a cancer in the locker room or the distraction some would have you believe, there was clear affection for Brown from both past and present teammates and an obvious respect for his work ethic and production. Where AB appears to be unquestionably at fault is his disregard for the rules and procedures that govern the rest of the team.

But while he is unquestionable responsible for his own actions, it is impossible to absolve Mike Tomlin of his part in allowing it to get so far. As someone who would suggest it is up to the players to be responsible for their own behavior, it is hard to argue that the head coach is not responsible for setting and maintaining a structure the team will follow.

This does not mean that Tomlin needs to micromanage every situation and cannot let his superstars slide on minor infractions, but overlooking habitual lateness, missed meetings and permitting him to stay off site during training camp was a policy that was never going to end well. A potential issue a number of his teammates foresaw coming, according to the report from Fowler.

“This has been brewing for years,” one ex-teammate said of Brown’s issues. “It’s just now coming to the surface.”

“As the leash gets longer, [Brown] gets the feeling that he can do whatever he wants,” said the ex-Steeler who played with Brown for multiple seasons. “That’s where Tomlin might have wished he would have squashed this earlier.”

Nine years into his professional career, it would appear that Brown has been given so much leeway it is almost impossible to reign him back in. If the report is to be believed, the Steelers have essentially given up on trying to fine him, with his benching in Week 17 looking like an attempt to discipline him for turning lateness into a no show in the final week of the season.

With even the most ardent Brown supporters willing to acknowledge that AB can be somewhat emotional and perhaps a little thin-skinned at times, it would appear that his response to a firmer hand has not been positive. As arguably the biggest star on the roster, Brown has been led to believe he is somewhat untouchable and it is no surprise to learn that he is unresponsive to that arrangement changing.

Once a team full of star names all over the roster, it would be fair to say that Pittsburgh has lost a number of big personalities from their locker room in recent years. As that void has developed, there are fewer and fewer teammates close to Brown’s status on the roster and only four names older than him, something Bryant McFadden alluded to when talking to Fowler.

“When [Brown] became a bigger personality, a superstar, now you have to have a personality that can relate to him. When we were there, he had personalities that he had to respect. Everybody had to be treated the same way on the roster. A role player sees that and knows he’s not any different. Now on that team, I’m not sure they have a personality that can uphold players to the Steeler standard.”

Of all the insights that have been shared that could logically explain how the situation has developed to the point it is now, McFadden’s reasoning might actually be the most rational.

With the retirement of Troy Polamalu, Heath Miller, Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel in 2015, the Steelers lost some of their most significant locker room leaders from over a decade. Each player personified the Pittsburgh way and without them there can be little question the Steelers lack some of the identity they once had. In their absence, a different brand of football had been allowed to develop with players like Ben Roethlisberger and Brown as team leaders, one that has not always been as conducive to team chemistry.

The now infamous Facebook Live incident happen the year the aforementioned players had left the team and it is hard to believe the whole fiasco occurs if they are all still in that locker room. With them gone, there can be few players Brown feels the same level of respect for, something his recent lack of communication with his teammates would seem to indicate.

For a younger generation of players, the tacit approval of Brown’s behavior by the coaching staff sets a precedent for the rest of the roster to follow, with Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell the more obvious examples of players who also felt it was acceptable to arrive late to practice or miss it altogether.

Art Rooney II appeared to acknowledge the team’s error in the way they had been handling their star receiver in a recent sit down with reporters, a failure that many within the organization are responsible for,

“The kind of bottom-line evaluation of that is this guy was a great football player in this league over multiple years,” Rooney said. “So, as I said before, were there maybe things that we would’ve liked to have done a little differently or would have liked him to have done a little differently? The answer is probably yes, but he’s one of the hardest-working players on the team, contributed to a lot of wins, and I think someday we’ll maybe understand better kind of what happened here the last week of the season but don’t really understand it right now.”

After so much time being allowed to act a certain way, it feels overly optimistic to believe the Steelers can draw a line in the sand with Brown and have any faith he will not cross it, especially when that line they want to draw is so far behind where he currently stands. It might be too late to put this particular genie back in the bottle.

But if Pittsburgh really does want to change the culture in the locker room, trading Brown to another team might actually give them a chance for a reset and send a message to the rest of the players that some behavior actually is unacceptable.

Fowler also appeared on the Rich Eisen show on Friday to talk about many of the points from his article on Friday. For those interested ...

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