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Midseason predictions on the Steelers 2020 Awards: Part 2

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 11/15/2020 - 8:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

An educated guess at who will shine for the Black & Gold (or not) in the second half of the season.

This is Part 2 of a series, debating midseason “awards” for the Steelers. Part 1, featuring more traditional awards, can be found HERE. In Part 2, I wanted to speculate about some less traditional awards. I’m making these up as I go (or using the titles from last season).

I’ll keep my explanations minimal since so we can just get to the polls. My goal, as always, is to start a few arguments in the comments section, so have at it. On with the show. Go Steelers.

Here’s the shorthand version (with my picks). Explanations and polls to follow.

Pleasant Surprise: Tackles for Loss
Biggest Disappointment: Third Down Defense
Strongest Unit: Outside Linebackers
Weakest Link: Quarterback depth
Missing in Action: Steven Nelson
Next Man Up: Robert Spillane
Biggest Wish for Regular Season: No more significant injuries
Second-Half Surge: Minkah Fitzpatrick
Backup about to get a lot more minutes: Alex Highsmith
Best Offensive Moment: Ben’s backhand pitch to Ebron
Best Defensive Moment: Spillane’s brick wall hit on Derrick Henry

Pleasant Surprise:

This category is probably self-explanatory. It refers to phenomena, rather than individuals or positional units (those will come later).

My Choice: Tackles for Losses. We talk a lot about sacks with the Steelers, but TFLs matter too, and the Steelers are absolutely dominating this category. They lead the league with 59, despite playing one fewer game than most. On a per-game basis, they’re getting more than one per game more than the league’s #2. Moreover, Vince Williams and T.J. Watt sit at numbers 1 and 2 in the league outright, as well as per game. The Steelers are killing it in this realm.

Biggest Disappointment:

Again, like with “pleasant surprise,” this refers to phenomena, rather than units or individuals.

My Choice: Third down defense. There’s a lot of overlap in these Venn diagrams — splash plays and inability to play 60 minutes both affect the third down D — but my biggest frustration has been with how often the Steelers give up big conversions.

Strongest Unit:

My Choice: Outside Linebackers. This was oddly hard to compile. I think the Steelers are pretty strong across the board, but not spectacular in most areas. That’s probably how they keep winning even as starters shift in and out. In any case, I strongly considered WRs (who seem deeper than ever, but also have struggled a lot with drops this year) and DLine (which is probably the best unit when they’re healthy, but without Tyson Alualu, they seemed to suffer). Meanwhile Watt and Bud Dupree are both stars this year, and Alex Highsmith looks ready for the big leap too. Maybe it’s a coin-flip, but I liked OLBs best.

Weakest Link:

My Choice: Quarterback Depth. I’ve been beating the drum for an experienced backup QB for a while. It’s possible that Mason Rudolph will be fine for a game or two if needed, but I don’t see it. And Josh Dobbs and Devlin Hodges are even lower on the totem pole. (Oddly, I think Duck is the best choice for short term relief, because he’s a confident wildcard. Rudolph looks to me like he’s in over his head every time I see him.)

P.S. I noticed in writing this one that there really isn’t a single starting unit that’s a weakness. That’s kind of nice. I even had to remove “Punter” which was originally an option, because Jordan Berry came back and is kicking really well. Some of you might disagree (hence: “other”) but that’s my reading.

Unsung Hero:

My Choice: Vince Williams. VW is having a career year this season. As mentioned above, he’s leading the league in tackles for a loss, and leads the Steelers in combined tackles, solo tackles, and assists, while also sitting at third on the team with 3.0 sacks. And all this without Devon Bush beside him.

Missing in Action:

This is a category for players who we had high hopes for, but who have seemed to disappear. I’m thinking of Morgan Burnett, who was brought in to solidify the safety position, couldn’t stay healthy, and ultimately made more-or-less no impact on the team at all.

My Choice: Steven Nelson. Nelson was practically a shutdown corner last season, While he only had one interception, he held opponents to 50% completions, NO touchdowns, and a 65.8 rating. This year, Nelson has two interceptions, and only has two missed tackles all season (which is third best among Steelers starters), but he’s giving up 62.3% completions and a 109.6 rating. I don’t know what’s changing, but I hoped for more from Nelson this year.

Next Man Up Award:

I want to name this the “Chris Hoke Award,” but doing that would mean I’d have to come up with a corresponding player’s name for each of these, and I’m already late in posting this.

My Choice: Robert Spillane. This probably speaks for itself. Spillane has played outstanding in releif of Devon Bush, and even provided several of the biggest defensive highlights we’ve had this year.

Biggest Wish for Regular Season:

Emphasis here is on “regular season.” That is, “I want them to win the Super Bowl” doesn’t count. We all want that. What do you want to see in the meantime.

My Choice: No more significant injuries. As always, I want all of these, but this team is probably the most balanced in football. If they can avoid losing too many crucial parts, it won’t matter if they drop a few games, if their stats sag a little, or if they get the #1 seed or not; they’ll still be in position to win a title.

Second-Half Surge:

This category is reserved for starters who, regardless their season so far, seem primed for a big second half.

My Choice: Minkah Fitzpatrick. This is proably cheating, since Minkah started lighting it up two weaks ago. But I’m predicting that he’s on the cusp of another bang-up season. Will he be an All Pro again? I don’t know, but if he keeps up his current pace, the odds favor it.

Backup about to get a lot more minutes:

This award differs from the last in that I’m looking for backups/depth players who appear primed for a lot more playing time in the season’s second half. You might think about Martavis Bryant, who didn’t even dress for the first few games of 2014, but then erupted with seven touchdowns down the stretch.

My Choice: Alex Highsmith. Highsmith is at a great crossroads: he’s coming on as a player right as the season starts to drag on (and other guys figure to get banged up more often). I see him mirroring Lamar Woodley’s rookie year, in which Woodley spelled Clark Haggans all seasons, came on at the end, and entered year 2 as a powerhouse starter opposite a superstar.

Best Offensive Moment:

My Choice: Ben’s backhand pitch to Ebron.

Best Defensive Moment:

My Choice: Spillane’s brick wall hit on Derrick Henry.

Okay. Back to the grind. Go Steelers.

Know Your Enemy: Steelers vs. Bengals, Week 10

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 11/15/2020 - 8:00am
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The complete break down on the Cincinnati Bengals, from the Steelers perspective.

The Pittsburgh Steelers kick off the second half of their season back at home against divisional rival Cincinnati Bengals for their first matchup of the year. The Steelers look to defend their perfect 8-0 record with the Bengals coming off of a bye week. While either teams run in with Covid-19 dominated the weeks headlines it looks like all of the close contact players will be available for the game.

Location/Time Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

4:25PM EST Sunday, the Steelers will return home to Heinz Field for the first time in nearly a month. History is firmly on the Steelers side in this game having won every match up between to the two franchise since 2015 and the Steelers hold a 66-33 all time series advantage. Now with new quarterback, Joe Burrow in the mix the Bengals will look to flip the script in this rivalry.

Bengals Best Player Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Believe it or not rookie quarterback Joe Burrow is already the top dog... ahem cat for the Bengals. Watching Cincinnati play this year the most apparent thing is Joe Burrow wants to win the game more than anyone else on the field. Burrow never quits and keeps brining his best no matter the situation. He can make all the throws and is already a team captain. This kid is the real deal and is someone the Steelers will have to worry about for a long time.

Weakest position group Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

This was a bit of a challenging group to pick. The Bengals corners and defensive line has been hammered with injuries and will be playing guys with minimal NFL experience. But it’s the offensive line that is there absolute worst. Missing right tackle, Bobby Hart is a sizeable loss especially when you consider Hart is one of the worst starting lineman in football today. Joe Burrow has run for his life all season long and with the Steelers pass rush he will be in for a long day.

Coaching Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Zac Taylor is in his second year as an NFL head coach. Taylor is a bright offensive mind that has rolled out solid gamelans for Burrow and company. His teams struggles is do to a talent discrepancy but Taylor has maximized his players output. Taylor and his staff have kept the Bengals competitive in games and deserves some praise for his coaching ability. Don’t sleep on the Bengals

How will the Bengals attack the Steelers defense Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

With Joe Mixen, and John Ross likely out of the line up, look for the Bengals to turn to AJ Green, Tyler Boyd, and Tee Higgins for offense. For the Steelers not having Mike Hilton in the game makes me weary about Boyd in the slot. Boyd is quietly one of the best receivers in football but doesn’t get the love due to his quiet nature and playing for the Bengals. Burrow is going to air the ball out. The Steelers need to get to the rookie quarterback early and often to be successful in this game.

How will the Bengals defend the Steelers offense Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Bengals defense is in rough shape, even after having the past week off. The defensive line has been shuffling players and standout Geno Atkins is out for the game. Due to covid and injury, the Bengals will only have three available corners for the game. Without having much of a pass rush and inexperienced corners the Steelers really have no excuse not to move the ball all game long.

X-Factor Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

With Mixen’s availability up in the air, the Bengals backfield goes to Giovani Bernard. Bernard has had success in the past but as an again back isn't expected to be anything more than average. The Steelers rush defense has struggled the last two weeks and have a favorable ahead of them. Factor in the likely return of Tyson Alualu and the Steelers shouldn't have a problem stuffing the run. It’s on Bernard to keep the Bengals offense from going one dimensional.

Sunday, 4:25PM EST. We will see if the Steelers can take care of business.

Crunching the Numbers: Performing even better over the second half of the season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 11/15/2020 - 7:30am
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Finishing the season strong will define the 2020 Steelers. The great start just puts them in a better place for the stretch run.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 8-0 and hoping to continue their franchise-record start to the season. But as most people know, it’s not how you start but how you finish. So how do the Steelers play in the second half of the season compared to the first? It’s not that the Steelers can out-perform their record in the first half of 2020, but they can do their best to match it.

In this installment of Crunching the Numbers, we’ll take a look at some of the numbers in regards to how the Steelers have performed over the second half of the season since 2007 when Mike Tomlin became head coach.

.654

Since 2007, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a 68–36 record in the second half of the NFL season. This equates to a .654 winning percentage. For anyone keeping score, that is 16 games above .500 over a 13 year span.

.630

For comparison sake, the Steelers are 65–38–1 in the first eight games of the season under head coach Mike Tomlin when looking at years before the 2020 season. This record gives a winning percentage of .630 which is slightly behind how the Steelers performed in the second half the season. Counting the tie as a half game in both the win and loss column, the Steelers have 2.5 more wins in the second half of the season since 2007 than in the first.

2nd vs. 4th

While the records do seem to be extremely close for the Steelers in the first half of the season versus the second half, the Steelers have the 2nd-best winning percentage in the NFL over the final eight games of the season since 2007. The only team with a better winning percentage is the New England Patriots with a record of 80–24. When comparing to the first eight games of the season, the Steelers have the 4th-best winning percentage from 2007 to 2019. Of all the teams ranked in the top five on either list, the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens are the only teams that have a better winning percentage in the second half of the season.

4

In the 13 four seasons in which Mike Tomlin has coached the Pittsburgh Steelers, only on four occasions have the Steelers had a worse record in the second half of the season than they did in the first half of the season. Those years were 2007, 2009, 2012, and 2018. In order to not add 2020 to the list, the Steelers will need to run the table.

3-5; 4-4

The Pittsburgh Steelers have finished at .500 or worse in the second half of the season 5 of the last 13 years. The Steelers have finished 3–5 over the final eight games in two seasons (2012 and 2009) and have finished 4-4 in three seasons (2019, 2018, in 2007). Of those five seasons, the only one which was a playoff year was in Mike Tomlin’s first season in 2007. The worst season the Steelers have ever had over the final eight games since the NFL went to a 16 game schedule in 1978 was in 1999 when they went 1-7.

6-2; 7-1

The Steelers have finished with 6 or more wins in the final 8 games of the season on 8 different occasions. Six times the Steelers have gone 6-2 and twice they have gone 7-1. Surprisingly, the Steelers have not finished 5-3 in the second half of the season under Coach Tomlin. Of those 8 seasons, the only year the Steelers did not make the playoffs was in 2013 when they could not make up for a 2-6 start in the first half.

81-81

Just for fun, I looked up how the Steelers have done when it came to recording sacks in the first half of the season versus the second half the season over the last three years when they have led the NFL. Interesting enough, when looking in total the Steelers have 81 sacks in the first eight games and 81 sacks in the final eight games from 2017 to 2019. With the Steelers putting up 32 sacks in the first half of 2020, they are set to match the total in the second half and eclipse the 60 sack mark for the first time in franchise history since sacks have been recorded.

So there are some numbers in regards to the Steelers when it comes to the second half of the season since 2007. Finishing strong to carry momentum into the playoffs will be key, so the historic run the Steelers are on to start the season won’t mean much if they fizzle down the stretch. The Steelers are known for being a second half of the season team, and 2020 hopefully will be no different.

No way will the Bengals walk into Heinz Field and ruin the Steelers undefeated season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 11/15/2020 - 7:00am
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are 8-0 and playing the Bengals at home. No way Pittsburgh loses its first game this Sunday.

I wasn’t going to write my annual article about how there is no way in heck the Steelers were going to lose to the lousy Bengals. In times like these—pandemic times—I think it’s important that folks come together.

However, I got to thinking. The Steelers are 8-0 for the first time in franchise history. Up until now, there hasn’t been a ton of talk about Pittsburgh going undefeated all the way through Super Bowl LIV and matching the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only team to do so.

I’m guessing that will all change with a couple more wins. Can you imagine the hype surrounding the Steelers Thanksgiving Night clash with the Ravens at Heinz Field if the good guys are 10-0 at kickoff? Furthermore, can you just picture that hype machine being turned up several notches if Pittsburgh escapes that game with an 11-0 record? I don’t know how I’d react, but the writing would be on autopilot. The stories would write themselves.

It would be glorious, and that’s why those Bungals, the team that hasn’t won a playoff game since I was in high school, can’t come into Heinz Field on Sunday and ruin that.

Can you believe this game was flexed? I’d like to think it was because of the Steelers and only the Steelers, but I know that’s not true. It’s also because of Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. The 2019 Heisman Trophy winner. The kid that led LSU to the college football national title last year. The quarterback teams began to tank it for after they realized doing so for Tua wasn’t the greatest idea anymore due to injury.

But while Burrow is a nice story and looks to be the real deal, he’s not Ben Roethlisberger. This is still his time. Roethlisberger isn’t just the elder statesman of AFC North quarterbacks, he’s the only one who must take an insurance policy out for Super Bowl rings. Roethlisberger has seen it all. He’s filled Heinz Field with lasting memories over the past 17 seasons. If those yellow seats could talk, you know that they’d say? “Hey, wanna hear about some Big Ben memories?”

What better way for Roethlisberger to complete his comeback from a career-threatening elbow injury than by going undefeated and winning his third ring? For that matter, what better way for head coach Mike Tomlin to finally silence his detractors than by not blinking for 19-straight games?

I know what you’re going to say, what if Roethlisberger can’t play due to COVID concerns? I have trust in Mason Rudolph and Josh Dobbs. I normally would not, but Rudolph and Devlin Hodges took turns defeating Cincinnati in 2019.

Anyway, Burrow is just a kid. He doesn’t know any better. He’s still wet behind the ears. Heck, he’s afraid of Harry Potter and other such horror films. I get that. I’m afraid of bees, but bees are real, and they can smell your fear. Harry Potter is a fictional character.

The Bengals have been a laughingstock of a franchise for decades. They’ve built up a lot of losing plaque over the years. No way do they suddenly become minty fresh by walking into Heinz Field on Sunday and knocking off the black and gold.

This can’t happen. Pacman Jones. Vontaze Burfict. Those two unnamed players who allowed Le’Veon Bell to skirt right past them on the way to a touchdown a few years ago.

No way will the Steelers lose to that team, not now, not when so much is on the line.

I hope to have kids one day, and I refuse to let them grow up in a world where the Bengals ruined the Steelers’ chances at an undefeated season.

The Steelers will win on Sunday, and it won’t be close.

Steelers fan confidence takes a dive after barely beating the lowly Cowboys in Week 9

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 11/15/2020 - 6:00am
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers were winners again in Week 9, but the fan base actually lost confidence in the team heading into Week 10.

The Pittsburgh Steelers fan base can be a fickle bunch. Even when their team was 6-0, there was skepticism among the black and gold following. Even after their win over the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans, many fans called the Steelers “lucky” to escape with a 27-24 win.

To those fans, the end result doesn’t matter.

However, after two straight games where they were forced to come from behind, Week 8 vs. the Baltimore Ravens and Week 9 vs. the Dallas Cowboys, fans are anything but certain about their favorite NFL franchise.

Here at SB Nation we poll fans every week in our SB Nation “Reacts” polls, and one of the questions asked is whether you have confidence in your team moving forward. As you can see, the confidence is starting to wane heading into Week 10.

If you want to know just how the fan confidence has changed since the end of the 2019 season, you can see the percentages below:

End of 2019: 59%
Pre NFL Free Agency: 72%
Post 2020 NFL Draft: 81%
Heading into Week 1: 90%
Heading into Week 2: 94%
Heading into Week 3: 87%
Heading into Week 4: 90%
Heading into Week 5: 83%
Heading into Week 6: 82%
Heading into Week 7: 97%
Heading into Week 8: 94%
Heading into Week 9: 98%
Heading into Week 10: 88%

The Steelers are heading back to Heinz Field this Sunday to play Cincinnati, and needless to say, fans are excited to see these two AFC North teams go head-to-head. Speaking of that Week 10 game, the 8-0 Steelers will play the 2-5-1 Cowboys. Who do the fans think will win this game?

Take a look...

Another question SB Nation asked fans were who they think should be the NFL Coach of the Year at the halfway point. Mike Tomlin was certainly in consideration. However, Brian Flores, head coach of the Miami Dolphins, was considered the front runner for the award, even though Tomlin has his team out to a perfect start.

What do you think about the team moving forward? Are you confident in their ability to continue to improve? Or have we seen the best of this Steelers team? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they play the Bengals this Sunday in Week 10.

Pre-Game Podcast: Preparing for Week 10 and the Cincinnati Bengals

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 11/15/2020 - 5:30am

Get ready for the Steelers’ home contest against Cincy with pregame analysis from BTSC’s Bryan Anthony Davis and K.T. Smith

The Steelers are 8-0, but are coming off of a less than stellar performance in Dallas and looking to make a statement against an AFC North rival. Join Bryan Anthony Davis and K.T. Smith, as they set the scene for the Steelers return home to battle the Bengals. The BTSC duo break down the like no one else does on the latest podcast, the Steelers Pre-Game Show.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Head-to-Head
  • Steelers vs. Bengals league rankings
  • Bengals players to watch
  • Keys to a Steelers victory
  • Predictions

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.

Distribution Map: Check out if you will get to see the Steelers vs. Bengals game in Week 10

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 11/15/2020 - 5:00am

The Steelers are traveling to play the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10. Will you get to see it?

If you were like me, before I decided to sign up for the DirecTV Sunday Ticket package every week I was wondering whether I’d be able to watch my beloved Steelers in the comfort of my own home, or if I’d have to go elsewhere to watch the game.

Before there were websites devoted to this, it meant a lengthy trip on the television guide screen to see which game was scheduled to air, but now it’s just a click away.

So, will you get to see the Steelers and the Bengals go head-to-head in Week 10? Check out which games you’ll see in your local viewing area.

For those who want to know which game they’ll see, check the map below, courtesy of 506 Sports:

Week 10 FOX

RED: Seahawks at Rams
BLUE: Steelers vs. Bengals
GREEN: 49ers at Saints

So, are you lucky enough to be able to watch the game live in your own home, or are you one of many who will have to find other means to view the game? Either way, today is the day to get pumped!!

HERE WE GO!!

Saturday Night Open Thread: 2020 comes to the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/14/2020 - 6:30pm
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No he won’t be playing, and no this isn’t his best stiff arm, but he will be back and hopefully soon!

With the disturbing news of Vanimal contracting the ‘rona, we entered new territory this week. No longer was the virus somebody else’s problem and those fingers being pointed across the league could now be pointed at us.

With no new positive results (knocks on his wooden china cabinet) things remain hopeful that Big Ben and VinnyVidiVici98 will be able to suit up tomorrow. However, the more important issue remains - will the entire team remain healthy (if not testing negative) for the remainder of a long season.

Well, actually the MORE important question is for tomorrow, what side do we have to eat with the pork shoulder I just put into the smoker!? I digress...

  1. What are your thoughts on the idea of a bubble? Put all the teams in it now or come playoff time? Do a full on bubble like the NHL in a city that could host multiple games or do a modified one of keeping each team in a hotel all week to minimize exposure risks?
  2. As the offense continues to play the role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, what one suggestion would you put into play if you had the power?
  3. Given the lack of training camp, how impressed are you with our rookie class being able see the field to the degree that they have? Additionally, what lessons could be learned in terms of the changes from the traditional learning environment of in person and on the field?
  4. Currently, T.J. Watt is on a pace for just under a sack per game. Can he maintain the pace? Does he pick it up over the last half and pass Deebo’s team record of 16 in a season?
  5. With the weather turning for most of us, what is your favorite cold weather activity?
  6. Bonus funny story related on number 5.

A Bengals player no one is talking about who could impact the outcome vs. the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/14/2020 - 4:00pm
Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers, mainly Ben Roethlisberger, will have to keep an eye on this Bengals’ safety as he could have an impact on the upcoming Week 10 game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals renew their AFC North rivalry in Week 10, and the battle between these two hated franchises certainly as a lot of headlines swirling around it.

The Bengals, and Joe Burrow, are coming off their bye week and are thinking they will be a factor in the second half of the season.

The Steelers’ will have to stop playing down to their competition and do a better job stopping the run in Week 10.

Ben Roethlisberger’s ability to play at a high level without practicing this week due to being placed on the COVID/Reserve List.

Among those story lines are players who aren’t talked about often, but can certainly play a role in the outcome of the game. This week I was fortunate enough to ask Cincy Jungle’s contributor Patrick Judis several questions leading up to the big game Sunday.

One of those questions was if he could give me a player who isn’t being talked about, but could play a big role in who wins and loses the game. He didn’t disappoint and gave one player Steelers fans should become acquainted with heading into Week 10.

Jessie Bates is a name I will scream until the entire national media is talking about him. We have finally seen some recognition from some national outlets, but Bates should be in the conversation for best safety in the NFL. He has been that good. He has been shutting down most of the passes that have entered his vicinity. Last week, he made a play by picking off Ryan Tannehill in the red zone, which took some important points off the board early.

Cincinnati’s defense has some real holes in it still, but Bates has really shined in 2020. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him be in position to make a few plays on Sunday.

Bates, the third year free safety, has turned into a difference maker for the Bengals’ defense. Through eight games in 2020 he has compiled the following statistics:

2 Interceptions
10 Pass Defenses
57 Total Tackles

The Steelers, mainly Ben Roethlisberger, will have to know where Bates is on the field to avoid the costly turnover. Roethlisberger has only been intercepted four times in the first eight games, three of those coming in one game vs. the Titans, but without many physical repetitions this week you have to wonder how someone like Bates can impact the game.

Depending on how the game goes, the Steelers very well could be leaning on the run to try and set the tone against Cincinnati on Sunday. If they can get James Conner and company going, not only would it control the clock, but also eliminate a ball hawking safety like Bates.

While there are plenty of players who can have an impact on the upcoming game, this player will be highlighted by Pittsburgh, and their fans, during the Week 10 showdown.

For the best news on the opposition, check out Cincy Jungle, and stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers leading up to the 4:25 p.m. kickoff in Pittsburgh.

Steelers place rookie Kevin Dotson on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, promote Antoine Brooks Jr.

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/14/2020 - 3:05pm
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

After missing practice Friday due to illness, the Pittsburgh Steelers have placed rookie guard Kevin Dotson on the Reserve/COVID list.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are not quite out of the woods yet, as it pertains to players testing positive for the coronavirus.

On the same day the team took Ben Roethlisberger, Jaylen Samuels, Vince Williams and Jerald Hawkins off the Reserve/COVID-19 List after being labeled as high risk contacts, the team has had to put rookie guard Kevin Dotson on the Reserve/COVID List.

We have placed OL Kevin Dotson on the Reserve/COVID-19 List and activated S Antoine Brooks Jr. to the 53-man roster as a COVID-19 replacement.https://t.co/pR6kY9pl7H

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 14, 2020

It is worth noting Dotson missed practice on Friday with an illness, and he was reportedly told to stay home out of precaution.

Dotson being put on the COVID/Reserve List likely means he tested positive for the coronavirus, but teammate, and fellow rookie, Anthony McFarland Jr. missed both Thursday and Friday’s practices with an illness but did not join Dotson on the reserve list Saturday.

The Steelers will now have to take part in the same contact tracing they did with Vance McDonald to see if there are any players who are deemed high risk contacts with Doston. The hope is there would be none, considering the measures taken this week with McDonald being the team’s first positive case since the team reported to training camp; however, if someone is considered a high risk contact they will find their way on the reserve list and miss the upcoming game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10.

In other words, there could still be moves made between now and game time for the Steelers as they prepare for their first meeting with Joe Burrow and company at Heinz Field Sunday. Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold.

Podcast: The importance of being Alualu

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/14/2020 - 2:45pm

There is plenty to discuss on the latest episode of the popular new podcast Steelers Brunch w/ Tony.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were ranked second against the run going into their Week 8 showdown with the Baltimore Ravens. Now going into Week 10, they are sitting at No.9 after giving up slightly over 400 yards on the ground to the Ravens and Cowboys. A big reason for that is the even bigger gap left by the injury of Tyson Alualu early in that win over B-More. The hope is that No. 94 returns this weekend against Cincy and the team gets a boost from one of their most unheralded players. This is going to be just one of the talking points for the latest podcast featuring Tony Defeo. Welcome to Steelers Brunch with Tony! Join the veteran BTSC contributor as he discusses the Steelers so far and beyond.

Check out the rundown of the show below, and be sure to comment what you think in the comment section below!

  • Steelers News and Notes
  • The win over Dallas
  • The importance of Tyson Alualu to the Steelers defense
  • Preview of the Steelers vs. Bengals
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out the YouTube clip here, and be sure to subscribe to our channel by clicking HERE:

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:

Ben Roethlisberger and Randy Fichtner outline the difficulties of developing a virtual game plan

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/14/2020 - 2:00pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger all week, and installing a game plan without the quarterback in the room was not an easy task.

The Pittsburgh Steelers got their first real taste of the National Football League’s COVID-19 protocols when Vance McDonald tested positive upon returning from their trip to play the Dallas Cowboys in Week 9.

The team was without four players this week who were considered high risk cases, and no name was larger than quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

This isn’t to suggest the Steelers didn’t miss Vince Williams’ veteran presence in defensive meetings or Jaylen Samuels and Jerald Hawkins’ depth, but the franchise quarterback is a linchpin for the offense.

What the offensive coaches, like offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and quarterbacks coach Matt Canada, realized quickly were the challenges of not having Roethlisberger in meetings and installing a game plan virtually.

“Well, just the communication of it remotely, I guess if you will. [Ben Roethlisberger]’s been great because obviously, he’s accessible. He’s got plenty of free time. We’re probably the ones that have to make the time to be able to fit.” Fichtner said on Thursday when speaking with the media. “I know Coach [Matt] Canada, they do the Zoom. We do the 360. We do all those important things. Ben likes the tech, so we get texts in the night. We go back and forth about a lot of things. We get to watch the video as a group on Zoom and things like that. It’s been as if he’s been in the room.”

It all sounds great, but when Roethlisberger met with media Saturday, after being lifted off the NFL’s Reserve/COVID List, he spoke about how virtual meetings just aren’t the same.

“You don’t know how wired in guys are. In today’s society, guys have an iPad in front of them but they might also have their phone next to them looking at things or watching TV, whatever it might be.” Roethlisberger said. “I’m not saying that’s happening, but you just don’t know. When you are in a meeting room, you know everyone is dialed in, you know what is going on, so you can communicate a little bit easier in person.

“The hard part was practice. I couldn’t communicate at all, right, because everything was taped and sent to me, and there is no sound to it. So a lot of texts to Coach Randy, Coach Canada. What was this? What happened here? What did you think about? Just trying to find any way possible to communicate, a lot of text messages at night with those guys.”

Roethlisberger has played without a lot of practice reps before, but this was different. Roethlisberger outlined just how different, and difficult, being virtual was compared to being there in-person.

“Yeah, it’s definitely different than in years past just because, typically, I’ve been on the field behind the quarterbacks hearing the calls that were made, hearing the play call coming from the coach, [Maurkice] Pouncey’s calls.

“As Coach Tomlin would say, an in-helmet perspective. Even if you’re not out there you can hear it and be a part of it, so it was definitely different. I watched every play of practice, but you just watch it on your iPad at home so you don’t get to hear all those things. It was definitely a lot different than anything I have experienced before.”

The Steelers will have to hope Roethlisberger, and the offense, are on the same page Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals visit the Steelers for a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff. If not, questions will be brought up if Roethlisberger should have played at all without practicing all week.

The virtual world isn’t for everyone, but will it impact the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense at Heinz Field Sunday? Only time will tell, but be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they roll through the 2020 regular season.

Pittsburgh Steelers burnout is real thing, and can happen to anyone

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/14/2020 - 1:00pm
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Suffering from Steelers burnout? You’re not alone.

I think it was the 17th retweet of the T.J. Houshmandzadeh Terrible Towel shoeshine that made me realize something on Tuesday evening: I was all burned out on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That’s right, even me, a fan of the team since like Season 4 of The Incredible Hulk, had had enough and needed a timeout.

I swear to Bill Cowher, at one point on Tuesday, my entire Twitter feed was nothing but the three-second clip of former Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandezah shining his shoes with the Terrible Towel after a big regular-season win over Pittsburgh at Heinz Field late in the 2005 campaign. And I don’t know what was worse, the fact that the Bengals’ official Twitter page thought it was a good idea to Tweet the social media equivalent of a professional wrestler mocking an opponent with his back turned before turning around and getting slapped in the face or that so many Steelers fans reacted to it like killer bees to a lawnmower.

We know how that story ended, right? The Steelers, the sixth seed in the AFC heading into the 2005/2006 playoffs, waltzed into Paul Brown Stadium on Wildcard Weekend and exited with the first of four postseason wins along the way to an improbable Super Bowl XL victory. What’s the point of getting offended by the shoeshine 15 years later? If anything, that should bring back some horrible memories for the Bengals and their fans. Had Steeler Nation retweeted “Crying Bengals Fan” (it actually did a million times), that would have been more appropriate for the history of this AFC North “rivalry.”

They’re the Bengals. Do you think Pittsburgh needs any sort of new Terrible Towel curse to beat them this Sunday at Heinz Field? And even if the Steelers defeat Cincinnati, how will we know for sure that it was due to angering the twirling gods? After all, this is the same franchise that once signed Terrell Owens when it already employed Chad Ochocinco.

The burnout was building for weeks. I mean, even too much of a good thing is unhealthy, right? Steelers’ information everywhere. System overload.

Why did the Steelers let Vance McDonald, who tested positive for COVID following Sunday’s win over the Cowboys, fly on the plane to Dallas after experiencing symptoms last week? What happens if Ben Roethlisberger, who had to go on the NFL’s COVID protocol for—and this is just a guess—being too chummy with yet another tight end (he seriously needs to start hanging out with other positions), can’t play against the Bengals? Will the Steelers start Mason Rudolph? How about Josh Dobbs? “See, I knew they should have signed Joe Flacco!” said some radio guy. Flacco, really?

When will the 8-0 Steelers suffer their first loss? Should they do so now to get it out of their system before the playoffs? Maybe, but what happens if the loss occurs when some injured player is out that week but is healthy for the postseason? What if he doesn’t have that one cleansing loss out of his system by January? What’s more important: Winning the Super Bowl or making history by going 19-0? Should head coach Mike Tomlin rest his starters down the stretch? What if they’re too rusty for the playoffs? I worry about rust. Rust is bad. Yes, but what if a key player gets injured and is out for the postseason? I worry about injuries. Injuries are bad.

Can you believe nobody is giving the Steelers a chance against the Chiefs in a game that may or may not occur in January? If you were starting a franchise today and had to pick one quarterback to build a team around, would you go with Patrick Mahomes or Roethlisberger? Mahomes is a good choice, but I don’t like the fact that Roethlisberger is being disrespected. If I had to pick a quarterback to win a game in the final seconds, I’d go with Roethlisberger. But how can I say that? Mahomes is special.

I knew they should have signed Jameis Winston.

Do you think the Steelers will re-sign JuJu Smith-Schuster? How about Bud Dupree? I think they should have traded both for compensation, instead of potentially letting them walk for nothing. Yes, but don’t you want a Super Bowl?

I think T.J. Watt should be the Defensive Player of the Year. But what if he gets hurt trying to win that award? They need him for the playoffs.

Which jersey should I wear for this Sunday’s game? They should bring back the blocked-style numbers permanently. It’s game day!.........in like 72 hours.

What happens if those greedy and sneaky NFL owners find a way to cancel some regular-season games at the end of the year due to “COVID” and use that as an excuse to implement their just-voted on contingency plan that will add two more teams to the playoff field and do away with byes? Can you believe they might screw the Steelers again?

“We need to come out strong against the Bengals!” I hear you, Facebook, but it’s only Monday morning. We have a whole week to go. Let’s dial it back a bit.

OK, I’ve cleansed my soul. The burnout is over. Now, I can enjoy the second half of the Steelers’ regular season.

I really wish they would have traded for Mike Glennon.

Mike Tomlin’s decision to not kick the field goal vs. Dallas was the right choice

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/14/2020 - 12:00pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The probabilities behind Tomlin’s decision show there was nothing wrong with going on 4th-and-1

Mike Tomlin made another one of “those calls” last Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. With 4th and 1 to go on the Cowboy 15 yard line and a 5 point lead, Tomlin opted to go for the first down rather than kick a field goal. With only 43 seconds left, a run seals the game as the Cowboys were out of time outs. A 33 yard field goal gives the Steelers an 8 point lead, but gives the Cowboys get the ball back.

James Conner ran left and lost 4 yards.

Now the Cowboys had that same chance to score, but a touchdown wins them the game. Shouldn’t Tomlin have just kicked the field goal?

Let’s look at some prior NFL history to determine if Tomlin made the right decision.

The game plays out in four realistic ways as Tomlin is making the split second decision.

  1. Attempt the field goal - Make field goal
  2. Attempt the field goal - Miss field goal
  3. Go on 4th down - Make the first down
  4. Go on 4th down - Turnover on downs

In three of these cases the Cowboys will have a chance to go down the field and score a touchdown, so it’s important to understand the likelihood of them doing so. Looking at 10 years of NFL play-by-play data there’s only been 20 times in league history that a team had a first down 70 to 85 yards from the end zone while trailing 4 to 8 points with between 30 and 40 seconds remaining. Not one team scored a touchdown in that situation, so the Cowboys probability of scoring was low. Interestingly, Matthew Stafford came close to doing this against the Falcons earlier in the season, when he beat them with 2 seconds on the clock. However, his drive started with a 1:04 remaining.

There was one case where a winning touchdown was scored with less than 30 seconds remaining, and that was the Minneapolis Miracle in 2018, where Stefon Diggs scored a 61 yard touchdown with 10 seconds on the clock. The drive had started with 25 seconds left.

Given recent NFL history let’s include the miracle and calculate how the Cowboys had a 1 in 21 chance of scoring on that last drive, or 4.8%. Since that has been established, time to work through each of the scenarios.

Attempt the field goal

1. Make the field goal

Chris Boswell has made 44 of 49 field goals between 30 and 39 yards in his career - a success rate of 89.7%. The Steelers special teams had already had an extra point blocked and Boswell had missed an earlier PAT, but he had also kicked a franchise record 59 yard field as well as one from 43. More on this later.

With an 8-point lead, the Cowboys would have the ball in a similar position on the field with similar time remaining but now would need to convert the 2-point conversion and then win in overtime. Two-point conversions are converted almost exactly 50% of the time, and let’s say that the Cowboys have even odds in overtime, given they are an underdog, but the home team.

2. Miss the field goal

The Cowboys would have the 4.8% chance of winning the game with a touchdown.

Steelers win probability for attempting the field goal = .897 * (1 - 0.048 * 0.5 * 0.5) + .103 * (1 - 0.048) = 98.4%

Go on 4th down

1. Make the 1st down

This one is easy because it’s 100% the Steelers win if they make it. But this analysis shows that teams only make 4th and 1 on 68.2% of attempts. It is higher for favorites, but the Steelers were not playing like favorites. Let’s go with the average.

2. Turnover on downs

Conner lost 4 yards. Something like that was going to happen 31.8% of the time. The Cowboys had a 4.8% chance of winning the game.

Steelers win probability of going on 4th down = .682 * 1 + .318 * (1 - 0.048) = 98.5%

Attempt the field goal = 98.4%

Go on 4th down = 98.5%

The Steelers win probability didn’t change at all with the decision. Which brings us to Tomlin’s comments after the game, where he indicated he didn’t trust his special teams to block the Cowboys on the field goal attempt. If he didn’t have confidence in his kicking team that would easily sway these very slight probabilities in the direction of his decision.

Given the field goal unit’s performance on Sunday, Tomlin marginally made the right choice. If you grant that Boswell was only 75% likely to make the 33 yard kick that drops the probability of a Steelers win to 97.9% - a drop of a half a percent.

If anything, this analysis shows that some of these decisions are blown out of proportion. The Steelers were very likely to win regardless. Tomlin was clearly in the right to adjust these probabilities on the basis of what he had seen through the course of the game. Ultimately, he made the correct call.

Steelers 2021 NFL Draft and College Game Day Open Thread 

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/14/2020 - 11:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s take a look at week 11 of the 2020 college football season.

Hello Steeler Nation and good Saturday afternoon! Welcome to Week 11 of the college football season. Start this week off by eating some crow. Notre Dame is now the No. 2 ranked team in college football. They have an impressive running game led by maybe the best O-line in college football and their running back, Kyren Williams. Hats off to the Golden Domers.

The college football season is ravaged once again this week by a ton of COVID-19 outbreaks. I’m going to spare you the details of the canceled and postponed games, there are 15 games listed.

The long list of games not being played, along with some insanely long hours at work has left me somewhat handcuffed and having to throw something together last minute. This week I want to take a glimpse Virginia Tech vs. Miami, and one of my favorite venues, Lane Stadium.

Living in Virginia, and following the Atlantic Coast Conference, I was extremely excited to be offered a chance to attend a live game in Blacksburg. As a closet Tech fan because I feel it’s my responsibility to root for one in-state team and it wasn’t gonna be UVA...

A story for another day.

Alright back at Lane Stadium...when they say Lane Stadium is rocking, it’s rocking. When Enter Sandman starts there are few places I would rather be in terms of sporting events. I still get goose bumps watching on TV. The game is being played at Noon on ESPN.

Highlighted Player

Christian Darrisaw, LT, Va Tech, No. 77, 6’5”, 314lbs

Talk about a fast riser, Darrisaw has came out of no where, being mentioned as a possible first rounder by some. I want to take a closer look at the Hokie’s blind side protector. Big Alejandro Villanueva is playing for a new contract. Chuks Okorafor hasn’t been terrible and there is Zach Banner who won the starting right tackle spot before his injury. Many at Behind The Steel Curtain have mentioned the Steelers have a possible need to reinvest some high draft capital back into the offensive line. Is Darrisaw that prospect? Has the potential to be a good test for the young man, Miami has some decent rush backers.

Highlighted Game

No. 9 Miami at Va Tech — Noon ESPN

Join in on the conversation and tell us what game(s) you are watching and what prospect(s) you wouldn’t mind seeing in the Black and Gold.

Stay Safe and GO STEELERS

Predicting the Steelers’ Week 10 inactive list vs. the Bengals

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/14/2020 - 10:00am
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Between illness and the COVID-19 list, figuring out who is going to be inactive Sunday against the Bengals is no easy task.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are finally back at Heinz Field for Week 10, and starting off the second half of the 2020 season strong would keep the Steelers on top of the AFC. Despite their 8-0 record, one slip could cost the Steelers the drivers seat to home-field advantage. Add in the fact the Steelers franchise quarterback spent the week on the NFL’s Reserve/COVID-19 List and there are many unknowns for the matchup with the Bengals. The inactive list for Sunday is just another unknown to add to the rest.

There are new rules in 2020 when it comes to the players active on game day. As long as a team has eight offensive lineman who will be dressing for the game, they could have 48 players on their active roster rather than the 46 in previous seasons. So unless the Steelers elevate any players from their practice squad, there inactive list should only be five players.

NOTE: If there is a change to the projected number of inactive players after the release of the projected inactives, it will be updated to reflect the move. Also, this list is assumed all four players who were eligible to return from the COVID-19 list on Saturday are activeated, which they were.

Game Status

Questionable:
CB Mike Hilton (shoulder)
DT Isaiah Buggs (ankle)
RB Anthony McFarland Jr. (illness)
OL Kevin Dotson (illness)

Here are the possibilities to end up inactive for Week 10:

Definitely:

None

Most Likely:

QB Josh Dobbs- Although it looked like Dobbs could even see some game action early in the week, Steelers’ fans are breathing a collective sigh of relief as Ben Roethlisberger is set to play on Sunday. Therefore, Dobbs goes back to his usual spot on the inactive list.

CB Mike Hilton- Being limited the last two practices, banking on Hilton making his return this week would not be a very wise bet. Add a report from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler Saturday morning that Hilton isn’t expected to play, it looks like Week 11 might be a better target.

Possibly:

DT Isaiah Buggs- Progressing much in the manner he did for Week 9, I expected Buggs to be a full participant Friday and not show up on the injury report. But with the expected return of Tyson Alualu for Sunday and only being limited on Friday, Buggs could take a week to try to get his ankle right for the Steelers home stretch.

RB Anthony McFarland Jr.- Being questionable for the game due to illness could go either way, but with MacFarland being a rookie and missing two days of practice there is a decent chance he sits this one out.

RB Jaylen Samuels- Not practicing all week due to being on the Covid list, Samuels was a candidate to not dress for Sunday. But if McFarland is still dealing with illness, Samuels could get a helmet by default.

OL Kevin Dotson- Other than only missing just Friday, everything said about Anthony McFarland could be said about Dotson. Missing time as a rookie, and taking extra precautions due to Covid, Dotson may not be on the sideline Sunday.

OL Jerald Hawkins- Change the name McFarland to Dodson, and Hawkins is in the same situation as Jaylen Samuels.

OT Derwin Gray- Although there’s a good chance it could be either Hawkins or Dotson who is held out on Sunday, if for some reason both seem to be the best option for the Steelers, then Gray goes back to his normal position of inactive.

Unlikely:

TE Zach Gentry- Vance McDonald is out. He’s the only other tight end on the roster other than Eric Ebron. It would seem crazy for the Steelers to attempt to go with just one.

DT Carlos Davis- If Isaiah Buggs ultimately does play, it would be Davis who would be inactive. There could also be the option of carrying an extra defensive lineman since a couple are dealing with injury. Chances are Davis gets a helmet for a second straight week.

Projected Inactive List:
  1. Josh Dobbs
  2. Mike Hilton
  3. Isaiah Buggs
  4. Anthony McFarland Jr.
  5. Kevin Dotson

They are just so many things up in the air in forming this list it’s hard to say what’s going to happen. I’m assuming both Hilton and Buggs don’t play due to injury and the Steelers don’t use the players who are dealing with illness. Of course, all four of these players could end up playing on Sunday. It could be just as likely it’s Samuels and Hawkins who don’t play since they were unable to practice all week. Yet another option for the Steelers is to bring up two players from the practice squad and have even more of these players inactive. With the exception of Week 1, this has been the most difficult inactive list to call in 2020.

As always, feel free to list your projected inactives in the comments below.

4 Steelers, including Ben Roethlisberger, activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 List

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/14/2020 - 9:01am
Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Vince Williams, Jaylen Samuels, and Jerald Hawkins rejoin the Steelers along with Roethlisberger on the eve of their Week 10 matchup

The news was expected, but still extremely important. Four members of the Pittsburgh Steelers who were placed on the NFL’s Reserve/COVID-19 List earlier in the week have been activated to the 53-man roster ahead of Sunday’s game with the Cincinnati Bengals. Ben Roethlisberger, Vince Williams, Jaylen Samuels, and Jerald Hawkins have all cleared the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols after being deemed close contacts with Vance McDonald who tested positive and will miss Sunday’s game.

We have activated QB Ben Roethlisberger, OL Jerald Hawkins, RB Jaylen Samuels and LB Vince Williams from the Reserve/COVID-19 List.@BordasLaw https://t.co/nCAvjNrNhS

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 14, 2020

As soon as all four players were placed on the list, the Steelers were expecting them to be available for Week 10. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to start for the Steelers by coming off the list, and Vince Williams is another veteran player who will play on Sunday.

“Guys like Ben (Roethlisberger) and Vince (Williams) may have an opportunity to suit up and play for us this weekend,” Mike Tomlin explained in his press conference on Tuesday. “They will simply work remotely and sharpen their swords in that way. Really, it will probably give their bodies an opportunity to get some much-needed rest, and we’re optimistic those guys will be their normal selves if given an opportunity to play this weekend.”

But the exact availability of the other players is not so cut and dry. With running back Jaylen Samuels, he does have several seasons with Steelers but has not been utilized very much in 2020. As for Jerald Hawkins, he returned to the Steelers in-season and has been used primarily as an extra tight end.

“Some of the others,” Tomlin continued, “we will make judgments based on how the week transpires. Their lack of a résumé or experience could be a factor in determining whether or not we use those guys. That’s just the reality of it. We have a lot of decisions to make in this environment as a lot of people do. How we manage it, the players that we choose to utilize, how we highlight their positive traits, how we work to minimize some of the negative traits or lack of experience is a big component of us pushing through this.”

As his life in the NFL, how the week progresses changes everything. In fact, Mike Tomlin spoke again to the media on Friday to answer questions about the given situation. When it comes to Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are forging ahead with their future Hall of Fame quarterback and hope to get him more up to speed with an extended walk through Saturday.

“We are going to have an extended walkthrough tomorrow just to give him an in-helmet perspective on some of the situational things, to put the finishing touches on our work, to allow him to work with the eligibles that he will work with in game, to have any necessary informal conversations that allow us to have a level of comfort as we push into play.” Tomlin answered in regards to adjusting their schedule due to Roethlisberger’s return.

As for Vince Williams, Tomlin did note he will play in the game but was unclear on how much the Steelers will depend on their veteran linebacker.

“I anticipate Vince being available. I’m extremely comfortable in his body of work and level of preparedness that he can work much the same as Ben.”

When it comes to Samuels and Hawkins, whether or not they will be active on Sunday is much more complex situation then what the Steelers were dealing with when Tomlin spoke on the issue Tuesday. With Anthony McFarland Jr. and Kevin Dotson both questionable for the game due to illness, the return of Samuels and Hawkins to those exact position groups is an example of what Coach Tomlin meant when he mentioned seeing how the week progressed. With the two rookies missing practice time, it may be in the Steelers best interest to have both Samuels and Hawkins available given their added years of experience.

As much as having the other three players available in coming off the Reserve/COVID-19 List is helpful, the most significant is the Steelers will have their future Hall of Fame quarterback in the huddle on Sunday as they take on 2020 first overall draft pick Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Steelers Fact or Fiction: Enjoy the Ride edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/14/2020 - 8:30am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

BTSC takes five burning questions regarding the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers and labels them as fact or fiction.

There’s always so much to talk about when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers. But the inquiries surrounding the black-and-gold are definitely ever-evolving. Especially this week with the Steelers struggling against a two-win Dallas team. With the Steelers at 8-0 and facing another two-win team in the form of the Cincinnati Bengals, there are concerns that the clock will soon strike midnight on the Steelers and plenty of questions as well. BTSC tries to answer some of the poignant wonderings ahead of time. Take a gander at some bold statements on this and more as we label them as fact or fiction.

Are we on point? Only time will tell because like Stephen King says, “Fiction is the truth inside the lie”.

Ben Roethlisberger should rest on Sunday regardless of COVID-19 test results Fiction

I’ve heard this suggested on Pittsburgh sports radio stations and in social media. I understand that Ben has soreness in both of his knees and could indeed use the rest. I recognize that it would be favorable to get Mason Rudolph some needed reps. But this would be a similar scenario to a pitcher tossing a perfect game in the final week of the season and taking him out in the sixth inning to give him some rest. The Steelers need to find a way to keep winning and resting Ben in favor of Rudolph could mean a loss and being overtaken by Kansas City in the conference. Cincy has a hot, young quarterback in Joe Burrow and the 2-5-1 Bengals have a potential to be dangerous for Pittsburgh.

Joe Burrow is the best passer that the Steelers have faced so far in 2020 Fiction

Speaking of Burrow, he was definitely the right guy to go No. 1 overall to the Bengals in 2020. The Heisman Trophy winner from LSU has had one terrible game and it was against Baltimore. If you were going to struggle as an NFL rookie, the Ravens are likely to be the tough task. The Steelers are too. Burrow is the 13th ranked quarterback in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus and is playing behind the 26th-ranked offensive line. The Steelers have a relentless pass rush, but if Burrow can be Joe Cool...the rookie has the potential to become the Tiger King in the Queen City. As far as passers go, Burrow is probably above Carson Wentz and touch below Ryan Tannehill. So he’s not going to be the best that Pittsburgh has seen so far in 2020, but he will be soon enough.

Stephon Tuitt is having an All-Pro season Fact

I actually think that the gigantic Tuitt has moved ahead of Cameron Hayward for the top spot on the Steelers’ defensive line. Cam’s football intelligence and savvy are still valuable assets, but Tuitt is proving his dominance. No. 91 has taken down quarterbacks with six sacks so far in 2020 and has registered 17 QB hits, second in both categories on the team. Overall, Stephon ranks second in the NFL (to Watt) in QB hits and tied for fourth in the conference (10th in the NFL) with Bud Dupree in sacks. That’s something All-Pro voters need to watch closely.

It’s time to start worrying about Chris Boswell again Fiction

Boswell had his first bad game in almost two years and people are freaking out. Sure, he had an extra point blocked, missed another and technically missed a 54-yard field goal. But when you dig down deep, his line lapsed on the block and the field goal was wiped out by a penalty. But after the dead-ball penalty wiped out the wide-left, he knocked true an ice-water 59-yarder to set a franchise record. Officially on the season, Boswell is 11-for-11 on field goal attempts and 24-for-27 when it comes to points after. Currently, Boswell is the fifth most-accurate kicker in NFL history with and 87.9% field goal rate. I know Steeler Nation is having flashbacks to 2018, but I don’t think there’s too much to fret about whem

Eric Ebron is shaping up to be a great free agent find Fact

There was some hesitation regarding Eric Ebron’s ball security and penchant for landing on IR, however the big tight end has had a remarkable first half for his third team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sure his catch numbers don’t come close to that of Travis Kelce or George Kittle, but Ebron is not relied upon as a first option for Ben Roethlisberger. However, No. 85 has developed a great rapport with his quarterback and his 29 catches for 285 yards and three scores has been valuable for the Steelers. His last score was the game-winner against Dallas. In the second half of 2020, expect even bigger output from the combo of Ben and Eric, as they continue to gel together.

Are these statements valid? We will soon see. I, personally, am not endorsing all five of these scenarios, but it’s what my gut tells me will occur. What matters most are your opinions on the matter. Please state them in the comments below.

Check out the Fact or Fiction podcast to learn even more about these topics, and their status, heading into this week’s game:

Comparing the historic 8-0 Steelers to franchise history

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/14/2020 - 7:30am
Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Looking beyond the record for the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers have already cemented their place in the franchise record books. No Pittsburgh Steeler team had ever gone 8-0 before, and this 2020 team will forever be the new standard for the first half of a season. No team can be better than undefeated, and it is a remarkable feat to pull off.

But how does this team compare to other Steeler teams outside of the win and loss record? Obviously wins and losses are the most important number, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting to see how they compare in other areas. For this article, I’m going to look at statistics, comparing the 2020 Steelers to each team in franchise history since 1940, when the team changed their name to the Steelers. Looking at the statistics through the first 8 games of each season.

Scoring Defense

The fewest points allowed in the first 8 games of a Steeler season came in the year 2000, when the Steelers allowed 84 points, 10.5 points per game. The 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers have allowed 161 points, which ranks 44th in franchise history. The Steelers rank 5th in the NFL in points allowed in 2020, in 2000 161 points would have ranked 13th.

Obviously scoring has gone up in the NFL over the years, and it may surprise you to know that one of the Steelers teams that made the Super Bowl allowed more than 161 points through the first 8 games of their season. That was in 1995, when the Steelers allowed 174 points and started 4-4 before going 7-1 in the second half of the season on their way to making the Super Bowl.

Looking at more recent Steeler teams, three Steeler teams in the last decade have allowed fewer points than the 2020 Steelers through the first 8 games, the 2011 Steelers allowed 139 points (3rd in 2011), the 2015 Steelers allowed 147 points (7th in 2015), and the 2017 Steelers allowed 131 (2nd in 2017). The 2019 Steelers gave up 169 points in the first 8 games, ranking 13th in the NFL at the time.

In 2011, the Steelers gave up more than 20 points in only one game, a season opening 7-35 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and also lost a 10-17 game to the Houston Texans. The 2015 Steelers gave up more than 20 points 3 times, losing all three games as well as a 10-16 loss for 4 losses in their first 8 games. The 2017 Steelers gave up 21+ points twice, losing both games and winning the rest.

In comparison the 2019 Steelers gave up more than 20 points 5 times in their first eight games, losing 4 of those while beating the Indianapolis Colts 26-24. The 2020 Steelers have given up 21+ points 4 times this season, and are undefeated in those games.

In fact, the 2020 Steelers are already tied for the most games won when they give up at least 24 points, with 3 wins. Only three Steeler teams have ended a season without losing a game in which they gave up 24 or more points. The 1982 and 1974 teams were 1-0 in those games, while the 1946 team is the only team to not allow 24 points in a game for a whole season, the highest point total reached by a Steeler opponent that year was 17.

Yards allowed

The most yards ever allowed by a Steeler defense through 8 games was in 1952, when the Steelers gave up 3031 yards in 8 games. The 2020 Steelers, in comparison, have given up 2539 yards, the 24th highest amount in franchise history, and the 5th lowest in the NFL this season. In the last 10 years only the 2011, 2012 and the 2017 defenses have allowed fewer yards, making this year the 2nd best defense in yards since Casey Hampton was still on the team and before James Harrison went to the Bengals.

To exemplify how much the league has changed, from 1990 to 2012, only one Steeler team gave up more yards than the 2539 the 2020 Steelers have given up, and that was the 2002 Steelers. The 2020 Steelers rank 6th in yards allowed in the NFL this season.

Sacks and turnovers

The Steelers have led the NFL in sacks for 3 straight seasons, and the 2020 Steelers have more sacks through eight games than any of those three teams did. The 2017 (26 sacks), 2018 (26) and 2019 (29) Steelers rank 9th, 8th and 7th in sacks through 8 games, while the 2020 Steelers sit in a three-way tie for third with the 2008 and 1974 Steelers with 32 sacks. The top two teams in franchise history for sacks through 8 games are the 2001 Steelers with 34 and the 1983 Steelers with 35.

The top 12 teams on the list include one team coached by Bill Cowher (2001), five from Chuck Noll (1983, 1974, 1982, 1985, 1978) and six from Mike Tomlin (2008, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2007). As I’ve said many times, people may not like how Keith Butler uses his secondary and linebackers in coverage, but as a pass rush coordinator he’s one of the best ever.

As for turnovers, the numbers in the current NFL era pale in comparison to pretty much any other era. Out of the 79 NFL seasons the Steelers have played, the 2020 Steelers rank 37th with 11 interceptions, not very impressive. But if you look at the last 20 years only the 2006 (12) and the 2002 (15) Steelers have more than the 2020 Steelers. The 2019 and 2010 Steelers also had 11 interceptions after 8 games.

The franchise record for most interceptions after 8 games is a tie between the 1973 Steelers and the 1954 Steelers, both with 21. The 1954 Steelers started 4-1 before going 1-6 the rest of the season, and their interception total was boosted significantly in their week 4 win over the Cleveland Browns when they intercepted Otto Graham 5 times (6 interceptions on the day). Wouldn’t it be nice if Joe Burrow could live up to that version of Otto Graham in week 10?

Fumbles are far more random that interceptions, and while the 2019 Steelers recovered 11 fumbles for turnovers in the first 8 games, tied for 11th most in franchise history, the 2020 Steelers have only recovered 4, tied for 8th fewest. The franchise record is 16 fumbles recovered, in a first place tie between the 1976 and 1940 Steelers.

Since the 1976 Steelers, only three Steeler teams have recorded 10 or more turnovers from fumbles, the 1983, 2010, and 2019 Steelers. It stands out that all three of those teams exceeded expectations before ending their season disappointingly.

2017, 2019 and 2020 comparison

Passing and rushing yards aren’t as interesting from a defense over time perspective, as it reflects much more the changes in the league than the quality of the defense, even more so than the numbers talked about above.

But I did want to include this chart, comparing three recent Steeler seasons though 8 games. We remember the end of the 2017 season and the disappointment, but it is good to remember just how good that defense was before Ryan Shazier was injured, and also nice to see how this 2020 defense that many consider disappointing stacks up to the juggernaut defense of 2019.

Points and turnovers

The 2020 Steelers are the highest scoring team in franchise history through 8 games, with an 8 point lead on the 2018 Steelers and a 30 point lead on the 2014 Steelers that were one of the best Steeler offenses we’ve seen. The Steelers have done a lot of that scoring through the air, and this team is tied with the 2016 Steelers for the 2nd most TD passes through 8 games. The number one team on the list is the 2007 Steelers, a team that shows up incredibly well on both the defense and offense lists for one of the most dominant first 8 games of any Steeler team.

The 2020 Steelers have only thrown 4 interceptions, only the 2000 (2) and 2014 (3) Steelers threw fewer over their first 8 games. Combine their high ranking in touchdown passes and low number of interceptions thrown and you get a +14 Touchdowns to Interceptions gap that is tied for the best in franchise history with the 2014 Steelers.

The Steelers have also lost 4 fumbles, giving them 8 turnovers in 8 games, tied with the 2012 Steelers for the second fewest in franchise history, behind the 2000 Steelers with 7 turnovers in 8 games. The 2019 Steelers had 11 turnovers at this point

Passing and running yards

The Steelers don’t rank quite as highly in passing yards, though, falling to 12th, directly behind the 1995 Steelers. Most of the seasons above them also involve Ben Roethlisberger. The 2020 season ranks tenth in passing yards during Ben Roethlisberger’s 17 year career. 2020 ranks 6th in passing attempts during Roethlisberger’s tenure as the Steelers quarterback, and right now his yards per pass attempt is the lowest of any season in which he’s played at least 2 full games (yes, that means it was lower last season before his season ended).

The Steelers passer rating is the 4th highest in franchise history through 8 games, trailing only the 2009, 2014, and the 2007 Steelers who take first place.

You probably expect the Steelers run game to look much worse than the passing game, and you would be right to expect that, but it may not be as bad as you expect.

The 2020 Steelers rank 57th in rushing yards in Steeler history. The 872 yards gained so far, however, is the highest total for this franchise since 2015, and the 9th highest of Ben Roethlisberger’s career, putting it right in the middle for the last 17 years. The highest rushing totals during Roethlisberger’s career came in 2004 (1286 yards) and 2007 (1204 yards).

The franchise record for most rushing yards in the first 8 games was set in 1949 when the three-headed rushing attack of Joe Geri, Jim Finks and Bob Gage accounted for 1558 yards as they carried the Steelers to a 4-3-1 record. Second place goes to Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier in 1976 with 1556 yards, and third place goes to Kordell Stewart and Jerome Bettis in 2001, when Bettis had 886 yards through 8 games before his hip injury that started his decline from one of the best backs in the NFL.

The 2020 Steelers fare better in rushing touchdowns with 9, which puts them in a tie for the 22nd most in franchise history with 10 other seasons. Only the 2004 and 2018 Steelers have had more rushing touchdowns through 8 games in the last 20 years.

In total yards the 2020 Steelers rank 5th worst since the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger. If you remove the 2019 season when he played less than 2 games, only three seasons with Ben Roethlisberger as the primary quarterback have seen fewer offensive yards gained than 2020.

Those seasons are 2005, 2008 and 2010. Those three years should stand out to you as the three years the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger have played in the Super Bowl.

Compared to franchise history the Steelers rank 25th in total yards gained, with half of the teams ahead of them having Roethlisberger as the quarterback, and the other half without him.

First half lessons of history

As you just read, the worst total yardage years of Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers career were the three years the Steelers went to the Super Bowl, a pretty clear message that the offensive yardage rankings don’t really mean much when the playoffs hit.

I want to focus more on a single season that stood out throughout the research for this article though, the 2007 Steelers.

Mike Tomlin’s first year started with a coach who was younger than some of his players coming in and asserting his command. They ran harder and hit more in training camp, and when the season started, they were dominant. Through 8 games the Steelers scored 222 points, 4th most in franchise history, 2nd most at the time. Ben Roethlisberger threw 20 touchdowns, the franchise record for most in the first 8 games, the Steelers ran for 1204 yards, 2nd highest total of Roethlisberger’s career and 21st best in franchise history. The Steelers 5.58 yards per play was higher than all but one year of Bill Cowher’s entire coaching career.

The 2007 Steelers only allowed 98 points through 8 games, the 6th best mark in franchise history, fewer than any Chuck Noll coached team allowed. They ranked 6th in rushing yards allowed and 28th in passing yards allowed in franchise history, the 2nd lowest passing yards allowed in the last 20 years.

The 2007 Steelers rank first in franchise history in point differential through 8 games with a remarkable 124 more points than their opponents. They were 6-2 after 8 weeks. They would finish the season 10-6, going 4-4 in their last 8 games, including dropping 3 of the last 4 before losing in the weld card game to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Since that season, Mike Tomlin’s teams have started slow. He has spoken about that season, and the lesson he learned when he had his team in mid-season form for week 1, only to see them wear down when the games mattered most.

Teams can look dominant in the first half, but often that only means they will wear out before the playoffs. The only things that matter early on in a season is health and your win/loss record. The Steelers have lost Devin Bush for the season, but they are 8-0, and haven’t played their best football yet.

If the pattern holds true, this team is going to play better as the season comes to an end, and hopefully will be playing their best football after the regular season ends.

A mid-season review of some bold preseason Steelers predictions

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 11/14/2020 - 6:00am
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Now that we have officially reached the halfway point of the Steelers season, let's see how the bold predictions I made in July have aged.

On July 18th, I released a list of my 5 bold predictions for the Steelers this season. I was optimistic that a number of Steelers players would break out and live up to the expectations that Steelers nation has for them and so far, I haven't been disappointed. Considering that the team is undefeated and two games ahead of the Ravens in the race for the AFC North title, there's little room for anyone to complain about the team's performance. That being said, let's examine how my bold predictions have played out so far, and if any of them have a chance to hit here in the second half of the season.

Prediction 1: James Conner rushes for over 1,300 yards and makes the Pro Bowl Chance it happens: 15%

Despite an atrocious Week 1 performance against the Giants, James Conner has been playing very solid football this year. His 4.4 yards per attempt are fairly pedestrian, but his workhorse volume has him currently eleventh in the league in total rushing yards with 520. In addition, he is tied for seventh in rushing touchdowns with five. Perhaps the most promising statistic is that Conner has not yet lost a fumble, something he has struggled with in past seasons.

Unfortunately, even though Conner is playing some of the best football of his career these numbers would be unlikely to earn him a Pro Bowl nod. Just two weeks ago he was on pace for over 1,200 rushing yards but after back to back modest performances, he now looks to finish with just above 1,000. Conner would need to put on an absolute show and average about 100 yards per game throughout the final eight weeks to reach the 1,300 yard mark I set for him back in July. There is almost no chance that this happens, especially considering how much success the Steelers have found when using their five-wide set that involves no running backs at all.

Still, I've been impressed with what I've seen from the forth-year running back. In a contract season he has stepped up and become the bell-cow back the Steelers have needed.

Prediction 2: Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster both break the 1,000 yard mark Chance it happens: 25%

Like my first prediction, this one seems doomed to fail, but for completely different reasons. I'm still optimistic Smith-Schuster will reach four digits given his increase in workload the past few weeks. He is currently on pace for just under 900 yards but each game he seems to become a more and more integral part of the offense, and I don't think it will be long until we see him consistently have 100 yard performances.

Diontae Johnson is a different story.

When he has been healthy, he has shown flashes of the talent we saw last year. Unfortunately, injuries have caused him to miss multiple games, leaving him with just 310 receiving yards on the year. There is still time for him to turn things around and have a truly great season, but it seems unlikely that he will reach 1,000 yards due to the real reason this prediction will not hit: Chase Claypool.

No one could've predicted the impact that Claypool would have in his first year with the team. Entering an offense that already had three solid receivers and two good tight ends, Claypool has fit in perfectly, earning himself more and more playing time each week. He currently leads the team with 444 receiving yards and has a great shot to get to four digits by the end of the year. At this moment in time, it seems very possible that the Steelers will have two 1,000 yard receivers who "establish themselves as an elite duo" as I said in my article, it just won't be the two I predicted.

Prediction 3: The offensive line sends 0 players to the Pro Bowl Chance it happens: N/A

Unfortunately, the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl was cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic. The NFL decided that hosting the game was unnecessary and posed risks to the health of the players and coaches. Still, we can still imagine who would likely make it and who would not.

As I predicted, Maurkice Pouncey's play has not lived up to that of past years. While he has been holding up well in protection, too many of his snaps are falling short of the QBs hands to merit a Pro Bowl selection. According to PFF, David DeCastro's play has also declined and if the season ended today he would have the second lowest grade of his career.

That being said, the offensive line's play as a whole has been solid to say the least. There hasn't been the drop off I expected to see coming into the year. The Steelers have allowed just ten sacks, good for second best in the league, and have created solid holes for the running backs in all but one or two games. The impressive play of youngsters Kevin Dotson and Chukwuma Okorafor and the veteran presence of Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler (and the other two I mentioned above) have allowed this unit to remain among the better groups in the league. While I am not certain that any one player has played well enough to earn Pro Bowl honors, it seems likely that DeCastro and maybe Villanueva would make it based on name alone.

Prediction 4: The defense sets a franchise record for sacks in a season Chance it happens: 75%

Yet again the Steelers have found themselves among the league leaders in sacks. In fact, they are currently leading the NFL with 32 takedowns of the quarterback. If they continue their current rate, Pittsburgh will finish with 64 sacks, destroying the previous franchise record of 56. While they have slowed down somewhat in recent weeks, it still seems likely that the Steelers will be able to reach the mark they set back in 2017. The combination of T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree at outside linebacker continues to be lethal while Vince Williams and Mike Hilton help bring the heat from the second and third levels respectively.

What has put this unit over the top is the return of Stephon Tuitt, who currently has 6 sacks to go alongside 17 QB hits. With Tuitt and Cam Heyward on the inside and a slew of elite pass rushers around them, the Steelers have been able to wreak havoc in the backfield of almost every team they have played. As long as the defense stays healthy, they should be able to demolish the old franchise record. Heck with two games left against the Bengals, this team could challenge the NFL record of 72 sacks in a season set by the 1984 Chicago Bears.

Prediction 5: Two players earn awards at NFL Honors Chance it happens: 30%

Despite looking like the most unlikely of my predictions to take place back in July, it now seems like there is at least a decent chance it hits. Ben Roethlisberger's return has been nothing short of brilliant and the fact that he has this team at 8-0 shows just how crucial he is to their success. By using lots of short and quick passes Ben has eliminated most of the mistakes that plagued his play in the past. His only competition for Comeback Player of the Year now is Alex Smith, but if the Steelers can continue winning at the rate that they are, Roethlisberger should run away with it.

T.J. Watt also has a great chance to take home Defensive Player of the Year. He continues to sack the quarterback at a solid rate and is currently tied for forth in the league with seven. What sets T.J. apart, however, is his ability to disrupt the play even when he can't record a sack. He leads the league in both pressures and QB hits by a significant margin and is second in tackles for a loss behind only teammate Vince Williams.

According to Odds Shark the youngest Watt brother currently has the second best chance to win DPOY, an award he is sure to be in the running for for years to come. In addition to these two players, a few other Steelers have a shot at taking home awards at NFL Honors. Chase Claypool's impressive start to his career has him in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Mike Tomlin seems to be the unanimous favorite for Coach of the Year. As long as Pittsburgh can continue to compete at a high level, there's a good chance that at least two of these Steelers can win awards come the NFL Honors ceremony.

Overall my predictions haven't been too bad given they were supposed to be bold and therefore unlikely to be correct. Based on what I've seen so far, I expect two out of the five to work out by the end of the season. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments.

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