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Steelers Vertex: Is the return of Cam Sutton in 2023 a priority?

Behind the Steel Curtain - 5 hours 35 min ago
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Would keeping the same cornerback room for 2023 bring the desired results?

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 offseason is underway. As the team looks at it’s potentially departing players due to impending free agency, some players may be returning while others will test the market. To get a better idea as to how the Steelers mighjt be looking, we’re going to dive into several of the free agents starting with ones who played the most in 2022. First up will be Cam Sutton. This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

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

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

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

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

Steelers cornerback Cam Sutton had career highs in several key statistics in 2022. Drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft, Sutton spent the last two seasons as a full-time starter in the Steelers secondary. Although his 43 tackles this season is behind his 52 tackles of 2021, Sutton had career highs with three interceptions and 15 passes defensed. Sudden also saw the lowest completion percentage against him in his career at 47.9% according to Pro Football Reference. Sutton was targeted 73 times in 2022 with only 35 completions.

For the season, Cam Sutton played 931 defensive snaps which was more than 150 fewer snaps than he played in 2021. Only playing 54% of the team’s snaps in Week 5 due to injury, Sutton also missed the Steelers Week 6 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a groin and hamstring injury. Returning in Week 7 against the Miami Dolphins where he played 50% of the snaps, Sutton did not miss another defensive snap for the rest of the season.

Another important number when it comes to Cam Sutton is his current contract status. Although he will be a free agent, Sutton is the only player remaining signed from the 2021 offseason where the Steelers used void years in their contracts. Sutton still has $2.1 million of his contract that has not been accounted for on the salary cap. According to overthecap.com, Sutton’s contract voids and all the remaining money will be due on the 2023 salary cap. But if Sutton signs another deal with the Steelers, the money will stay spread out over the three years remaining on the contract with $700k per season. If the Steelers are interested in keeping this money spread out, signing a new deal was Sutton would be well-served to happen before this date.

Yet another way to look at things is how the Steelers pass defense as a whole operated this past season with Cam Sutton as a key figure. The Steelers finished the 2022 season ranked 19th in passing yards surrendered, but were 4th in the NFL over their final nine games. They gave up 100 receiving yards to seven different wide receivers this season with only one, Tee Higgins, coming after their bye week.

Although the Steelers faced 13 of the 22 NFL wide receivers who had at least 1,000 yards receiving in 2022, only four of them they saw in the second half of the season while it was 11 over the first eight games (Tee Higgins and Amari Cooper they faced in both halves of the season, and Ja’Marr Chase did not play in Week 11). So the task of covering top wide receivers wasn’t as daunting at the end of the season, but the NFL’s third leading receiver in Davante Adams was held to two receptions for 15 yards.

So they are the numbers with Cam Sutton. What does the film have to say?

The Film Line:

Cameron Sutton gained notoriety in 2019 as a dime back who excelled in zone coverage, especially deep zone coverage, and the Steelers still put him in the coverages he excelled in then whenever they can.

Steelers vs. Raiders, 4th quarter, 0:36

Cameron Sutton (#20) is the deepest defender below the hash marks.

The game-sealing interception in Week 16 has Cameron Sutton playing a dime back role and dropping into deep zone coverage, in this case in a Tampa-2 style coverage that has Minkah Fitzpatrick playing like a deep linebacker.

The Raiders have the right route to beat this coverage with an outside release heading to attack the middle of the field beyond Fitzpatrick. The throw drifts outside and Cameron Sutton is there to make the play.

You can see Sutton adjust his drop, flipping his hips when neither receiver heads toward the sideline. His reactions throughout the play set him up with an opportunity to make this play, and he has the ball skills to finish the play and close out the game.

With Sutton starting games and spending most of his snaps as an outside corner, it’s cool to see the Steelers still getting him into this role that is still the one he is best at.

Steelers vs. Eagles, 1st quarter, 0:46

Cameron Sutton (#20) is the cornerback farthest to the top of the screen.

Here you can see Sutton using good body positioning and ball skills he shows in zone coverage in man coverage. He doesn’t physically interfere with the receiver’s route, he plays the ball. It’s important to note this ball was thrown early due to the pressure, and that mistake lets Sutton get hands on the ball.

Steelers @ Bengals, 2nd quarter, 5:33

Cameron Sutton (#20) is the corner farthest to the top of the screen.

Another man defense play, but Sutton’s awareness and zone skills are the exact skills he needs to make a play on this ball that wasn’t thrown to his man. He has great timing for his jumps and high points the ball better than a lot of receivers.

Steelers vs. Eagles, 1st quarter, 11:37

Cameron Sutton (#20) is the cornerback.

Here the Eagles have a serious mismatch in size and physicality, but Cameron Sutton makes this play with great change of direction that is weaponized with terrific footwork. It allows him the timing to make this play on the ball and deny a first down.

Steelers @ Bengals, 2nd quarter, 5:33

Cameron Sutton (#20) is the slot corner.

This angle really shows how well Cameron Sutton maximizes his speed and increases his range with his economy of motion. Sutton isn’t the most athletic player but he’s able to undercut this route and catch this ball at the limit of his reach.

This is Cameron Sutton, a player who has great awareness and ball skills, who has worked on their craft and has high end footwork and body control to maximize his physical abilities. But Cameron Sutton is also a player who isn’t going to win with physicality. Look at these clips, Sutton isn’t engaging any of these receivers with physicality. He’s not forcing them out of their routes or controlling what ground he is giving them. He’s letting them run their route and following them, looking to attack the ball instead of the route.

Steelers vs. Eagles, 2nd quarter, 6:49

Cameron Sutton (#20) is the corner farthest to the bottom of the screen.

DaVonta Smith fakes the inside route before cutting outside, and Cameron Sutton hits the ground. He recovers to make the tackle, but truly elite change of direction and quickness guys will get the better of Cameron Sutton.

Steelers @ Browns, 4th quarter, 15:00

Cameron Sutton (#20) is the corner to the bottom of the screen.

Amari Cooper is a great route runner. He gets himself into Sutton’s blind spot as Sutton runs to stay ahead of Cooper, so Sutton is a split-second late reacting to Cooper’s cut inside. At that point you can see the difference in speed between the receivers as Cooper pulls away from Sutton.

Cameron Sutton can’t run with the truly elite speed receivers and struggles with the high-end change of direction guys as well.

With his lack of physicality, he doesn’t engage the receiver and slow down the route either. this is a 3rd and 1 play, the Browns know the Steelers will be loading the box and they have Cooper in single coverage without deep safety help. They go after Sutton because they know he won’t be able to stay with Cooper.

The Point:

Cameron Sutton is a valuable corner in a lot of schemes, and the only thing that really gives him trouble is receivers who have high-end speed and quickness. Joe Haden had the same speed limitations Sutton has, but Haden excelled at physically altering and limiting receiver’s routes and keeping them from getting to their full speed. Sutton’s lack of physicality eliminates that option for him, and relegates him to being a great #2 cornerback who isn’t as well-equipped to cover top-tier athletes on his own.

So where does that leave Cam Sutton with the 2023 Steelers? Should he be brought back at the salary he would likely command on the open market to be more of a #1 cornerback?

With the pass defense coming on strong in the second half, the Steelers might want to roll the same philosophy back this coming season. Whether or not they do that with the same personnel or change it up remains to be seen. Or the Steelers could change up their philosophy and hope to bring in a lock-down, physical cornerback. How they handle Cam Sutton in the coming weeks may tell a lot as to what they want to do in 2023.

The Hindsight: What Steelers Nation initially said about Devin Bush

Behind the Steel Curtain - 6 hours 50 min ago
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The writing may have been on the wall as soon as draft day

It looks like it’s the end of the Devin Bush era in Pittsburgh. Although his 2022 season could be seen as an improvement over 2021, his snap count significantly shrank in the final weeks. Many are assuming he’s played his last down for the Steelers, and for the past year, many fans have been saying it’s a welcome move.

The Steelers declining Devin Bush's fifth-year option:

— Chris Mueller (@ChrisMuellerPGH) May 2, 2022

Now, there’s a segment of the fan base who wants to use the power of hindsight and paint Bush’s lack of success as an indictment on Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and the Steelers front office. Of course, it’s a disappointment when a number 10 overall pick doesn’t make a second contract, especially with the draft picks the Steelers invested to reach him. Some may want to label him a ‘bust,’ even considering his career-altering injury. But only the most cynical critics can truly believe Devin’s pick is a reflection of an unprepared evaluation process. Certainly, no one was saying that at the time, although there were a few voices who may have seen this all coming from the start. Let’s take a look back at what was being said about Devin Bush.

Mike Tomlin: "The position he plays is like a defensive quarterback." says all the Michigan players they interviewed in this process said Devin Bush was "the unquestioned leader."

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) April 26, 2019

The team felt the pick was a slam dunk at the time. Tomlin called Bush a “defensive quarterback” and “unquestioned leader.” Colbert was even more frank: “It was an easy pick to take him with the #10 pick.”

Kevin Colbert: "I don't want to say it was an easy trade to make, but it was an easy pick to take (Devin Bush) with the No. 10 pick."

Said that having the Raiders' high-3rd rounder is the only reason they dealt a second-rounder.

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) April 26, 2019

The media landscape was practically in unison with their praise for Bush.

Mel Kiper (ESPN): “I love this fit, and I love Pittsburgh being aggressive in getting its guy.”

Daniel Jeremiah (NFL.com): “I think it’s a perfect fit. There are two big-time linebackers and I don’t think there’s a lot of difference between him and Devin White. He has great leadership and great explosion.”

Dane Brugler (The Athletic): “This is reminiscent of 2003 when the Steelers moved up 11 spots for Troy Polamalu.”

Andy Benoit (Sports Illustrated): “Trading up for Bush was an easy decision...They haven’t had such flexibility since Shazier was last on the field.”

Shannon White (BTSC): “Bush appears to be a great fit for the Steelers and their team culture.”

Matt Miller (Bleacher Report): “Brings power to the field with an explosive first step and bad intentions as a tackler and elite closing skills when zeroing in on a ball-carrier. Experienced and productive in pass coverage; fast enough to lock up tight ends or backs.”

Steven Ruiz (USA Today): “The Steelers have found their replacement for Ryan Shazier. Devin Bush is a true sideline-to-sideline linebacker who can hold up in man coverage. He’s the perfect linebacker for the modern NFL.”

There were a couple of skeptic voices.

Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): “They gave up a little too much though (picks 20 and 52 overall and a 2020 third round pick). He better be special.”

Eric Edholm (Yahoo Sports): “Once a lineman locks in on Bush, he has serious trouble getting free — can learn better technique shedding blocks but will always have to work harder than bigger-framed linebackers to prevent this. Can stand to avoid second-level blockers better. Tries to run around blockers too much and will run himself out of plays.”

It turns out that Edholm could foresee Bush’s struggles better than any other analyst. His difficulties with second-level blockers certainly put Devin on Merril Hoge’s hitlist. And he never really emerged as a unifying leader who could organize the defense on the field. But he’s not a true ‘bust’ in the vein of a Ryan Leaf or JaMarcus Russell. Or maybe the upcoming free agent market will ultimately decide that.

Kyle Chrise is the host of the BTSC podcast “What Yinz Talkin’ Bout.” New episodes premiere every Thursday. Check out the latest podcast in the player below:

The BTSC Delorean: The complete catalog of Steelers AFC Championship Games, 1970s edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - 8 hours 5 min ago
Set Number: X23041 TK1 R15 F24

Take a trip back in time with BTSC with the complete catalog of Steelers AFC Championship Games from the 1970s

The Pittsburgh Steelers have played in 63 Postseason Games in in their history, and they all elicit memories in Steelers fans both good and bad. In those contests, the Steelers have played in 16 AFC Championship Games and are .500 in those games with a record of 8-8 with six of those leading to Super Bowl victories. BTSC takes a look back at the entire catalog of Steelers AFC Championship Games in Part 1 of a three-part series.

Here’s a brief tale of the tape of the Steelers history in AFC Championship Games:

Record: 8-8

Home Record: 6-5

Road Record: 2-3

Points: Steelers 349, Opponents 339

Home Points: Steelers 239, Opponents 204

Away Points: Steelers 110, Opponents 135

Shutouts: 0

Biggest Win Margin: 29 - Steelers 34, Oilers 5 (January 7, 1979)

Biggest Loss Margin: 19 - Patriots 36, Steelers 17 (January 22, 2017)

Closest Game: 3 - Denver Broncos 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 21 (January 11, 1998)

Overtime Games: None

Here’s a brief tale of the tape of the 1970s Steelers in AFC Championship Games:

Record: 4-2

Home Record: 3-1

Road Record: 1-1

Points: Steelers 123, Opponents 86

Home Points: Steelers 94, Opponents 49

Away Points: Steelers 31, Opponents 37

Shutouts: 0

Biggest Win Margin: 29 - Pittsburgh Steelers 34, Houston Oilers 5 (January 7, 1979)

Biggest Loss Margin: 19 - Oakland Raiders 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 17 (December 26, 1976)

Closest Game: 4 - Miami Dolphins 21. Pittsburgh Steelers 17 (December 31, 1972)

Overtime Games: None

December 31, 1972 - Miami Dolphins 21, Pittsburgh Steelers 17 (1972 AFC Championship Game)

In their 40th season, the renaissance of the Pittsburgh Steelers finally showed signs of legitimacy as Art Rooney Sr.’s team put together a record of 11-3 in the fourth season of the Chuck Noll era. Making the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history (1947 being the first), the Steel City entry of the National Football League celebrated their first-ever division title and had their first winning-season since 1963.

Of course, we all know about the advancement the Steelers made a week before with a well-known play called the Immaculate Reception. Because of the NFL’s rotation of home playoff games back then, the last-second home win over Oakland gave the Men of Steel home-field advantage for the AFC Championship Game against unbeaten Miami on New Year’s Eve. The Steelers got on the board first after safety Glen Edwards intercepted Earl Morall and luck prevailed as the Steelers retained possession of two fumbles by Franco Harris and Terry Bradshaw. Brad was trying to find the end zone on a keeper, but the Dolphins nailed the Steelers QB and the ball careened out of his hands. Luckily Gerry “Moon” Mullins alertly fell on the ball in the end zone for the touchdown and a Roy Gerela kick-after made the score 7-0. There was major concern though when Bradshaw remained on the Three Rivers turf, and when he wasn’t right upon his return in the next series, forcing another exit that some speculate was a shoulder injury, but ultimately proved to be a concussion. It seemed that the Steelers were on track when L.C. Greenwood helped s field goal shut down the Dolphins offense and force a punt, but a huge play for Miami came on punter Larry Seiple’s run on a fake punt to set up an Earl Morrall to Larry Csonka touchdown toss (where he flattens Mel Blount in the process) to tie the score at 7-7. With Terry Hanratty replacing Bradshaw, the offense was stalling, but the Steel Curtain flummoxed the Dolphins attack as well for a dead-knotted score at halftime.

After intermission, Hanratty came out firing to move the Steelers down the field. But the big play was a 24-yard run play courtesy of Frenchy Fuqua that looked like it could go all the way. But the French Count slipped in the open field and was brought down at the 13. The Men of Steel ultimately had to settle for a 14-yard field goal on the drive and a 10-7 deficit for the undefeated Phins. But Don Shula’s bold decision to replace Earl Morrall at quarterback in the second half with Bob Griese, who’s injured ankle sideline him for most of the season, paid off. Initially, Joe Greene and the Steelers defense harassed No. 12 in white, but a 52-yard pass play to speedster Paul Warfield got the Dolphins down deep. It looked like the Steelers would thwart that attempt, but a timely Jack Ham interception was negated when an off-sides penalty on Dwight White was called. Jim Kiick’s touchdown run from the two gave Miami their first lead and one they would never relinquish. Hanratty was ineffective, however good enough to get Chuck Noll’s team into position for a Gerela field goal that was blocked. Jim Kiick’s second touchdown run, this time from the three, gave Shula and Co a 21-10 lead. Despite being groggy and no such thing as a concussion protocol or blue tents back then, Bradshaw returned and got the home crowd on their feet with a 12-yard pass to Al Young. Excitement was in the air as the Steel Curtain held Griese’s offense to a three-and-out. However, TB12 wasn’t right and that disallowed the offense to fire on all cylinders. An interception by linebacker Nick Buoniconti didn’t seal the deal though, as Edwards and White stuffed Czonka on a 4th and one from the Steelers 10. Another miracle wasn’t to be though, as Mike Kolen intercepted Bradshaw to end the Steelers fantastic season.

As Bradshaw trotted into the locker room, the home fans gave the blonde bomber a thoughtful ovation, just knowing deep down that this wasn’t the end, but merely a beautiful beginning for Steel City football. Win or lose, the game would become insignificant when news emerged of the tragic death of the Pirates legend Roberto Clemente in a plane crash on a humanitarian mission traumatized the city and shocked the sports world.

To watch highlights of this game, click HERE

To listen to a radio-edit with highlights of this game, click HERE

December 29, 1974 - Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Oakland Raiders 13 (1974 AFC Championship Game)

It was a blissful time for the inhabitants of the City of Steel as their 11-3-1 Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves on the precipice of their first Super Bowl after winning won the AFC Central division title, and an entry in the playoffs for the third consecutive season. However, Head Coach Chuck Noll’s team first needed to vanquish an already hated rival in John Madden’s Oakland Raiders. The Raiders had fabled names such as Ken Stabler, Fred Belitnikoff, Cliff Branch, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Jim Otto, Bubba Smith, Phil Villapiano, George Atkinson, Jack Tatum, Otis Sistrunk, Dave Casper, Willie Brown, Dave Dalby, George Blanda, and Ray Guy. They were a team that very easily could have been the team of the decade had it not been for the upstart visitors wearing white. However, the Steelers were riled up after an impassioned pregame speech by Noll. The speech was inspired by Madden’s comment after beating Miami the week before by saying that “the NFL’s two best teams just played”.

With the stakes being a trip to New Orleans to face the Minny Vikes (who had beaten the Rams earlier in the day) in the Super Bowl on the line, both teams needed to be in top form. But it didn’t exactly start that way for the Steelers. Guy booted a 56-yarder that Lynn Swann fumbled after a 13-yard return to set up the Raiders at the Pittsburgh 28. But the staunch Steel Curtain tightened up when Glen Edwards broke up a sure first down when he rocked Cliff Branch with a monstrous hit. The ancient Blanda kicked a 40-yarder for a 3-0 lead. After starting with good field position, Bradshaw rallied the Steelers down to the Oakland three. Roy Gerela shanked a 20-yarder. The Steelers, with a good starting spot again, stalled at the six. But this time Gerela connected to tie the score.

In the second, it had appeared that the Steelers finally took the lead on a gorgeous one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone by John Stallworth. However, the rookie was ruled out of bounds. In this day and age of instant replay, it would have been overturned. Two plays later, Bradshaw threw an interception and an angry Stallworth got called for a late hit on the return. On the ensuing drive, Branch beat Mel Blount on a reception that got him down to the one. However, the legendary Otto fell trying to stop the fevered rush by Mean Joe and inadvertently tripped him. The big gain was negated by the tripping penalty and the Raiders brought out Blanda for a 38-yard attempt and a 6-3 lead. But Jack Lambert blocked it, and the halftime score was 3-3.

In the third, Rocky Bleier fumbled at his own 39 and the Raiders were in business. But Jack Ham stepped in front of a Stabler pass for a pick at the 22 to stop the Raider drive. But it amounted to nothing for Pittsburgh. The Raiders who were struggling on the ground (Clarence Davis’ four-yarder on the game’s first handoff was Oakland’s longest run of the day) went to the air. Branch beat Blount badly again on a long pass play, but it went off of his fingertips. But Stabler went to that well again and the NFL’s leader in TD catches (13) burned No. 47 again, this time holding on to the ball for a 38-yard score. 10-3 Oakland. On their next drive, the offensive line opened up holes as Bleier and Harris dominated the Raiders. On the first play of the fourth, Harris scored from eight yards out to tie the game at 10-10

The unflashy Ham was a superstar that day when he thieved interception No. 2 and rumbled to the nine. A few plays later, Bradshaw connected with Lynn Swann for a six-yard score. 17-10 Steelers. With nearly eight minutes remaining, Branch (9 catches for 186 yards) continued his stellar day with a 43-yard reception, followed by a ten. But with a fourth down from the Steeler 7, Madden sent out Blanda who hit from 24-out. It was now 17-13.

The Raiders had two more chances but couldn’t convert. With Oakland down by four and driving with 1:18 left, the Steelers gang rushed Stabler and sacked him, but J.T. Thomas was nailed for holding in the secondary. Enraged, he picked up the flag and spiked it. Today that would have definitely drawn more of a penalty. On the next play, Thomas intercepted a Stabler duck and returned it 38 yards to the Oakland 25 with one minute remaining. The game was sealed when Franco scored from 21 out two plays later.

The Steelers were carried by Franco’s 111 yards and Rocky’s 98. On defense, a pair of Jacks, a Joe and a J.T, snuffed the life out of Al Davis’ team. After 41 years, Art Rooney finally found his team in the Super Bowl, and we all know what followed. It was a dynasty.

To watch the full game, click HERE

January 4, 1976 - Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Oakland Raiders 10 (1975 AFC Championship Game)

After finally arriving as a legitimate contender and emerging victorious in Super Bowl IX, the Pittsburgh Steelers could either continue their quest to build a dynasty or prove that they were merely one-hit wonders on the top of the charts. In 1975, the black and gold finished at 12-2 and boasted one of the greatest defensive teams of all time. The Rooney Family’s franchise realized their best defensive statistics since 1946 and scored more points than any other Steelers team in their 44-year history. After winning another AFC Central crown and beating Baltimore in the divisional round, a rematch with a familiar foe stood in their way to get back to the Super Bowl.

It could get cold in Oakland, but John Madden’s Raiders we’re not really accustomed to temperatures in the teens, wind chills of -1- and playing with several inches of snow on the ground and a surface that was icy along the sidelines where the edge of the top blew off in the high winds. With a trip to Miami and Super Bowl X on the line, the Steelers-Raiders rivalry was never hotter despite the arctic air. “The ice may have been worse than the cold, especially the ice along the sidelines,” said Raiders coach John Madden. “It made it tough for our receivers, because we use them for turning and cutting and working their way back to the ball. A lot of times when we thought we had something going, we couldn’t use those things.” In a game without Joe Greene, the Steelers needed to take advantage of Joe DeNardo’s forecast.

The weather hindered both teams, in fact, the Steelers surrendered eight of the game’s 13. The carnage started early with the Raiders Jack Tatum intercepting Terry Bradshaw with the home team marching towards the end zone. In fact, Bradshaw was picked off twice by Tatum in the first quarter, the second an overthrow to Frank Lewis to set up Madden’s team. However, the Steelers defense held strong, as the Raiders were slipping and sliding, and limited the visitors to merely a 38-yard field goal attempt by George Blanda that went wide right. In the second quarter, Mike Wagner’s diving interception return of 20 yards set up the Steelers with good field position with 10;30 to go in the half. Intended receiver Marv Hubbard slammed down Wagner on the frozen synthetic turf, and No. 23 retaliated through a sea of white jerseys on the Oakland sideline. The turnover set up a true Roy Gerela field goal of 36 yards. The kick sailed through the uprights for a 3-0 lead. Oakland looked to counter, but the cold air and an even more frigid Stabler wouldn’t allow it as receivers dropped passes and Jack Ham, along with Wagner, had near interceptions for the Steelers. While the Steelers dropped balls by Bradshaw, the Raiders hung on to their theft opportunities as Lonnie Johnson picked off a deep ball to Lynn Swann at the end of the half.

In the third quarter, the defenders of the Lombardi began to assert themselves as the aggressors with Bradshaw going pick-free and the Steelers defense exerting a punishing suffocation mode on the men in white, silver and black. This was done by Ernie Homes and Andy Russell recording the first two sacks of the game for the Steelers, Jack Lambert dropping a sure pick-six, but recovering 3 Raider fumbles. The Steelers were giving the ball away themselves as Mike Collier coughed up a punt and Swann surrendered the ball after a nasty hit by Tatum relegated No. 88 to be hauled off on a stretcher.

In the fourth, Franco Harris (137 yards from scrimmage) took a handoff on a running play designed to go between the tackles, but it turned into a 44-yard touchdown when Harris bounced outside, took advantage of John Stallworth’s downfield block, and ran to paydirt on a slick sideline dash. Inspired, Stabler started looking for tight end Dave Casper for stability and finished off the drive with a 14-yard pass to Mike Siani over J.T. Thomas for the touchdown that cut the Steelers’ lead to a mere 3 points at 10-7. After a stop of the black-and-gold offense later in the quarter, the Ravens had a chance to tie or even take the lead, but Marv Hubbard ran into the Steel Curtain and the ball squirted loose for Lambert to pounce on for her third fumble recovery of the game at the Raiders 25-yard line. One play later Stallworth made a stellar catch in the back corner of the end zone. The snap for the extra point was fumbled, and the Steelers led by the score of 16-7. The Raiders were unable to move the ball on their next possession, and the game seemed to be on ice both figuratively and literally. However, Harris lost a fumble with the Steelers trying to drain the clock, putting Pittsburgh people in parkas in a petrified position. But the Steelers defense continued to dominate, forcing a fourth-and-long and Madden chooding to go for a 41-yard field goal by Blanda with :17 seconds left. After Blanda converted to make it 16-10, the Raiders made things even more uneasy when came up with the onside kick. Then, with :07 seconds left from the Oakland 48, Stabler completed a a 37-yard pass at the Steelers 15-yard line, but Mel Blount tackled Cliff Branch in bounds and the clock ran out in a game where the elements were as harrowing as each of the opposing defenses.

When asked about the conditions, Noll quipped, “You couldn’t do the things you do normally. You couldn’t play perfect football, but it was a true test. It brings out character. Nobody wants fumbles, but you have to overcome them.” Nonetheless, the Steelers were on their way to their second Super Bowl in sunny Miami and despite the temperatures, everybody in the Iron City had a warm feeling.

To watch highlights of this game, click HERE

To watch the full game, click HERE

December 26, 1976 - Oakland Raiders 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 7 (1976 AFC Championship Game)

In what is widely thought to be the greatest Pittsburgh Steelers team in the history of the franchise that has never won a championship, the 1976 Steelers were snake bitten by a 1-4 start and a rash of injuries all year long, before going on a roll and finishing the regular season at 10-4. Terry Bradshaw was a big name on the list after he sustained a neck injury when he was body slammed by Joe “Turkey” Jones in Cleveland, causing the Steelers QB to miss six weeks of the ‘76 season. By the time of the 1976 AFC Championship game, Bradshaw was back, but the Steelers offense was missing two 1,000-yard rushers in the form of Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier injured a week earlier against Baltimore in the divisional game. Silver and Black defense and the not the famed “Steel Curtain” of Pittsburgh. The Oakland Raiders’ defense would hold the Steelers to just seven points, while the offense racked up 24. During the opening quarter, it seemed both teams’ defenses would dictate the tempo of this AFC Championship game.

The game was dominated by defense on the first four possessions of the game, including a partially blocked Bobby Walden punt that set up the Raiders’ offense at the Steelers’ 38-yard line for a six-play fifth drive and an Errol Mann 39-yard field goal. Those would be the only points of the quarter as the Raiders led 3-0. The defensive battle continued in the second quarter as both offenses were left impotent. The black-and-gold’s second drive of the quarter ended up in disaster for the visitors and in delight for the hometown Raiders. Bradshaw dropped back to pass at his own 19 and said pass was intercepted by inside linebacker Willie Hall and returned to the 1-yard line. Clarence Davis blasted in for the game’s first touchdown three plays later for a 10-0 Raider’s advantage. Pittsburgh’s offense got in gear and looked to get on the scoreboard. Bradshaw passes, two to Lynn Swan and another to Frank Lewis, set up a three-yard touchdown run by RB Reggie Harrison. Harrison’s score would cut the Raiders’ lead to three, but it would be the last points put up by Pittsburgh in the contest. However, the next drive saw “The Snake” quarterback his team to a 14-play, 69-yard drive that featured plenty of runs and passes. When Stabler threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Warren Bankston the first-half scoring halted with the Oakland Alameda County Stadium scoreboard showing the Oakland Raiders 17 and the Pittsburgh Steelers 7.

Punts concluded the first three possessions of the second half until the Raiders behind Pete Banaszak and Mark Van Eeghen runs combined with passes from Stabler to Cliff Branch and Bankston saw the autumn wind blowing Oakland into the end zone again with Banaszak catching a TD score. After an Errol Mann extra point was successful, the game was pretty much out of hand at 24-7.

The depleted Steelers defense had no answer and fans of John Madden’s eventual Super Bowl Champs stormed the field as their Raiders upended the defending champs and, perhaps, the best Steelers’ team of the seventies, but one that wasn’t at full strength. The loss didn’t spell the end for the Steelers quest to add more championships to their resume’. It was merely the beginning of a brief hiatus that would end with two more titles just two years later.

To watch the full game, click HERE

January 7, 1979 - Pittsburgh Steelers 34, Houston Oilers 5 (1978 AFC Championship Game)

The 1978 Steelers were a team looking to get back to the promised land that is the Super Bowl after a two-season hiatus. Chuck Noll’s crew began the campaign with seven-straight triumphs and ended their season with five-consecutive victories before climaxing the regular season at 14-2. The two games that Pittsburgh lost were to the to the Los Angeles Rams and the second-place team in their AFC Central, the Houston Oilers by a combined 10 points. Playing in the rubber match for the conference crown, Bum Phillips brought his baby blue Oilers and one of the best runners in the game in the form of Earl Campbell, from the comfort of the Houston Astrodome to a drenched and slippery Three Rivers Stadium in frigid Pittsburgh, PA.

The Oilers got the ball first and had to punt after the Steel Curtain smothered Dan Pastorini and the Oilers’ attack when Ron Johnson cut down Rich Caster to force a punt. Pittsburgh capitalized easily with Lynn Swann’s long reception and a flurry of Franco Harris runs, including a 7-yard touchdown run. After another Cliff Parsley punt, Bradshaw hooked up with Randy Grossman twice to get down to the enemy 19. This time, though, Willie Alexander stepped up when Lynn Swann fell down at the 11 and intercepted the football. However, Mel Blount picked off Dan Pastorini two plays later and returned the ball 16 yards to the Houston 25. They would add no points though, as the inconsistent Roy Gerela (12 for 26 on the season) went wide right on his 40-yard attempt. Houston would again get only two plays though, and they weren’t good as L.C. Greenwood sacked Pastorini, and then Campbell coughed-up a football and Jack Ham recovered the fumble at the Houston 17-yard line. On the very next play, the Steelers almost gave it right back when Ted Washington knocked the ball out of Franco’s mitts, but luckily an alert Gerry Mullins was there to recover. With new life, Houston came on a safety blitz and Rocky Bleier broke two initial tackles before going on a 15-yard dash to glory. After Gerela’s point after, the Steelers led 14-0 with 1:09 remaining in the first.

In the second quarter, a bad pass interference call on Mel Blount gave Houston a 1st and goal at the 4. But the Steel Curtain hunkered down and a Toni Fritsch 19-yard field goal was all that would come out of it to make the score 14–3. Bradshaw would move his offense all the way inside the 10 at the Houston 7, but his second interception landed in the grasp of Greg Stemrick. The Oilers couldn’t put anything positive together though, and Pittsburgh finally got back to their scoring ways by putting 17 points on the scoreboard during the last :48 of the second quarter. First, Ronnie Coleman lost a fumble, and Bradshaw connected with Swann for a 29-yard touchdown reception and a bigger lead at 21-3. On the ensuing kickoff, Johnnie Dirden fumbled the ensuing kickoff with Rick Moser recovering, which led to John Stallworth’s 17-yard touchdown grab. After the Oilers got the ball back, Coleman fumbled again with Steve Furness recovering this time. To follow, Roy Gerela kicked a 37-yard field goal to increase the Steelers’ lead to 31–3 at intermission.

Things got even worse for the Houston Oilers after halftime as they turned over the ball four times in their six second-half possessions. First, Jack Ham intercepted Pastorini at the Oiler 15, setting up a 27-yarder by Gerela for a 34-3 drubbing. After another Parsley punt, the weather continued to make ball protection a problem as Bradshaw fumbled the ball away at his own 19. But Pastorini, in great position to get into the end zone, threw an interception into the end zone that Donnie Shell would apprehend at the 1⁄2 yard line. The turnover was good, but Ted Washington’s safety by tackling Rocky Bleier in the end zone with 3:47 left in the third quarter made the score 34-5. The free kick brought the white, baby blue-and-red got in the red zone, but Pastorini threw up a prayer on 4th and 8 and rookie Ron Johnson intercepted to give the ball back to the black and gold.

Early in the fourth, Gerela came up short on a field goal from 40-out, but the Steelers got the ball upon another interception, this time by Lore Toews to seal it. The Steelers dominated the Oilers by forcing nine turnovers, sacking Pastorini four times and only allowing five points. The Steelers went back to the Super Bowl and beat Dallas 35-31 for their third title in five seasons.

Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

To watch the full game, click HERE

January 7, 1980 - Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Houston Oilers 13 (1979 AFC Championship Game)

Sporting merely a record of 12-4, the Pittsburgh Steelers of 1979 were thought to have taken a step back from 14-2 the previous season and losing head-to-head to the San Diego Chargers helped support that misconception. However, the three-time champs were a scoring machine that led the NFL in points, while ranking 5th in points allowed overall. But most-impressive about these Heroes in Hypocycloids was the fact that Chuck Noll and the Rooney Family put together a team featuring players that never suited-up for another franchise. Yes, the complete home-grown Steelers featured 40 original draft picks and six free agents out of college. After defeating the Miami Dolphins, the week before in the AFC Divisional Game, and the Chargers getting upset at home by Houston, the Steelers welcomed the always dangerous Oilers into Three Rivers for a second-straight AFC Championship matchup and an all-access pass to appear in Super Bowl XIV as a feature performer.

Houston came into the title game with the seventh-ranked defense and the most takeaways in the NFL. That seemed to potentially bode well for the Oilers against the team that gave the ball away a league leading 52 times. Leading the takeaway charge for Houston was Safety Mike Reinfeldt with twelve interceptions to lead the NFL in 1979 and Vernon Perry, who was the defensive star the week before in San Diego with four interceptions and a field goal block that he returned 57 yards before being tackled by the holder. But the defending champs still had three Lombardi Trophies on their resumé and were hosting a dome team on a frozen field in 22-degree weather. Even Pirate World Series MVP Willie Stargell was on hand for this one.

The Steelers won the opening kickoff and elected to receive. The black-and-gold were in Oiler territory almost immediately, courtesy of Terry Bradshaw passes to John Stallworth and runs by Franco Harris. However, Vernon Perry wasn’t done yet and intercepted a Bradshaw pass to Bennie Cunningham from the Oiler 36 and returned it 75 yards for the touchdown. Two-and-a-half minutes in, Bum Phillips’ team led 7-0. After the Steelers punted later in the quarter, Dan Pastorini and the Oilers took the field for their first drive of the game. However, the league’s leading rusher, Earl Campbell, was stopped for 2 yards on two carries and LC Greenwood sacked Pastorini to force a punt. Behind a timely pass to Swann and a scramble on third and 14 from Bradshaw for 25 yards, Pittsburgh was threatening deep in Oiler territory. The drive stalled at the Houston four. Matt Bahr hits from 21 and the Steelers cut the lead to 7-3. The Oilers began to storm back with a 72-yard drive though. Behind a 45-yard screen pass reception for Tim Wilson and Pastorini connecting with Ronnie Coleman for 32 yards, Houston was driving at the Steeler 16 at quarter’s end. The Steel Curtain stiffened once more and Austrian Tony Fritsch added a 27-yard field goal to extend the Houston advantage to 10-3.

Bradshaw and the top-scoring offense of 1979 got back to business on the next drive at their own 33. The “Blonde Bomber” tore up the Houston defense with swift passes to Bleier, Harris and twice to Swann with 9:55 remaining in the first half. Bennie Cunningham caught a pass from No. 12 over Vernon Perry for a 16-yard touchdown and a 10-10 tie. On their next possession, Houston was driving despite Earl Campbell‘s (15 yards on 17 carries the entire game) inability to get going. Pastorini was connecting with Mike Renfro. But No. 82 was changing hands and fumbled at his own 49 after being hit by Donnie Shell with Mel Blount recovering. To follow, great running by Bleier and Harris on trap blocks by Gerry Mullins (subbing for Steve Courson) set up a Bradshaw touchdown pass to John Stallworth from 20 out with 2:35 remaining in the half. Houston tried to answer, but rookie Dwayne Woodruff intercepted Pastorini at the Pittsburgh 45, and Matt Bahr missed a 46-yard field goal to close out the half.

Down 17-10, The Oilers got the football to start the second half and an opportunity to tie the score. The problem though was that George Perles’ defense was a picture of absolute dominance, as they forced a Cliff Parsley punt. This was temporarily good news for both squads as Theo Bell slipped trying to field the ball at his own 38 and the pigskin squirted into Houston’s hands at the Steeler 42. But once again, Houston squandered their best field position of the day. For a short time in this game, Houston lost communication in their headsets. So, the Steelers had theirs disconnected and both teams had to use hand signals temporarily. After another Steeler punt, Pastorini lined up under center with good field position again in an attempt to tie. He was walloped by LC Greenwood and left for a play and came back less than 100%. The Three Rivers crowd then came in to play on 4th and 2 from the Steeler 37 and what appeared to be a first down was nullified when Houston failed to get the snap off in time. Cue Parsley to punt again. On a drive which Mike Renfro recovered a fumble in the vicinity of five Pittsburgh defenders, drew Mel Blount into a chuck penalty and caught a key first down, the second-year man from TCU was involved in one of the most controversial calls in Title Game history. With 1:30 left in the third, Pastorini threw a six-yard rainbow to Renfro for an apparent touchdown in the corner of the end zone over Ron Johnson. The replay showed that Renfro had clear control of the ball with his left foot down and his right foot hitting the pylon. NFL Films much later showed some movement in Renfro’s hands. If instant replay was in effect, the call on the field very well could have been reversed and Pittsburgh fans would have been hard pressed to argue it. (It was much more borderline than what first appeared on NBC television.) The officials conferred and referee Jim Tunney ruled it out of bounds. Houston was livid. Steeler fans accepted the gift. It was now second down and goal from the six and the Steeler defense held the Oilers to a field goal. It was 17-13 at the end of the third.

In the fourth quarter, the Steelers iced it. It started on third and 20 when Bradshaw found a sliding Swann for a first down. After a five-minute, clock-draining drive, Matt Bahr kicked a 39-yard field goal. It was still only a touchdown lead. Pittsburgh 20 and Houston 13 was prominently displayed on the Three Rivers’ scoreboard. With Houston nearing desperation mode, the irrepressible Pastorini began to engineer a game-tying drive at his own 11 with 9:42 remaining. But after No. 7 in white found Guido Merkens over the middle, disaster struck for the cause known as Love Ya Blue. Mel Blount jarred Merkens and Donnie Shell recovered at the Houston 45 with 5:46 left in regulation. Bradshaw, only needing to get his team in field goal range for the victory, went for the kill shot. Rocky Bleier caught and ran for two first downs while the precious seconds ticked away. Then, on third and goal from the five, Bleier took the hand off and burst into the end zone with less than a minute remaining.

In their sixth AFC Championship appearance in eight seasons, Chuck Noll’s Steelers triumphed in what is still labeled as controversial fashion. However, as unfortunate as the Renfro play was, Pastorini claimed after the game that it was not the sole reason that his team lost. What a lot of people forget is that the play occurred in the third quarter and that Houston had other opportunities to reclaim the four points lost in the 27-13 final and failed to do so. In the end, the Steelers were conference champions once again and went on to Pasadena to win 31-19 in a tough game over the Los Angeles Rams for their fourth title in six seasons.

To watch the full game, click HERE

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Behind the Steel Curtain - 9 hours 35 min ago

Get the latest BTSC podcast content in the ‘Podcast Roundup’.

We here at BTSC, and our podcast platform, are here with you every step of the way as the Steelers set the stage for 2023. With so much going on, make sure you check out our ‘Podcast Roundup’ article to keep up with the latest podcasts that cover everything Steelers for your black-and-gold knowledge, curiosity and enjoyment.

With that being said and typed, have fun with the shows below with a brief description of each podcast.

What Yinz Talkin’ Bout: Sour Couch Surfers

What Yinz Talkin’ Bout is the conversation about the Steelers social media conversation, exposing the hottest and most toxic takes of the week. This week, the couch potatoes are pulling out all the stops to be sour during the playoff games. King Khan season starts in earnest, and fans have plenty of (bad) opinions about what moves he should make. We look back at some Steelers history, including Mike Tomlin’s new update on the classic Mean Joe Greene commercial. Plus, the Steeler alumni we’re rooting for in Championship Week. Join Kyle Chrise (@KyleChrise) & Greg Benevent (@GregBenevent) for the most unique show in the Steelers podcast universe.

Rundown of the show:

  • Toxic Takes
  • Sour Couch Potatoes
  • Omar Khan and the bad opinions on how he should conduct business
  • Mike Tomlin’s update of “Thanks, Mean Joe”
  • Black-and-Gold alumni that we’re rooting for on Championship Weekend
  • Much, Much More

Take a deep dive into the world of Steelers social media from a yinzer perspective as BTSC proudly presents a very unique show that highlights “What Yinz Talkin’ Bout”.

The Steelers Preview: What nobody is talking about so far this Steelers offseason

There are so many topics of conversation regarding the Steelers in the offseason. But then there are some that not many have thought about. The Steelers Preview is always thinking outside of the box. This is just one of the subjects that will be discussed and speculated on in the latest edition in the flagship show of the BTSC family of podcasts with Senior Editor Jeff Hartman, Editor Dave Schofield, and Podcast Producer Bryan Anthony Davis.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News of the Week
  • What Steelers Nation isn’t focusing on this offseason, but should
  • Trivia
  • Final Thoughts

Let’s Ride, Friday: When the Steelers will be in another championship game

The AFC Championship Game will take place this weekend with the Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs. With the Steelers not involved, many wonder when the Men of Steel will be back in this particular contest. BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman outlines it all on the latest episode of “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Will the Steelers get back to the Title Game anytime soon?
  • A visit from Jeremy Betz in the All Betz Are Off segment
  • Hart to Heart
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

Alex Highsmith on the Steelers turnaround, Tomlin, and Brian Flores

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/26/2023 - 2:00pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers pass rusher talks about the 2022 season, and what lies ahead.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season can to a screeching halt after Week 18 when they beat the Cleveland Browns at Acrisure Stadium, but failed to get the necessary help to make it to the postseason.

Despite finishing the season 9-8, winning seven of their last nine games, and four in a row to complete the winning season, it was too little too late for the black-and-gold. Nonetheless, players can still draw positives from the season, despite how it ended.

One player who has a lot of positives to glean from 2022 is pass rusher Alex Highsmith. Not only did he register 14.5 sacks, but he is setting himself up for a major pay day as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.

After the season was over, and the Browns game came to a close, Highsmith reflected on the past season, and different aspects of it.

First, was the job Mike Tomlin did not just turning the season around, but keeping his players focused and detail-oriented even when they entered their bye week with a 2-6 record.

“I think it really just shows what type of coach he is in how we were able to finish. Of course, the beginning of the season was not how we wanted to start, 2-6 is never how you want to start, but like I said yesterday, I’m just proud of how this team finished.

“We’re resilient, we just kept fighting and kept fighting, and I think it gave us some momentum going into next season.” Highsmith said. “But it does suck when you don’t make the playoffs because you’re missing a chance to go win a Super Bowl. We know that we have a great team, so it definitely sucks doing all we could and still not being able to get there.”

With the season well in the rear view mirror, now comes the harsh reality of roster turnover. It is inevitable to lose players every offseason in the free agent era, but Highsmith sees hope in the future. Mainly in the quarterback the Steelers now have at the helm.

“Yeah, I think it’s so important to carry that momentum to next year.” said Highsmith. “We’ve got a core group of young guys. I love seeing how Kenny [Pickett] and the offense started to gel towards the end of the year. Just seeing his growth and what type of leader he is, I’m excited for him to be our quarterback going into the future. He’s such a competitor. I could tell that from training camp what type of competitor he was, and just week by week he kept going and getting better.

“I know that we’ll continue to get better overall, and I think us as a defense, we were playing some of our best ball at the end of the year, creating more turnovers and getting more sacks and stuff, so I think we’ll be able to build on it next year.”

One part of the 2023 offseason which hasn’t been noted enough, is the inevitable departure of Brian Flores. The Steelers gave Flores a job when it seemed no one would last offseason. After having a lawsuit placed on the NFL, Flores was out of a head coaching job and looked as if he could be black-balled by the league. Nonetheless, Flores took advantage of the job he was offered, and looks to turn it into a promotion in some way.

Highsmith loved the addition when he heard about Flores joining the coaching staff, and Flores lived up to the billing this past season.

“He’s a great coach. I remember when the news got out that he was coming here. I was super excited because I’d met him before at the Combine and interviews and stuff, and he’s such a great coach, football minded. He wants the best out of each one of his guys, but he’s definitely added so much value to our defense. He’s definitely been one of our good coaches.”

The Steelers now turn their attention to what could be a very long offseason. How the team approaches free agency at the start of the new league year (March 13) and the 2023 NFL Draft will be extremely telling as it pertains to the prospect of the Steelers being contenders next season.

2022 Exit Interviews: Isaiahh Loudermilk and Chris Wormley

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/26/2023 - 12:30pm
Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

Both players were used at depth pieces on the defensive line in 2022.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 NFL season has come to a close. Because the Steelers are among the 31 teams who did not finish fulfilling their ultimate goal, they are in the process of wrapping up their season and moving forward into 2023.

Since the Steelers conduct exit interviews with all their players, we here at BTSC thought we would do the same. By outlining two players each day, we will be able to look at their season in retrospect as well as looking toward the future. Since Coach Tomlin has previously stated he starts his interviews with rookies, first year players, and those heading into free agency, we will do the same. To start, we will pair a potential free agent with a first-year player as we work through this process to eventually cover the entire Steelers roster.

Next up are defensive linemen Isaiahh Loudermilk and Chris Womley.

Isaiahh Loudermilk Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Position: Defensive tackle
Years with the Steelers: 2
Years in the NFL: 2
Contract Status: Signed through 2024
Contract Details: $1,020,072 salary cap hit for 2023. Would cost the Steelers $160,144 in dead money if released and would save $859,928.
Games played in 2022: 11 regular season
Games started in 2022: 3 regular season
Snaps (regular season): 116 (defense), 71 (special teams)
PFF score: 42.2 (DNQ for ranking)
Notable stats: Loudermilk finished 2022 with seven tackles, one of which was for loss.

Notes: Much like last season, Isaiahh Loudermilk begin the year as the last option on the defensive line as he was inactive. Injury brought him into the gameday lineup much sooner as a rookie where he played 15 games but only appeared in 11 this season for the Steelers. Inacive the first five games of the season, Loudermilk had one more game being inactive for one game after the return of DeMarvin Leal before getting a helmet the rest of the way. Although there wasn’t much production to see this season compared to last, Loudermilk played less than half as many snaps as he did the previous year. But rather than look backwards, everything with Loudermilk should be looking forward as his development as a piece of the Steelers defensive line rotation in 2023 is ultimately the bigger question.

Chris Wormley Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Position: Offensive tackle
Years with the Steelers: 3
Years in the NFL: 6
Contract Status: Free Agent
Contract Details: Contract expiring with no dead money.
Games played in 2022: 13 regular season
Games started in 2022: 1 regular season
Snaps (regular season): 338 (defense), 78 (special teams)
PFF score: 74.3 (19th of 126)
Notable stats: Wormley had 29 tackles, three of which were for loss, and 0.5 sacks as well as a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Notes: Although the numbers didn’t jump off the page, I believe Chris Wormley played much better in 2022 in a reserve role than what he did having to shoulder the load as a starter the previous year. Unfortunately, Wormley’s injury in Week 14 cut his season short and there will be questions as to how available he will be at the beginning of the season coming off ACL surgery which will hamper his ability to get the best deal in free agency. I would not be shocked to see Wormley back with the Steelers on a one-year contract for a small amount as he comes back from his knee injury in order for him to truly test free agency next season. It just seems like something the Steelers would do to take care of a player who got injured late in the season. Whether or not it plays out that way will be the question as perhaps there may be some other team who will pay for Wormley’s services despite the injury.

Make sure you check back each day for another set of exit interviews. If you have missed any of the previous articles, they are listed here:

Kenny Pickett & Mason Rudolph
George Pickens & Miles Boykin
DeMarvin Leal & Larry Ogunjobi
Connor Heyward & Zach Gentry
Mark Robinson & Devin Bush
Jaylen Warren & Benny Snell Jr.
Calvin Austin III & Derek Watt
Najee Harris & Terrell Edmunds
Pat Freiermuth & Trent Scott
Dan Moore Jr. & Jesse Davis

ESPN sees the 2023 Steelers as a playoff team, if they have a good offseason

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/26/2023 - 11:30am
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers are anything but a sure thing, but the folks at ESPN like what they’ve built thus far.

With the NFL preparing for championship weekend of the NFL Playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers and 28 other teams are all watching the AFC and NFC’s Top 4 teams duke it out this Sunday.

Everyone knows the Steelers were one of the league’s hottest teams entering the offseason, winners of 7 of their last 9 games, and 4 straight prior to being eliminated from postseason play with a 9-8 record.

Entering the offseason, the Steelers have their work cut out for them. There are some gaping holes which need to be filled on the defensive side of the ball, and the offense is buoyed by a great crop of young talent. If the Steelers have a good offseason, both free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft, the future is bright for the black-and-gold.

How bright? ESPN’s Bill Barnwell provided seven teams who didn’t make the playoffs in 2022, but would in 2023 if they can have a good offseason. As you can imagine, he has the Steelers pretty high on his list of those teams. Let’s take a look at the list first.

Top 7 non-playoff teams to make the 2023 playoffs

7. Arizona Cardinals
6. Las Vegas Raiders
5. Tennessee Titans
4. New England Patriots
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
2. Green Bay Packers
1. Los Angeles Rams

Now that you’ve seen the list, time to see Barnwell’s reasoning behind it. Here is what he had to say:

Mike Tomlin’s streak of seasons without a losing campaign is too strong for regression toward the mean. The Steelers declined from 2021, but it was only by a half-game — that team went 9-7-1. Of course, that slight decline also was enough to push them out of the postseason picture; a 9-7-1 mark would have snuck them in as the 7-seed ahead of the Dolphins.

My concerns for the Steelers heading into the season were that they might not have great quarterback play after Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, might not be able to protect their new passer, couldn’t get much more out of two top stars T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward and ran up a 7-1-1 record in games decided by seven points or fewer — which is tough to sustain — all while playing one of the NFL’s toughest schedules.

Did that turn out to be true? Some yes, some no. The Steelers ended up facing the second-toughest schedule, per Football Outsiders, and Watt missed half of the season because of a torn pectoral muscle. They dropped down to 6-5 in games decided by seven points or fewer, although some of that fortuitous close-game work showed up in Week 1 against the Bengals, when the Steelers needed to block an extra point and survive a 29-yard miss from Evan McPherson to win in overtime.

On the other hand, Pittsburgh’s offense was better than expected, as a Kenny Pickett-led attack ranked 15th in Total QBR and 18th in pass block win rate. Tomlin’s team was 14th in DVOA, right in line with its record. The worst element of Pittsburgh’s performance was on special teams, where it ranked 27th in DVOA, but that’s less sticky than the offense or defense, so we would expect the Steelers to improve there in 2023.

There are still some elements of Pittsburgh’s performance, though, suggesting it was a little fortuitous. The Steelers intercepted a league-high 20 passes, and while any secondary with Minkah Fitzpatrick is capable of doing that in a given season, remember that they picked off 13 a year ago. They recovered only three fumbles on defense, which was the fewest of any team, but they also only lost five fumbles on offense, which was the second fewest on that side of the ball.

While the Steelers outperformed their point differential by 1.7 wins, they otherwise performed about in line with their record. For them to take it a step further and advance into the postseason, the natural steps forward would include a full season from Watt and a second-year leap from Pickett, who improved as the season went along.

Split Pickett’s season into two halves, and you see the growth. The first-round pick posted a 43.2 QBR during his first seven games, a stretch in which he threw eight picks and averaged just over 6.0 yards per attempt. In his final six games, while his completion percentage (59.2%) and yards per attempt (6.4) were below average, he turned the ball over just once, putting up a 62.5 QBR.

The Steelers went 5-1 in those games, and the one loss came in a game in which Pickett exited after one pass attempt. Admittedly, four of the five wins also came against quarterbacks who were either backups (Tyler Huntley) or about to be benched (Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota), but there’s the shell of a winning formula present if Pickett can protect the ball.

Pittsburgh’s cap also is in better shape now that Roethlisberger’s dead money is a thing of the past. It is still $3 million over the projected cap mark, which isn’t thrilling for a team with a quarterback on a rookie deal, but it can clear out more than $24 million by releasing cornerbacks William Jackson and Ahkello Witherspoon and quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The Steelers will want to re-sign corner Cameron Sutton, who is coming off his best season, but they actually have some financial flexibility if they want to go shopping for more significant help along the offensive line. They also landed the No. 32 overall pick in the draft when they traded wideout Chase Claypool to the Bears, which is a valuable selection for a player who was likely going to leave after 2023.

The other hope for the Steelers has to be that the AFC North gets a little easier because of cap issues. Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins are about to get massive contracts in Cincinnati. Lamar Jackson is hitting the franchise tag in Baltimore, reducing the Ravens’ financial flexibility. Deshaun Watson’s cap hit rises from $9.4 million to $55 million, and while the Browns will likely restructure his deal, the early returns on the quarterback were dismal. Pickett might not be the best quarterback in the division, but the flexibility afforded the Steelers by his deal could help them get back on top of the North in 2023.

Barnwell makes a strong case for the Steelers to be a contending playoff team next season, but there is a large caveat to his argument.

“if they have a good offseason”

Sure, the Steelers possess salary cap space, and the Claypool trade has them equipped with some serious draft capital; however, you have to utilize the cap space and picks wisely or it means nothing.

The pressure will be on new General Manager (GM) Omar Khan and Andy Weidl to pull all the right strings and make all the right moves to bolster this lineup and have the Steelers as contenders, and not pretenders, in 2023.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the lengthy NFL offseason.

Offensive PFF team grades for the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/26/2023 - 10:00am
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Breaking down the PFF scores for the Steelers as a team on offense in 2022.

Throughout the season, I continue to report on the scores given by Pro Football Focus (PFF) on a weekly basis. Whether it be scores for each game or the final season scores, it is a feature that has been here at Behind The Steel Curtain for some time.

But not only are there individual scores, there are team scores as well.

Now that the 2022 regular season has concluded, this week we will be looking at the various team scores of the Pittsburgh Steelers according to PFF. After looking at the overall scores, this time we will be looking at the specific offensive scores as well as which individual game scored the highest and the lowest in each category. The scores will be based on only the regular season when it comes to ranking them against other NFL teams.

It’s at this time where I give my typical PFF disclaimer. While I am going to do it, it’s not going to be quite the same as before. I want to remind everyone that the numbers you are looking at given by Pro Football Focus is merely an opinion. It is the opinion of whoever is scoring the game as to how an individual player did on every snap. It is a well-informed opinion because they look at every snap by every player on every play. So it’s not for a lack of thoroughness on their part. But ultimately it is an opinion. It is no different than your opinion or my opinion. Sometimes their opinion may line up with ours, while other times it will not. So looking at these scores as 100% accurate can be dangerous. On the other end of the spectrum, looking at them with 0% validity would be unwise as well.

With that being said, let’s get into the offensive scores for the Steelers in several different categories.

Offensive Score: 74.5

NFL Rank: 16th

Top 3 games:

Week 17 at Baltimore Ravens: 84.5
Week 3 at Cleveland Browns: 75.8
Week 15 at Carolina Panthers: 75.5

Bottom 3 games:

Week 11 vs. Cincinnati Bengals: 61.4
Week 7 at Miami Dolphins: 60.9
Week 8 at Philadelphia Eagles: 56.9

Since this is a repeat from yesterday‘s article just to give the reminder of the overall grade for offense, I’m simply going to direct anyone back in case they didn’t catch the previous scores.

Passing Score: 75.7

NFL Rank: T-10th (Minnesota Vikings)

Top 3 games:

Week 17 at Baltimore Ravens: 90.9
Week 12 at Indianapolis Colts: 86.3
Week 3 at Cleveland Browns: 77.6

Bottom 3 games:

Week 10 vs. New Orleans Saints: 59.3
Week 11 vs. Cincinnati Bengals: 57.6
Week 8 at Philadelphia Eagles: 48.6

For the games at the top of the list, the top two are actually two of the lowest passing totals the Steelers had this season. Specifically for the top game on the list against the Ravens in Week 17, the Steelers only completed 15 passes on 27 attempts for 168 yards but also lost 15 yards due to two sacks. As for the games on the bottom, The Steelers had a low passing total against the Eagles and the only touchdown thrown was by Chase Claypool. When it comes to the New Orleans Saints game, it’s interesting that it was such a poor passing performance as you will see in the next category.

Pass Blocking Score: 69.5

NFL Rank: 14th

Top 3 games:

Week 10 vs. New Orleans Saints: 79.5
Week 12 at Indianapolis Colts: 78.3
Week 16 vs. Las Vegas Raiders: 78.1

Bottom 3 games:

Week 8 at Philadelphia Eagles: 57.0
Week 5 at Buffalo Bills: 52.6
Week 18 vs Cleveland Browns: 51.7

I find it interesting that the Steelers best pass blocking game of the season was one where they surrendered six sacks, although only four of them were registered to blockers as the other two were credited to the quarterback. But seeing the best games in double-digit weeks is not surprising as the Steelers pass blocking got better as the season went on. What is really surprising is seeing Week 18 as their lowest score of the season in a game when they only gave up one sack and one quarterback hit. Sometimes these things just don’t make sense.

Receiving Score: 72.8

NFL Rank: 17th

Top 3 games:

Week 15 at Carolina Panthers: 79.7
Week 14 vs. Baltimore Ravens: 76.9
Week 13 at Atlanta Falcons: 72.5

Bottom 3 games:

Week 10 vs. New Orleans Saints: 61.3
Week 7 at Miami Dolphins: 60.6
Week 8 at Philadelphia Eagles: 54.3

Honestly, I can’t figure out how the Steelers only have one game below the 60.0 standard when it comes to receiving yet rank 17th in the NFL. This is one category that I can’t make much rhyme or reason out of the numbers at all.

Running Score: 85.6

NFL Rank: 12th

Top 3 games:

Week 17 at Baltimore Ravens: 88.3
Week 12 at Indianapolis Colts: 81.6
Week 15 at Carolina Panthers: 81.3

Bottom 3 games:

Week 5 at Buffalo Bills: 57.7
Week 1 at Cincinnati Bengals: 56.6
Week 6 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 54.7

The Steelers running game before the bye week… not good. The Steelers running game after the bye week… one of the best in the NFL. Looking at the specific games at the top and the bottom and it speaks for itself.

Run Blocking Score: 58.0

NFL Rank: 16th

Top 3 games:

Week 17 at Baltimore Ravens: 73.0
Week 5 at Buffalo Bills: 68.6
Week 10 vs. New Orleans Saints: 67.0

Bottom 3 games:

Week 12 at Indianapolis Colts: 51.4
Week 16 vs. Las Vegas Raiders: 47.1
Week 4 vs. New York Jets: 46.1

One of the first things I noticed is that the Steelers have a team score below the 60.0 standard for run blocking yet landed in the middle of the NFL. In other words, PFF doesn’t think many teams are very good at run blocking. Specifically for the Steelers, it would make sense that the best running scores and best running blocking scores might coincide. That’s why one of the worst running scores and better blocking scores when the Steelers played the Buffalo Bills seems interesting. Also, the Steelers game against the New York Jets was the lowest of any score of any game of anything offensively yet it is the only time it showed up on any of the offensive lists.

So how did these scores look for the offense in 2022? Do they pass the eye tests? Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments below and be on the lookout final team breakdown for the defense.

What was the biggest problem with the Steelers 2022 passing game?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/26/2023 - 8:30am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Of all the issues, which one is most important to fix?

The Steelers in 2021 were not a good offense. They ranked 24th in points per drive, 28th in yards per play, 29th in rushing, and 24th in passer rating. They were bottom ten in most categories, the one important category they did well in was turnovers, posting the 8th lowest rate of turnovers in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger protected the football with a sub-2% interception rate, but the offense didn’t move the ball or score well. Last season BTSC readers voted the offensive line the biggest culprit, with offensive coordinator and quarterback play splitting the rest of the votes.

In 2022 the Steelers changed two of their starting linemen, the offensive line coach, their quarterback, and four of their top five wide receivers by snap count. With all that change on the offense the Steelers finished 23rd in points per drive, 28th in yards per play, 16th in rushing and 30th in passer rating. The brightest spot on their offense was in turnovers, where the Steelers posted the 6th lowest rate of turnovers in the NFL.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

When your passing game is bad, it’s never just one thing going wrong. Plenty of people made mistakes, and there’s no obvious glaring reason. In order to sort through the issues I’m going to go through and make the case for each of the key suspects. It’s your task to look past your preconceived notions, look at the evidence and vote for who was most to blame for the Steelers struggles in the passing game.

1 - The Quarterbacks

The Steelers moved on from Ben Roethlisberger and many people thought that everything would be fixed. Instead the Steelers poor passing game got even worse. Mitch Trubisky wasn’t the answer to anything but “who do you most trust to avoid completing a significant passing play” in 2022. Kenny Pickett and his tiny baby hands was drafted in the first round, and while the Steelers focused on trying to get Trubisky ready to play, they still ditched him and went with Kenny Pickett halfway through the Week 4. Pickett proceeded to throw 8 interceptions in his first 165 passes, a ridiculous 4.8% interception percentage.

The rookie wasn’t ready, the veteran wasn’t good. You can blame the Steelers for building the roster, but with Trubisky and Pickett the season was over before the bye week. After the bye week the Steelers run game and defense fueled a 7-2 run that the quarterbacks didn’t sabotage, except for when they did, like Mitch Trubisky and his three interceptions thrown in a two-point loss.

When fans and analysts complain about the overly simple passing schemes, it’s pretty important to remember the interceptions and near-interceptions Mitch Trubisky threw over the middle of the field and also Kenny Pickett saying one of the strengths of his relationship with Matt Canada was Canada would ask Pickett what routes and plays Pickett was comfortable with and run them. The offensive coordinator called the passing offense the Steelers quarterbacks could handle.

The Steelers won with defense and a run game, but they often loss because of quarterback play.

2 - The Coordinator

Bruce Arians and Todd Haley were hated in their time leading the Steelers offense, but both now look like geniuses compared to Matt Canada. Heck, even Randy Fichtner looks good compared to Canada’s passing schemes. Sure the run game took off and the Steelers won late in the season, but the passing game was a nightmare for the second straight season, and Canada is one of the few names that was there for both.

No matter what you think of the quarterbacks and how capable they were to lead an NFL offense this season, or how limited the receivers were, it’s the offensive coordinator’s offense.

3 - The Offensive Line

Pat Meyer took over the offensive line coaching duties for the Steelers 2022 season, and while the line improved over the course of the season, it would have taken a miracle for it to not have. It’s hard to imagine a worse offensive line than the one the Steelers started the 2022 season with. miscommunications galore and individual failings all over doomed the Steelers quarterbacks to throwing while running from pressure far too much of the season. Even as the line improved and the run game took off, the passing game lagged far behind, and the pressure still came on most plays. Developing a rookie quarterback in season is hard enough, but asking a rookie to help your team win while he’s scrambling for his life. The Steelers went from Ben Roethlisberger who couldn’t move well anymore to two mobile quarterbacks who both showed talent for evading pressure and the sack rate for Steelers actually went up, from 5.4% in 2021 to 6.2% in 2022.

4 - The Receivers

Diontae Johnson followed his 95th out of 152 receivers in yards per target in 2021 by ranking 117th out of 139 receivers in yards per target in 2022. He was the only holdover from the 2021 season, and led both teams in targets by a good margin, finishing 3rd in targets in the NFL in 2021 and 8th in 2022. Johnson’s inefficiency and knack for drawing all the targets his way made him the #1 reason for the Steelers passing game spending two years near the bottom of the NFL. The Steelers revamped the room around Johnson, drafting George Pickens in the 2nd round and trading Chase Claypool half-way through the season. George Pickens was exciting as a rookie, especially for his contested catch ability, but he’s not the first to impress the fan base that way, James Washington led the Steelers in receiving yards in 2019 with 735 with more yards per game and more yards per reception than George Pickens’ rookie season. Both were great at coming down with contested catches, but both were also not good route runners, and consistently at the bottom of the rankings for creating separation. Furthermore, while people complain about the oversimplified offense, how much of that was because of the Steelers rookie receiver and his lack of a route tree. Pickens is electric, but if he doesn’t expand his route tree he might earn the “one-trick pony” designation another young explosive Steeler receiver received.

With the trade of Claypool the Steelers didn’t even have a third receiver they could play very much the second half of the season, splitting snaps between Gunner Olszewski and Steven Sims, Olszewski ran the ball more times than he was targeted in the passing game, and Steven Sims was one of the few players to actually post a worse yards per target than Diontae Johnson, and that’s not an easy feat.

It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is or what the play design is if the receivers can’t get open, catch the ball and make plays.

Those are the leading suspects for sabotaging the Steelers passing game, and the evidence against them. Now it is up to you, our resident Steelers detectives to solve the case and let us know which one of them was most responsible for the demise of the Steelers passing game.

Let us know your vote and then share your thoughts in the comments.

Latest NFL rumors have some big names moving throughout the AFC

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/26/2023 - 7:15am
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The dynamic of the AFC could be vastly different in 2023 if these rumors come to fruition.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team who is looking ahead to the offseason with a young, talented offensive roster and a defense built on core pieces. When you have big name players under contract, and the majority of your offensive playmakers on rookie deals, it doesn’t make for much excitement in the rumor category during an NFL offsesason.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t stuff going on throughout the AFC North division, and the AFC. In a recent ESPN Insider article, Jeremy Fowler, who talks with many NFL execs and coaches, empties his notebook regarding where players might be headed, or staying, this offseason.

Let’s take a look at some of the latest rumors...

Lamar Jackson to the NFC South?

You read that correctly. There is one NFL executive who can see the Baltimore Ravens shipping away Lamar Jackson, but doing so out of the AFC. With Jackson turning down multiple big money contracts, you have to wonder if the relationship is repairable at this juncture.

“I don’t think Baltimore wants to deal him in conference and have to see him on the field,” a high-ranking AFC exec said. If that leaves NFC teams, then multiple people believe the Falcons would make sense as a destination. General manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith have spent two years cleansing the roster and now have an estimated $56 million in cap space.

“Good running game, an offense that could be friendly to Lamar while helping him grow as a passer, big receivers with a catch radius, which he needs due to accuracy issues, young regime on an improving team looking for a quarterback solution,” an NFL scouting director said. “Not sure if that’s their plan, but it would make some sense.”

Aaron Rodgers potentially to the AFC

Rumors surrounding Aaron Rodgers have been swirling for years now, but it seemed when the Green Bay Packers paid Rodgers handsomely last offseason he would end his career in Green Bay.

Well, maybe not.

The latest rumors suggest if Rodgers is going to play in 2023, and that is a large ‘if’, he might be doing so in the AFC. Two teams were floated around as potential landing spots for the former NFL MVP. The New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts.

Some people around the league can see it — assuming the Jets work on that cap deficit of nearly $3 million.

“That receiving corps is really talented and you know the defense is good,” an NFC coordinator said. “They have pieces and are trending up. They should be desperate to get a QB in my opinion.”

“[Indianapolis general manager Chris] Ballard has to get one [a quarterback] and get it right,” the executive said. “Maybe they just draft one and save the money, but Rodgers would be different than their other past stopgap options because he’s more of a sure thing.”

Joe Burrow cashes in

At the conclusion of the 2022 regular season it marked the time when NFL teams can give extensions to some of their players. For Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers and Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals, they are predicted to get a major pay day.

As for the rest of the AFC North teams, they will gladly welcome the Bengals to salary cap purgatory where a hefty quarterback contract can lead to other skill position players being forced to find a new home elsewhere.

The Bengals and Chargers aren’t known for their spending, and in big-money deals like this, teams must set aside all of the guaranteed money in escrow, which complicates matters. But both teams have taken care of homegrown talent in the past, with several key players on each side under long-term deals. And Burrow and Herbert — largely considered top-tier passers — take out most of the guesswork often present with long and costly contracts.

“Largely durable, great guys, great players — they will be expensive but this is an easy decision,” an NFL GM said.

DeAndre Hopkins to the AFC?

Of all the players who have been discussed as possible trade bait, DeAndre Hopkins being traded out of Arizona might be one of the more fascinating rumors. The trade would also include a hefty cap hit, but the latest rumors have two AFC teams potentially vying for his services.

Those teams would be the New England Patriots, with recently hired offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, and the Ravens. Yes, the team who might trade away their former NFL MVP, according to these reports.

“That would be interesting to pair Bill O’Brien with Hopkins if O’Brien ends up with the Patriots OC job,” an NFC exec said. “They might not be friendly. But they had success together with subpar quarterback play, so maybe it can work.”

Another team mentioned is Baltimore. In Hopkins, the Ravens would be getting a true vertical threat for Lamar Jackson, who many coaches say needs a rangy target. If Baltimore is serious about keeping Jackson, it’s time to get him more firepower on the outside.

These are just rumors, so take it for what it’s worth, but it is always to have some juicy rumors and reports to consider during the long NFL offseason. In the meantime, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the NFL offseason.

Why do some fans even watch the NFL if they think it’s “rigged”?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/26/2023 - 6:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

If you think there’s a grand conspiracy to fix professional sporting events—including NFL games involving the Steelers—why do you even watch?

I wrote an article recently that referenced the Chargers blowing a 27-0 lead against the Jaguars on Wild Card Weekend and going on to lose, 31-30. It wasn't long before someone in the BTSC comments section (always a place for rational thought and discussion) said that the NFL rigged the game in favor of Jacksonville.

And why wouldn’t the NFL do that? After all, the Jaguars are so popular in Jacksonville that their fans may eventually notice if they ever do permanently move to London, England.

Yes, sir, it’s obvious that the NFL fixed the outcome of that game because why would it want all those eyes in Los Angeles (population: 3.8 million) tuned into a Chargers/Chiefs divisional-round matchup when that coveted Jacksonville market (population: 949,611) was ripe for the picking?

OK, I think I’ve made my smartass point.

Fans—and even the media—have spent years implying that certain sporting events—these could be recent games or ones from the distant past—were fixed or rigged. Some say it has to do with gambling. Some say it was because a league—in this case, the NFL—wanted a specific result in order to maximize profits (ticket sales, merchandise, ad revenue, ratings, etc.).

This implication often comes after a tough loss by a team that the accusor was rooting for; this usually occurs in the postseason, and there is normally a penalty or rule interpretation during the game that is later pointed to as being critical to the outcome.

#Jessecaughtit, a play that ultimately cost the Steelers the number one seed in 2017, was deemed suspicious as soon as it happened. Why? The NFL wanted the Patriots to win.

Several penalties that went the Steelers' way in their victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL were deemed suspicious right after they were called and have remained suspect in the years since. Why? The NFL wanted the Steelers to win.

Players even get accused of throwing games for profit.

Neil O’Donnell has often been accused of throwing Super Bowl XXX between the Steelers and Cowboys. Why? Because he was paid off. But who paid him off? Was it the NFL? Was it gamblers? How much could one actually pay a professional athlete, even in 1996, to throw three interceptions and lose a Super Bowl on purpose? And if O’Donnell really was on the take, why did he go all out to dive on an errant shotgun snap from center Dermontti Dawson, a play that could have easily resulted in an unsuspicious Dallas touchdown?

Most recently, Cowboys kicker, Brett Maher, was accused of point shaving after missing four extra points in Dallas’ 31-14 victory over the Buccaneers on Wild Card Weekend. Maher made $965,000 in 2022, according to Spotrac, so either he’s spending more than he’s taking in, or he’s just a greedy idiot who will eventually find himself in prison.

Perhaps the most famous NFL conspiracy “fix” involves Super Bowl III between the Jets and Colts on January 12, 1969.

Most football historians know the details: The AFL’s Jets were 18-point underdogs against the NFL’s Colts, a one-loss team in 1968 that would secure the unofficial title of “Greatest Team Ever” with a victory down in the Orange Bowl.

But Beaver Fall’s own Joe Namath, the quarterback with the looks, charisma, and, oh yeah, talent, guaranteed a Jets’ win in the days before the game.

Broadway Joe’s teammates backed him up in a 16-7 triumph that really wasn’t that close.

New York’s victory was a shot in the arm for the AFL, a league that was less than two years away from fully merging with the NFL. The Chiefs and Raiders were trounced by the Packers in Super Bowls I and II, and the perception at the time was that the AFL’s best wasn’t even on par with the NFL’s average teams.

Vince Lombardi, the Packers’ legendary head coach, said as much following his team’s 35-10 blowout of Kansas City in Super Bowl I.

This is why the Jets were such huge underdogs heading into Super Bowl III, and this is why the rumors of a fix started not long after New York’s upset—along with the euphoria that it actually happened—was in the rearview mirror. Even Colts players, including the late, great Bubba Smith, questioned the results. After all, Baltimore did have many great scoring chances in this game but was turned away time and time again thanks to five turnovers at the hands of the Jets' underrated defense.

But what did the two leagues have to gain by fixing Super Bowl III? Some say, a legit merger in the eyes of ticket buyers and the networks that bought the rights to televise these games.

OK, fine, but you don’t think Pete Rozelle, the NFL’s commissioner who would remain in that role for many years after the merger and who was one of the great visionaries in the history of professional sports, had the foresight to see that a merger which forced all teams to play under the same rules, television contract and draft would eventually lead to things evening out between the NFL (NFC) and the AFL (three NFL teams—the Steelers, Browns and Colts—joined the AFL to form the AFC in 1970)?

Things evened out pretty quickly, by the way.

Were the NFL and AFL so worried to the point that they thought fixing Super Bowl III would be a better solution than just letting nature take its course?

Anyway, in case you haven’t figured out the tone of this article by now, I’ve never bought into the conspiracy theories as they relate to rigged sporting events.

Do I think many contests have been accidentally altered by officials’ mistakes over the years? Absolutely. Do I think some games have been intentionally altered by a few unscrupulous officials throughout history? Sure.

But I don’t think there’s ever been a grand conspiracy to fix, rig or script games or seasons.

If you do, why do you even watch? I mean, once a league fixes one game, what’s to stop it from fixing them all?

If I thought for one second that the NFL, or any sports league, was rigged, I’d stop watching immediately.

I’d even stop watching the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I like my reality TV to be unscripted, which is why I choose to watch sports and not reality TV.

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/26/2023 - 4:30am

Get the latest BTSC podcast content in the ‘Podcast Roundup’.

We here at BTSC, and our podcast platform, are here with you every step of the way as the Steelers set the stage for 2023. With so much going on, make sure you check out our ‘Podcast Roundup’ article to keep up with the latest podcasts that cover everything Steelers for your black-and-gold knowledge, curiosity and enjoyment.

With that being said and typed, have fun with the shows below with a brief description of each podcast.

The Steelers Retro Show: Controversy for the Conference Crown

The Senior Bowl is coming up and the Steelers are going to have a coaching presence there, could the Men of Steel find depth there? This will be one of the topics discussed as BTSC invites you to heck out our Aussie perspective and stay a while with Matt Peverell in The Steelers War Room. Join Matty P. for his solo show as he examines the ins-and-outs of the Steelers in an attempt to put you in the mind of Art Rooney II, Mike Tomlin, Omar Khan, Andy Weidl, Sheldon White and Dan Colbert when it comes to personnel.

The Steelers War Room: Could the Steelers find defensive depth at the Senior Bowl?

The Senior Bowl is coming up and the Steelers are going to have a coaching presence there, could the Men of Steel find depth there? This will be one of the topics discussed as BTSC invites you to heck out our Aussie perspective and stay a while with Matt Peverell in The Steelers War Room. Join Matty P. for his solo show as he examines the ins-and-outs of the Steelers in an attempt to put you in the mind of Art Rooney II, Mike Tomlin, Omar Khan, Andy Weidl, Sheldon White and Dan Colbert when it comes to personnel.

Rundown of the show:

  • What can the Senior Bowl provide the Steelers on defense?
  • Much More

Check out the BTSC’s Aussie perspective and stay a while with Matty in The Steelers War Room.

The Curtain Call: Bringing back the Steelers offense for another go

The guys from Know Your Enemy move into offseason mode as we all start the process of moving on from 2022 and heading into ‘23. Tonight, Shannon White and Geoffrey Benedict look at the Steelers roster on offense.

  • News and Notes
  • Getting offensive in 2023

Geoffrey and Shannon walk you through everything you need to know regarding the black-and-gold.

The Steelers Stat Geek: A historical look at the Steelers finishing strong

The Steelers finished 2022 with a 7-2 record over their final nine games after a horrendous start. We’ve seen fantastic finishes before, but what does it mean for the next season? Thank goodness for the Stat Geek to break it all “dahn”. This is just one of the topics that will be discussed by Dave Schofield on the Thursday episode of the AM podcast lineup, “The Steelers Stat Geek”. Join BTSC’s Editor as he pulls out the Steelers slide rule and geeks out only like he can.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • What does the following season look like when the Steelers’ finish strong?
  • and more geeky numbers!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

Steelers stellar rookie class overlooked for All-Rookie teams

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 2:00pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Despite having a stellar crop of rookies in 2022, none received any accolades for the season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 NFL Draft class has certainly been noteworthy on many levels. Not only did they have major contributions from several of their rookie class, but if 2022 is just the beginning, it could be the beginning of something really great.

When looking at the Steelers rookies who contributed in some way last season, the list is long:

  • QB Kenny Pickett (Round 1)
  • WR George Pickens (Round 2)
  • DL DeMarvin Leal (Round 3)
  • TE Connor Heyward (Round 6)
  • LB Mark Robinson (Round 7)
  • RB Jaylen Warren (UDFA)

Those six players have the make-up of being a nucleus for the team moving forward, and their contributions were certainly needed this past year. Nonetheless, despite playing significant snaps, and having major contributions to their respective units, these rookies were overlooked by the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) for the All-Rookie teams.

Jets’ Gardner PFWA Rookie and Defensive Rookie of the Year, Jets’ Wilson Offensive Rookie of the Year; 2022 All-Rookie Team named https://t.co/GoiL8MDcsW

— Pro Football Writers (@PFWAwriters) January 24, 2023

Before getting to the rosters, here are who the PFWA chose for their ‘Rookie of the Year’, ‘Offensive Rookie of the Year’, and ‘Defensive Rookie of the Year’:

2022 ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, New York Jets

2022 OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: WR Garrett Wilson, New York Jets

2022 DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, New York Jets

Now let’s take a look at the PFWA All-Rookie Team:

2022 PFWA ALL-ROOKIE TEAM

Offense

QB – Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers

RB – Tyler Allgeier, Atlanta Falcons; Kenneth Walker III, Seattle Seahawks

WR – Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints; Garrett Wilson, New York Jets

TE – Chigoziem Okonkwo, Tennessee Titans

C – Tyler Linderbaum, Baltimore Ravens

G – Zion Johnson, Los Angeles Chargers; Dylan Parham, Las Vegas Raiders

T – Braxton Jones, Chicago Bears; Tyler Smith, Dallas Cowboys

Defense

DL – Jordan Davis, Philadelphia Eagles; Aidan Hutchinson, Detroit Lions; George Karlaftis, Kansas City Chiefs; Kayvon Thibodeaux, New York Giants

LB – Devin Lloyd, Jacksonville Jaguars; Malcolm Rodriguez, Detroit Lions; Quay Walker, Green Bay Packers

CB – Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, New York Jets, Tariq Woolen, Seattle Seahawks

S – Kyle Hamilton, Baltimore Ravens; Jalen Pitre, Houston Texans

Special Teams

PK – Cameron Dicker, Los Angeles Chargers

P – Ryan Stonehouse, Tennessee Titans

KR – Dallis Flowers, Indianapolis Colts

PR – Marcus Jones, New England Patriots

ST – Brenden Schooler, New England Patriots

To make a case for any of the Steelers current rookies to make the above list, it really comes down to two players:

Kenny Pickett and George Pickens

The PFWA chose Brock Purdy over Pickett, and that is likely to do with his better TD:INT ration, and the fact he hasn’t lost a game as a starter since being inserted into the 49ers’ starting lineup. Likewise, the stats put up by both Olave and Wilson trump the work done by Pickens this past season. For those who suggest Pickens had to work with a fellow rookie at the helm, it should be noted Olave and Wilson had to work with Andy Dalton and Mike White/Zach Wilson for the majority of the season. Not necessarily the premiere passers in the game today.

Nonetheless, the Steelers rookie class has fans feeling good about the young nucleus moving forward. Even if they didn’t bring home any hardware at season’s end.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the rest of the offseason.

2022 Exit Interviews: Dan Moore Jr. and Jesse Davis

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 12:30pm
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

These two Steelers tackles hit both ends of the spectrum when it came to offensive snaps played.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 NFL season has come to a close. Because the Steelers are among the 31 teams who did not finish fulfilling their ultimate goal, they are in the process of wrapping up their season and moving forward into 2023.

Since the Steelers conduct exit interviews with all their players, we here at BTSC thought we would do the same. By outlining two players each day, we will be able to look at their season in retrospect as well as looking toward the future. Since Coach Tomlin has previously stated he starts his interviews with rookies, first year players, and those heading into free agency, we will do the same. To start, we will pair a potential free agent with a first-year player as we work through this process to eventually cover the entire Steelers roster.

Next up are offensive linemen Dan Moore Jr. and Jesse Davis.

Dan Moore Jr. Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Position: Offensive tackle
Years with the Steelers: 2
Years in the NFL: 2
Contract Status: Signed through 2024
Contract Details: $1,114,475 salary cap hit for 2023. Would cost the Steelers $348,950 in dead money if released and would save $765,525.
Games played in 2022: 17 regular season
Games started in 2022: 17 regular season
Snaps (regular season): 1,160 (offense), 71 (special teams)
PFF score: 62.4 (61st of 84)
Notable stats: Moore had eight accepted penalties with one being declined in 2022. Moore had four holding penalties and four false start penalties. According to Pro Football Focus, Moore surrendered seven sacks.

Notes: It drives me nuts to write the stats that I have when it comes to offensive linemen. It just feeds all the more into the idea that most NFL fans only notice them when they do something wrong. For Dan Moore, there was plenty of times to notice him in the 2022 season. But there were also many times where he wasn’t noticed as he was doing a good job. Too many fans are focused on those negative times and don’t even pay attention when he does well. In fact, Dan Moore Jr. had the highest PFF grade of the Steelers offensive linemen over the last nine weeks of the season. Personally, I see Moore as having the most potential for growth of those on the offensive line at this point in his career. But this also doesn’t mean the Steelers have to be complacent with his performance. Bringing in competition or a potential upgrade at the position should remain on the table going into 2023.

Jesse Davis Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Position: Offensive tackle
Years with the Steelers: 1
Years in the NFL: 6
Contract Status: Free Agent
Contract Details: Contract expiring with no dead money.
Games played in 2022: 14 regular season
Games started in 2022: 0 regular season
Snaps (regular season): 0 (offense), 58 (special teams)
PFF score: None
Notable stats: Zero penalties called against him in 2022.

Notes: Acquired by the Steelers for a swap of late-round draft picks in the 2025 NFL draft, Jesse Davis was a veteran insurance policy on the offensive line in case of struggles or injury. With the Steelers only having one snap missed by an offensive tackle and none missed by any guards, Davis was relegated to the field goal and extra point teams for the season. Whether or not that made him happy enough to want to stay, or what he actually brings to the Steelers, is anyone’s guess since we never truly saw him in action.

Make sure you check back each day for another set of exit interviews. If you have missed any of the previous articles, they are listed here:

Kenny Pickett & Mason Rudolph
George Pickens & Miles Boykin
DeMarvin Leal & Larry Ogunjobi
Connor Heyward & Zach Gentry
Mark Robinson & Devin Bush
Jaylen Warren & Benny Snell Jr.
Calvin Austin III & Derek Watt
Najee Harris & Terrell Edmunds
Pat Freiermuth & Trent Scott

Overall PFF grades for the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 11:30am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Breaking down the PFF scores for the Steelers as a team in 2022.

Throughout the season, I continue to report on the scores given by Pro Football Focus (PFF) on a weekly basis. Whether it be scores for each game or the final season scores, it is a feature that has been here at Behind The Steel Curtain for some time.

But not only are there individual scores, there are team scores as well.

Now that the 2022 regular season has concluded, this week we will be looking at the various team scores of the Pittsburgh Steelers according to PFF. Before diving into specific scores on both offense and defense, this time we will be looking at the overall scores as well as which individual game scored the highest and the lowest in each category. The scores will be based on only the regular season when it comes to ranking them against other NFL teams.

It’s at this time where I give my typical PFF disclaimer. While I am going to do it, it’s not going to be quite the same as before. I want to remind everyone that the numbers you are looking at given by Pro Football Focus is merely an opinion. It is the opinion of whoever is scoring the game as to how an individual player did on every snap. It is a well-informed opinion because they look at every snap by every player on every play. So it’s not for a lack of thoroughness on their part. But ultimately it is an opinion. It is no different than your opinion or my opinion. Sometimes their opinion may line up with ours, while other times it will not. So looking at these scores as 100% accurate can be dangerous. On the other end of the spectrum, looking at them with 0% validity would be unwise as well.

With that being said, let’s get into the overall scores as well as grades for the Steelers offense, defense, and special teams.

Overall Score: 79.7

NFL Rank: T-18th (Las Vegas Raiders)

Top 3 games:

Week 17 at Baltimore Ravens: 82.3
Week 10 vs. New Orleans Saints: 78.3
Week 15 at Carolina Panthers: 77.7

Bottom 3 games:

Week 7 at Miami Dolphins: 58.7
Week 5 at Buffalo Bills: 57.1
Week 8 at Philadelphia Eagles: 54.3

As would be expected, three of the Steelers wins landed in the top of their overall scores all three of their worst losses were in the bottom. Although the Steelers had every opportunity to win the game against the Dolphins, they simply couldn’t pull it together offensively to get the job done. The other two games in the bottom were blowout losses which really affected their overall ranking. I was a bit surprised to see the Steelers matchup against the Ravens in Week 17 is the top score overall, especially since their offense struggled until late in the game. But there will be more on that in the next section.

Offensive Score: 74.5

NFL Rank: 16th

Top 3 games:

Week 17 at Baltimore Ravens: 84.5
Week 3 vs. Cleveland Browns: 75.8
Week 15 at Carolina Panthers: 75.5

Bottom 3 games:

Week 11 vs. Cincinnati Bengals: 61.4
Week 7 at Miami Dolphins: 60.9
Week 8 at Philadelphia Eagles: 56.9

The Steelers offense finished 16th in the NFL which may surprise some. But according to the PFF scores, the Steelers only had one offensive grade below the 60.0 standard. So the biggest reason the Steelers ended up right in the middle of the NFL was because PFF deemed their games to not be extremely poor while not setting the world on fire either. It’s still interesting that the Steelers top offensive grade came against the Ravens in Week 17 when they only scored 16 points but did put up 351 yards of offense. This was also the game Kenny Pickett had the highest score by a Steelers quarterback since 2018. But the Steelers often struggled for most of the game as they didn’t even hit double digits points until the final minute. Interesting enough, another game in which the Steelers had exactly 351 yards of offense but scored 30 points, Week 11 against the Cincinnati Bengals, landed in the bottom three scores. While these may not make sense now, perhaps there will be more clarity whenever the individual offensive scores are reported tomorrow.

Defensive Score: 71.2

NFL Rank: 18th

Top 3 games:

Week 10 vs. New Orleans Saints: 84.9
Week 1 vs. Cincinnati Bengals: 77.5
Week 15 at Carolina Panthers: 77.2

Bottom 3 games:

Week 13 at Atlanta Falcons: 49.3
Week 3 vs. Cleveland Browns: 48.7
Week 8 at Philadelphia Eagles: 47.2

While it is curious that the Steelers defense had a lower PFF score and a lower NFL ranking than the offense, it appears that it comes down to more of a discrepancy within their games. The Steelers had three games below a 50.0, even though one of them was a victory. None of these games stood out significantly from an overall yardage standpoint, but were games where the Steelers surrendered more than 100 yards rushing. But the top three games in which the Steelers gave up the most yards were not in their bottom three as they were against Buffalo and both games against Cincinnati. Surprisinglyenough, one game against Cincinnati landed in the top three mainly because of the Steelers five takeaways. As for the other two top defensive performances, it makes sense as they were twice when the Steelers allowed less than 30 yards rushing in the game which only happened in seven total games across the NFL this season.

Special Teams Score: 59.1

NFL Rank: 31st

Top 3 games:

Week 1 vs. Cincinnati Bengals: 81.5
Week 6 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 79.0
Week 8 at Philadelphia Eagles: 71.5

Bottom 3 games:

Week 12 at Indianapolis Colts: 47.2
Week 14 at Baltimore Ravens: 44.3
Week 15 at Carolina Panthers: 32.2

Trying to figure out why the Steelers landed with such a low special team score of the season took a little bit of digging. The worst score for the season was against the Carolina Panthers but nothing stood out significantly in that game other than a couple penalties, but the Marcus Allen debacle happened during a dead ball so it was not one of them. There was a 37-yard kick off return, but the Steelers didn’t miss any field goals or extra points and there were no punt returns except for one being a touchback. Week 14 against the Ravens makes sense due to the Steelers giving up a blocked field goal, and the game against the Colts had a near touchdown return of a kickoff. As for the top scores, the blocked extra point in Week 1 seems to put that game above the rest with the game against the Buccaneers having a near kickoff return by the Steelers.

So how did these scores look for the overall team in 2022? Do they pass the eye tests? Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments below and be on the lookout in the coming days for more specific team breakdowns in terms of offense and defense.

Mock Draft: Kiper has the Steelers going CB in Round 1

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 10:00am
Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The ESPN NFL Draft expert has the Steelers keeping it all in the family with the team selecting Joey Porter Jr. in Round 1.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, along with 28 other NFL franchises, are in full offseason mode. With the offseason officially underway, the focus turns to team needs. How those needs are addressed can be in one of two ways: Free Agency and the 2023 NFL Draft.

While free agency begins with the start of the legal tampering period (March 13th) and the new league year (March 15th), the NFL Draft is always the culminating event of the offseason. While signing veterans is always exciting, nothing compares to drafting players who could be cornerstones of the organization for years to come.

Outlets across the NFL landscape are pouring over draft notes and preparing endless amounts of mock drafts for readers to consume. However, some carry more proverbial weight than others. For those who always catch the eye of draftniks everywhere, Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN would fall into that category.

Wednesday Kiper released his first mock draft of the offseason, and it was interesting to see how the board fell before the Steelers selected at pick No. 17.

Let’s take a look at his Round 1 projections:

1. Chicago Bears - Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
2. Houston Texans - C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
3. Arizona Cardinals - Will Anderson Jr., DE/OLB, Alabama
4. Indianapolis Colts - Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
5. Seattle Seahawks (via DEN) - Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
6. Detroit Lions (via LAR) - Tyree Wilson, DE, Texas Tech
7. Las Vegas Raiders - Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
8. Atlanta Falcons - Myles Murphy, DE, Clemson
9. Carolina Panthers - Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
10. Philadelphia Eagles (via NO) - Calijah Kancey, DT, Pitt
11. Tennessee Titans - Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
12. Houston Texans (via CLE) - Lukas Van Ness, DL, Iowa
13. New York Jets - Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
14. New England Patriots - Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
15. Green Bay Packers - Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
16. Washington Commanders - Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia

17. Pittsburgh Steelers - Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

Like father, like son in Pittsburgh? The Steelers drafted linebacker Joey Porter in the third round in 1999, and they have a need for his son in 2023. Porter is an aggressive 6-foot-2 corner who was a three-year starter for the Nittany Lions. He picked off just one pass in his career, but he had 11 pass breakups in 2022, so he gets his hands on the football when it’s headed in his direction. The Steelers likely will be hoping one of the top offensive tackles drops to them, and they could also target a defensive tackle.

Kiper has four quarterbacks being selected in the Top 10 picks, and it is worth noting he had similar projections heading into the 2022 draft where Kenny Pickett, at pick No. 20, was the only quarterback selected in the first round.

In case you haven’t noticed, it isn’t just Kiper who is wrong more than he’s right, but people always love to look at the board and see how things shook out. In this case, the marquee offensive tackles and defensive linemen are off the board. Therefore, it makes sense the Steelers turn to a glaring team need at the cornerback position. And by doing so, they “keep it in the family” by drafting Joey Porter Jr. out of Penn State.

While we know Porter Jr. is the son of Joey “Peezy” Porter, drafted by the Steelers in the 3rd round in 1999 out of Colorado State, but when it comes to his son’s skill set it is worth taking a look at his draft profile.

This one is from The Draft Network:

Top Reasons to Buy In:

  • Prototypical length and then some to play press-man on the perimeter
  • Excellent ball skills at the catch point
  • Significant growth in press technique and footwork in 2022
  • Height/weight/speed athlete at a premier position

Top Reasons For Concern:

  • High-hipped frame can lead to some tightness in transition
  • Perimeter block deconstruction in run support can improve
  • Scheme-specific talent

Size:

Height: 6’ 2”

Weight: 195 lbs

Ideal Role: Perimeter cornerback

Scheme Fit: Press-man-heavy defensive system

Prospect Comparison: Marlon Humphrey (2017 NFL Draft)

Exposures: Arkansas (2021), Purdue (2022), Auburn (2022), Michigan (2022), Minnesota (2022), Ohio State (2022)

This from The Pro Football Network:

It’s easy to think that Porter’s stock is inflated with his pedigree at Penn State and his NFL bloodline. But looking at the tape, Porter passes the eye test. He grades out as an early-round prospect with his combination of physical tools and playmaking potential, and it’s not brash to say he could crack Round 1 — if he can fix some notable technical flaws.

While Porter isn’t an elite athlete in terms of explosiveness, he does bring a very enticing mix of reactive athleticism, corrective twitch, and fluidity for a 6’2″ cornerback with near-elite length. On top of that, he’s constantly physical in contact situations and showcases high-level instincts and ball skills when quarterbacks challenge him.

Ahead of anything else, Porter needs to play lower in his stance and be more consistent with his off-man technique. He’s shown he can speed up his feet when matching, but his foot speed can be inconsistent. And when he doesn’t effectively sink his hips on his backpedal and on transitions, that can throw a wrench in his process.

While these flaws are notable, Porter is a young and naturally talented defender with the mindset needed to compete at CB. He should spend most of his time on the boundary, but he’s shown he can slide into the slot as well if needed. A lot depends on his technical development, but at his maximum, Porter can be a quality NFL starter with dual-phase playmaking upside and versatility between man and zone alignments.

At this point, the question becomes if you, the fan, would be happy if the draft order broke this way and the Steelers took Porter with their top pick? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they press on throughout the offseason.

What the Steelers can learn from the NFL Divisional Round participants

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 8:30am
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

A study of the remaining playoff teams can help the Steelers in their quest to build a Championship contender.

As all of Steelers Nation is acutely aware, their beloved black and gold-clad heroes have joined them on the couch for the NFL Playoffs. After watching a truly wild Wild Card weekend followed by a somewhat underwhelming Divisional Round, many fans are wondering how the Pittsburgh Steelers can ditch their sofas for a stadium come the 2023 postseason.

I believe one of the best ways to determine the answer to that question is by examining the teams that just took the field last weekend in the Divisional playoffs. Those teams are the Kansas City Chiefs, the Buffalo Bills, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC, and the Philadelphia Eagles, the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, and the New York Giants in the NFC.

All eight of these squads have at least one of two things in common: an upper tier franchise quarterback (QB) and/or an elite offensive mind on the coaching staff. Let’s break it down.

I believe the Chiefs, Cowboys, and Jaguars actually have both a true franchise QB and an elite play caller in place. Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid in Kansas City need no endorsement from me. Dak Prescott and Kellen Moore fall into those categories in my opinion. Yes, Dak had a rough game against the 49ers. What QB hasn’t this year. But he’s also coming off an 5-TD outing again at Tampa Bay on Wild Card weekend. In Jacksonville, Trevor Lawrence has entered the upper tier of QBs for me despite an underwhelming game against the Chiefs. He’ll just keep getting better too. Doug Pederson is a Super Bowl-winning Head Coach and offensive play caller.

In San Francisco and New York, the teams may not boast a high-end QB, but both are coordinated by fantastic offensive minds in Kyle Shanahan and Brian Daboll respectively. These two guys overcome the lack of an elite QB by elevating the entire unit with their offensive schemes.

And finally, the Eagles, Bills, and Bengals all boast elite QBs in 2022. Jalen Hurts has proven to be the game’s best dual-threat QB when healthy. A true running QB who can throw down the field. Joe Burrow is the league’s most unflappable QB, and his accuracy is off the charts. Josh Allen is Superman for the Bills, despite not having as deep an offensive group around him as the other two squads in this tier.

It is plainly apparent to me that to be a true contender in today’s NFL, you MUST either have a QB that can transcend roster weaknesses that would otherwise bury his team, or an offensive designer that can elevate his QB’s play by scheming up a transcendent offensive game plan. Don’t get me wrong, great defenses are helpful. Having a great offensive line or multiple Pro-Bowlers at the skill positions is great! But to truly contend in 2023 and beyond, a team must find a franchise QB or employ an offensive genius to put it all together.

That brings us back to Pittsburgh.

A talented and improving offensive core is in place, as indicated by the team’s impressive 7-2 stretch to end the season. In light of this discussion, however, the Steelers decision to retain Matt Canada as offensive coordinator in 2023 means making the jump to true contender rests squarely on the shoulders of Kenny Pickett. This is based on the fact Matt Canada is not “That Guy” as a play caller. We’ve seen enough to know that at least. Now you need Pickett to take that step as a true franchise QB if the Steelers really want to be on the field this time next year. The Steelers can’t afford to get this wrong if they want to get a championship-starved fan base off their backs. Until the Steelers find their guy at one of these two all-important positions, I believe mediocrity is this team’s ceiling.

It would be a mistake for the NFL to move conference title games to neutral sites

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 7:15am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

It would be a mistake for the NFL to move its conference title games to neutral-site locations. It would also be a slap in the face to its fans.

Picture this: The Steelers, a 9-8 football team that just snuck into the playoffs despite another mediocre year, do the impossible and advance all the way to the AFC title game. But instead of having to play a third-straight week on the road, Pittsburgh heads to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, where more than 60 percent of the crowd is waving Terrible Towels at kickoff.

Screw you, Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs' 15-2 regular season and their number-one seed. No team travels like the Pittsburgh Steelers, baby!

Great, right?

OK, but picture this: The Steelers, a 15-2 football team that earned the first seed in the AFC as well as a bye, must travel to AT&T Stadium for the AFC Championship Game. Sure, much like the 9-8 scenario, Pittsburgh is greeted by a majority of supporters waving Terrible Towels, but it just seems wrong that it’s not an overwhelming majority. Why isn’t this game being played at Acrisure Stadium, complete with the type of elements that would make it a true home-field advantage for the black and gold? Besides, you’re a second-ticket holder. You live in the South Hills of Pittsburgh, a location that’s much closer to Acrisure Stadium than it is to AT&T Stadium. Oh yeah, it’s also WAY cheaper to travel to Acrisure Stadium than it is to AT&T Stadium.

Sucky, right?

Anyway, I don’t know what the distribution of folks in attendance may have been, but this was the reality Bills and Chiefs fans would have faced had both teams advanced to the AFC title game this year. The NFL decided on this as a compromise after the Damar Hamlin near-tragedy at Paul Brown Stadium on December 26, 2022, which led to the cancellation of the Bills/Bengals matchup on MNF, a result that forced both teams to play one less game than Kansas City. Had Buffalo won its final two games, it would have clinched the top seed. Therefore, the league decided to move the AFC Championship Game to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta had both the Bills and Chiefs advanced that far.

Understandable considering the horrific circumstances involved.

You have to give the NFL credit for coming up with a fair solution.

However, it wasn’t long after this decision was made that rumors began to surface of the NFL using this neutral-site conference championship compromise as a test run for possibly making it a permanent deal in the not-so-distant future.

I’m not saying the NFL is soulless, but leave it to that league to take a near-tragedy—Hamlin almost died right on the field after going into cardiac arrest—and use it as an opportunity to create a new revenue stream.

Again, I endorsed the idea of a neutral-site conference title game as a temporary compromise to a regular-season game being canceled because a player almost died, but I vehemently reject the notion of the NFL eventually baking this kind of thing into future postseasons.

The Bills lost to the Bengals in the divisional round over the weekend, an outcome that will now see Cincinnati travel to Arrowhead Stadium for an AFC title game matchup vs. the Chiefs on Sunday.

If you’re a Chiefs fan who decided to pony up the necessary dough to get to Atlanta, did you get a refund on tickets and lodging? Were you able to then purchase tickets to Sunday’s game at Arrowhead?

How much did it cost to book a plane ticket and a hotel room in Atlanta? That price, along with the cost of the ticket, had to set you back a good bit.

Did the possibility of a neutral-site conference championship game price you right out of going at all?

This is the kind of plan that could further alienate the average fan and discourage him/her from going to any games at all—postseason or otherwise. And let’s be real: It’s not exactly cheap for average fans—you know, those working types?—to attend playoff games in their home cities, let alone on the road.

It would also be the kind of idea that would further take the romance out of the NFL postseason. I hate the weather, but I know a lot of Steelers fans who thrive on going to Acrisure Stadium in January when it’s so cold that you don’t even want to take your shirt off—but you do it anyway as a means to intimidate the opposing team.

And history tells us that opposing teams don’t like traveling to hostile stadiums for playoff games.

Speaking of home-field advantage, the NFL has already added one more playoff team in each conference and eliminated one bye. It won’t be long before an eighth playoff team is added in each conference, which would eliminate all byes. If you set the conference title games in neutral stadiums, how much would that further decrease the importance of the regular season?

Word has it that weather would be a total non-factor, as the league could decide to play these neutral-site conference title games in domed stadiums.

Remember when domes were a novelty? Now, we seem to be moving in a direction where every NFL stadium will eventually be a domed venue.

Look what domes have done to college bowl games, where most of the big ones—including the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Peach Bowl—are played indoors. Those games used to have unique atmospheres and were easily distinguishable. Now, it’s like they’re all being played in sterile operating rooms. How long before the Rose Bowl is moved from the actual Rose Bowl and played at SoFi Stadium?

Also, wouldn’t neutral-site conference title games take a bit of the uniqueness away from the Super Bowl, an event that is perfect for a 50/50 crowd?

The Super Bowl is where every NFL team wants to wind up each year. It’s the ultimate destination. It’s the grand stage. The host city becomes the center of the football universe for two weeks leading up to the Big Game.

It’s just my opinion, but having two more neutral-site games would dilute the glorious spectacle that is the annual Super Bowl and the events that lead up to it. It could turn Conference Championship Weekend into the NFL’s version of the Final Four, where getting that far is now the coveted destination.

Finally, I’ve almost always been open-minded about the NFL and its desire to move its league into the future. But I can’t get behind the notion of playing conference championship games at neutral sites.

I’m guessing most NFL fans may feel the same way.

Steelers 2023 Pre-NFL Draft visit Tracker

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 6:00am
Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Keep tabs on who the Steelers have met with at each stage of the offseason leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, along with almost every other NFL team, are preparing for the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft, and all are doing their diligence interviewing prospects. There are several stages where teams interview prospects, and it can actually start at All-Star games. Teams will take a look at prospects at the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine game, but the biggest event is the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.

With All-Star games and the Scouting Combine upcoming, after these events are individual school pro days and official pre-draft visits. We here at BTSC will keep you updated with the prospects who have met with Pittsburgh at every step along the way. The Combine, pro days and of course the ever-important Official Pre-Draft Visits.

Check out the latest list below:

Tropical Bowl

Nick Andrews, DT, Peru Stat College
Dax Hollifield, LB, Virginia Tech

Senior Bowl

None yet

Shrine Bowl

None yet

NFL Scouting Combine

Event takes place February 26th to March 6th

Pro Days

None yet

* Mike Tomlin and/or Khan or Weidl in attendance
+ Omar Khan and/or Andy Weidl in attendance

Official Pre-Draft Visit Rumors

None Yet

Pre-Draft Visits, By Position

None yet

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 4:30am

Get the latest BTSC podcast content in the ‘Podcast Roundup’.

We here at BTSC, and our podcast platform, are here with you every step of the way as the Steelers set the stage for 2023. With so much going on, make sure you check out our ‘Podcast Roundup’ article to keep up with the latest podcasts that cover everything Steelers for your black-and-gold knowledge, curiosity and enjoyment.

With that being said and typed, have fun with the shows below with a brief description of each podcast.

The Steelers Fix: Director Jim Nagy previews Senior Bowl Week

Join Andrew and Jeremy Betz as they cover the Steelers draft needs, free agency, and Fantasy Football on The Steelers Fix. This week Andrew and Jeremy talk potential black-and-gold draft picks for the Steelers with Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Exclusive interview with Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy
  • and MUCH MORE!
The Scho Bro Show: The Steelers ongoing cornerback conundrum

The Steelers always seem to have issues at one crucial position, and it continues going into 2023. It’s the cornerback position and it remains a concern. This will be just one of the subjects that will be discussed on the Scho Bro Show. the brotherly love entry of the BTSC family of podcasts.

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

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • The CB position remains a concern for the Steelers

Dave and Rich walk you through everything you need to know regarding the black-and-gold.

Let’s Ride, Wednesday: The Steelers QB situation among the AFC North

The Pittsburgh Steelers are betting that Year 2 of the Kenny Pickett Experience will be one of excellence. But where does No. 8 rank among the incumbent QBs in the AFC North? Jeff Hartman, BTSC Senior Editor, talks about this, and much more, in the latest episode of the “Let’s Ride” podcast.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Are the Steelers up to task at quarterback in the AFC North?
  • The Mail Bag
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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