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MMQB predicts Steelers will win AFC North with a 10-6 record

Behind the Steel Curtain - 4 hours 52 min ago
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

It would appear that there are still some national media outlet yet to abandoned the Steelers this year

With the Cleveland Browns the new darlings of the bookmakers and national media this offseason, there have been few “football experts” predicting anything else but a divisional win for the Pittsburgh Steelers rivals in 2019. But it would appear that the prevailing mood is starting to shift in some quarters as of late, with the MMQB the latest publication to side with the Black and Gold in the race for the AFC North crown.

As per Conner Orr, it is the Steelers who will win the division this season thanks to a 10-6 record, with the Browns coming in close behind at 9-7 and the Baltimore Ravens bringing up the rear at 5-11.

STEELERS: 10–6

“I have them losing the season-opener to New England but rebounding well. This is going to be one of the most fascinating divisions in the NFL, and we could see a titanic offensive shift now that Antonio Brown is in Oakland.”

BROWNS: 9–7

“My inability to embrace hype is palpable here, and I understand. I have Cleveland splitting all three of their divisional series (an original projection had them sweeping the Steelers, which made sense in a vacuum but feels impossible on a larger scale. Otherwise, my picks went probably as you’d expect, save for a surprise Week 1 loss to the Titans.”

BENGALS: 6–10

“This is probably my least favorite result. Cincinnati’s initial 10-6 record in my first projection was a reflection of my positivity surrounding this team, with or without Jonah Williams. Still, the Bengals have a wicked first half, starting in Seattle, hosting the 49ers, traveling to Buffalo, traveling to Pittsburgh, hosting the Cardinals, traveling to Baltimore, hosting Jacksonville and traveling to Los Angeles. It was hard have them emerge from that stretch in a place to make a run at the division.”

RAVENS: 5–11

“As I’ve written before, this new playbook without Lamar Jackson’s knowledge deal makes me uneasy. Their record here isn’t a reflection of some foreseen Jackson regression, but more an offensive regression as a whole. I loved what Baltimore did down the stretch last year and thought there was a way to blend that punishing rush offense with Jackson’s natural playmaking abilities, which we saw in spurts and at the end of their playoff loss to the Chargers.”

But while a 10-6 record is very much in line with the predictions we have made in these pages this offseason, a 5-11 record for the Ravens is far worse than even we would have projected for this hated rival.

The Bengals win total seems about right given their talent level, as does the Browns, although I might be tempted to take a game off Cleveland to have them finishing at 8-8 instead and out of the playoffs.

Lets us know what win totals you think each team in the division will end up with this season in the comments section below.

30 predictions in 30 days: Chris Boswell will make at least 85 percent of his field goals in 2019

Behind the Steel Curtain - 6 hours 27 min ago
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are approaching training camp, and we provide some potential predictions for the upcoming season

With 5 days to go until the start of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers, we continue our 30 predictions in 30 days series with another bold claim for 2019.

Alternating daily between myself and BTSC Editor Jeff Hartman, we will offer our forecasts for the upcoming season. Some will be team oriented, while others will be specific to individual players. Posing an argument for and against our predictions, we invite you to weigh in on the debate as well.

Following on from my last claim that the Steelers will beat the Cleveland Browns twice in 2019, I turn my attention toward the Steelers special teams unit.

Prediction: Kicker Chris Boswell will makes at least 85 percent of his field goals in 2019.

Why it will happen: While there can be no argument that the 2018 season was something of a disaster for Chris Boswell, his performances during his first three years in the league prove what he is capable of. The question now remains whether last season was merely an anomaly or an experience that has irreparably damage him going forward.

No one but the kicker and the coaching staff know for sure if it was his mechanics or his mind that failed him last year, but Boswell appeared to suggest that it was a bit of both when talking to reporters this offseason. And while fixing his mechanics seems very achievable, repairing his confidence might take more time.

Chris Boswell speaks about focusing on his next kick, his approach to the 2019 season and more following today's OTA. pic.twitter.com/fM8bxSYpI0

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 28, 2019

Successful on 92.1 percent of his field goals in 2017, 84 percent in 201 6 and 90.6 percent in 2015, if Boswell can put the 2018 season behind him and revert to this Pro Bowl for of the year before, making at least 85 percent of his kicks in 2019 is a realistic target.

And while Boswell was not willing to use the groin tear that ended his season prematurely as an excuse, it is clear there were medical reasons for his struggles later in the year. Assuming he is now fully recovered, there is ever reason to expect him to be more accurate this season if accompanied by the right mindset.

Why it won’t happen: NFL history is littered with the names of kickers who have briefly enjoyed success, only to wash out a few years later. The fact that the Steelers delayed payment of his roster bonus until after the final preseason game an obvious indicator of their concerns about his ability to bounce back.

If Boswell was feeling the heat from the media and the fans in 2018 as the misses started to pile up, the criticism is likely to be even more intense this season. For a position that relies on confidence perhaps more than any other, a few missed kicks early on in the season could quickly make the pressure on Boswell unbearable.

And should he be unable to convince the coaching staff to trust him after training camp, there is every chance Boswell might not even make it to a fourth season in Pittsburgh to begin with.

What are your thoughts on this prediction? Do you think it will happen? Or are we crazy? Let us know by voting in the poll, and letting your voice be heard in the comment section below!

2019 Steelers Depth Chart Prediction: Wide Receiver

Behind the Steel Curtain - 8 hours 10 min ago
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Time to take a look at players who will make the team, and who will be atop the depth chart in 2019.

While the loss of disgruntled wideout Antonio Brown was a necessity, the departure leaves a large volume of targets, catches, touchdowns, and playing time up for grabs for unproven or new talent to absorb. Pittsburgh Steelers fans know what JuJu Smith-Schuster could bring to the table the past two seasons playing opposite of Brown but can he expect more volume after a 111 catch season with 1,426 yards? Even with Smith-Schuster, there is a looming question mark. And what about the other Steelers receivers?

Questions needing answering in training camp and preseason.

Can Smith-Schuster transition into a true #1 receiver with heavier coverage than he has seen in the past?

Who will emerge as the wideout on the other side of the field to take the pressure off?

Can Donte Moncrief remain healthy, bond with Ben Roethlisberger, and find the success he flashed with Andrew Luck and Blake Bortles?

Was James Washington’s poor rookie season growing pains or missed evaluation of his talent?

Who will emerge as the Steelers slot wide receiver?

Will Dontae Johnson’s role be competing for the slot or is he seen as a candidate to play on the outside?

Will the team run more four-wide receiver sets compared to years past?

How many wideouts does the team carry?

Smith-Schuster smashed fans’ expectations in 2018 with his phenomenal season but can he repeat in 2019 with heavier coverage attention? With his crisp route running, sure hands, and ability to shield defenders from the ball, the answer will be yes. The Steelers are looking to run a more balanced attack but a decrease in yards may be supplanted with more catches and touchdowns.

Moncrief has been plagued throughout his career with injuries and subpar quarterbacks heaving him the ball. During his five-year career, Moncrief has never started 16 games and has played 37 of a possible 48 games over the past three seasons. In 2015, his most productive season, the Mississippi Rebel product dealt with poor quarterback play even with Andrew Luck at the helm for seven games. Luck and four other quarterbacks combined to post a 57.4 completion rate and 26 touchdowns to 19 interceptions. Even with the quarterback play, Moncrief had a career year with 64 receptions, 733 yards, and six touchdowns.

In 2018, Moncrief started a career-high 14 games and remained healthy the entire season. But again he was haunted by poor quarterback play. Bortles played in 13 games while winning three games and tossing a meager 13 touchdowns and 209 yards per game. Backup Cody Kessler did not do Moncrief any favors with two touchdowns, 142 passing yards per game in his four starts. Even with the inconsistent quarterback play, Moncrief amassed 48 receptions for 668 yards and three scores.

Moncrief’s a veteran player who has put up fine production given the level of quarterback play over his career gives him a leg up on his competition who have not seen the field or struggled to produce. Monitor how he bonds with Roethlisberger in the preseason, that will be the main factor that would limit his ceiling in 2019.

Steelers fans have little love for Eli Rogers. He is not overly fast, not really shifty, and goes down with minimal contact but there is one person who relishes his presence especially in big games. Roethlisberger. In his last three playoff games, the former Louisville Cardinals posted 17 receptions for 135 yards and seven first downs. Solid numbers for a player who fans dismiss as expendable.

Roethlisberger’s reliance on Rogers does not stop at the playoffs as was prevalent in the must-win game against the Bengals during the last game in 2018. The 5-10 187 pounder snared seven of Roethlisberger’s 31 completions for 57 yards. Again, not flashy but three of them went for first downs which extended Steelers drives in a close game.

Washington’s season was one to forget not only for him but Steelers fans alike. Even with making six starts and playing 526 snaps, the former Oklahoma State Cowboys receiver produced 16 receptions for 217 yards and a lone touchdown. Poor production when his 38 targets are factored in. Weeks 2, 3, and 4 Washington took part in 153 snaps on offense but came away with five receptions for 39 yards while Roethlisberger compiled 1,079 yards over the span.

The entire season was not bleak for the 5-11 213 pounder as he showed glimpses of his talent against the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals late in the season when he scooped up six receptions for 129 yards in the two contests combined.

With Moncrief the primary #2 wideout, Washington will have to hope to get into four-wide receiver sets, to give the speedy Moncrief a breather, Smith-Schuster seeing playing time in the slot, or insurance in case of injury. If an injury does not occur, it would not be surprising to see him put up similar numbers in 2019 with a decreased snap count.

Rookie third-round selection Diontae Johnson will also vie for playing time in 2019 but his role might not be known until deep into the preseason. Fans along with “draft experts” speculated if the former Toledo Rockets star would be utilized on the outside or out of the slot. His clearest path to playing time would appear to be the slot due to Moncrief and Washington’s draft pedigree lining up outside.

The value of Johnson does not stop on offense but special teams as well which could earn him a hat on Sundays. Johnson was last year’s Mid-American Conference Special Teams Player of the Year and with the Steelers middling return game, he has an opportunity to showcase his ability on both kickoffs and punt returns.

Joe Marino of The Draft Network disparaged Johnson’s freelancing route running and his inconsistent hands that led to drops which would lead to trust issues. Trust is something that Johnson addressed earlier in OTAs.

“Just being able to show [Roethlisberger] that I could be consistent and that he can rely on me,” Johnson said when asked what he wanted to show Roethlisberger during OTAs. “I showed him that I can retain information. Just trying to get that connection down with Ben is crazy [important] for me.”

In an article I wrote earlier in the offseason I introduced Steelers fans to Diontae Spencer. While Spencer will add very little to the offense in 2019, he has the pedigree from playing in the CFL to lock up both special teams return spots. Fans may scoff at Spencer being a two time CFL All-Star or his first 1,000-yard season last year, or his 5-8 and 165 pound frame but the playing experience and his level of play in the CFL along with his tape has to give fans pause to write him off before the preseason even starts.

Pittsburgh traded for Ryan Switzer prior to 2018 when it became clear that Rogers would not be ready for the season and to shore up the return game. The 5-8 and 185 ponder had 36 receptions for 253 yards and a touchdown over 16 games last season which was not lofty numbers but adequate when factoring in his return ability. Switzer was just outside of the top 10 in both kickoff and punt returns not impressive but not as bad as some fans would have you believe.

With Rogers fully recovered from his ACL injury and Switzer not putting up flashy return stats last season, the combination should doom his chances of cracking the 53-man roster. A trade during training camp or later in the preseason is the likely scenario. (Third trade in three years.)

Rounding out the depth chart is returning 2018 practice squad members Trey Griffey and Tevin Jones along with veteran newcomer Johnny Holton. Griffey and Jones could return to those roles again this year while Holton will try to continue his path with another team as he is not practice squad eligible.

For the Steelers to get back to the playoffs and be successful they need to get back to being a more balanced attack team. With that being said there will be fewer targets to go around compared to 2018 but losing Brown and Jessie James could open up more opportunities for wideouts to see the field in three and four wideout sets. From watching tape on Moncrief, if he can stay healthy, he will be the main benefactor and spend the season as the #2 wideout only giving way to Washington sparingly. Rogers returns to his old but boring form and keeps his slot duties that Roethlisberger trusts so much and fends off Johnson. While Johnson flashes his return abilities, it will ultimately be Spencer who snares the wideout duties which will mean Johnson will be the weekly inactive until an injury strikes. The CFL is the CFL and the Mid-American Conference is still a low-level college conference.

Depth chart

WR1 — JuJu Smith-Schuster

WR2 — Donte Moncrief

WR3 — Eli Rogers (slot)

WR4 — James Washington (backup outside receiver)

WR5 — Diontae Johnson (backup slot receiver)

WR6 — Diontae Spencer (return specialist)

BTSC Pittsburgh Steelers Jeopardy: Double Dipping Digits

Behind the Steel Curtain - 9 hours 45 min ago
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Test your Pittsburgh Steelers knowledge in the BTSC Steelers Jeopardy game!

This... is...Jeopardy! Well, BTSC Steeler Jeopardy. Once again, I put my black-and-gold mind to work and came up with 5 Steelers “answers” from one specific Steelers category. You will be charged with trying to guess the responses in the comment section below.

Remember to always phase your response in the form of a question, and if you don’t know it, you can simply skip it. Keep track and share your scores. A word of warning though, the correct responses are right after each individual wager in blue. Consider this something fun to pass the time until the real news starts!!

Todays Category: Double Dipping Digits

$200

Question: What is No. 21?

Davis, the second round pick of the Steelers in the 2016 draft, started out wearing the No. 28. When Mike Mitchell was not retained following 2017, Joe Haden took the number that he wore in Cleveland since coming into the league. That left No. 21 open for Davis. The most famous No.21 in Pittsburgh history was and will always be Roberto Clemente, the legendary Hall of Famer for the Pirates.

$400

Question: Who is Hines Ward?

It is super hard to think of Ward cracking a defender or scoring a TD in anything but No. 86, but Hines wore the one-five as a rookie in training camp until assuming the numerals tha he’s known for.

$600

Question: Who is Joe Greene?

Just like Hines, it’s hard to think of “Mean Joe” wearing anything but No. 75. Apparently Greene only wore his iconic digits in the preseason of his rookie year. When Ken Kortas was cut before the season opener against Detroit, Equipment Manager Tony Parisi made it so MJG would walk into Pitt Stadium wearing the number he wore in High School and College. In 2014, No. 75 joined Ernie Stautner’s No. 70 to became only the second number retired by the Steelers.

$800

Question: What is No. 79?

Actually, Brown caught the first TD reception in Super Bowl history. It was Franco Harris that would score the first SB TD on a run. After the blocking TE switched to the offensive line in 1977, he continued to wear his new set of numbers until retiring after the 1984 season.

$1000

Question: What is No. 26?

Rod Woodson, Deshea Townsend and Le’Veon Bell all wore No. 26 in the Burgh, but so did Preston Pearson starting in 1970. When Rocky Bleier returned from Vietnam with a part of his foot blown off from a grenade, it was unlikely that he would play football again. But Bleier heroically returned to football and the Steelers. With No. 26 being worn by Pearson, Bleier grabbed No. 20 and made it legendary in Pittsburgh.

How’d you do? You didn’t resort to cheating did you? Let us know in the comments. See you next time on BTSC Steeler Jeopardy.

Analyzing the Pittsburgh Steelers running back workload heading into 2019

Behind the Steel Curtain - 11 hours 52 min ago
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Looking at how the Steelers distribute carries and various other Steelers stats.

Compiling statistics can take hours upon hours in order to find the proper numbers. To save you the trouble, here are some of the best statistics about the Steelers from the past few weeks.

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

If you are curious about any other Steelers rushing trends, please feel free to ask in the comments below.

The #Steelers current RB room only has a combined 316 carries in the NFL (Conner- 247, Samuels- 56, Edmunds- 9, Nix- 4). They also have 2 Pro Bowls (Conner, Nix). That’s 158 CPPB (carries per Pro Bowl).

— SteelersSuperFanDad (@STLRSuperFanDad) July 19, 2019

In 2018 the Steelers were tied for the 2nd most games (4; DAL, LAR) in which only 1 RB had any caries, behind CAR (5). While most games were due to low rushing attempts, @JamesConner_ was the only Steelers RB who carried the ball Week 1 v CLE with 31 carries for 135 yards.

— SteelersSuperFanDad (@STLRSuperFanDad) July 14, 2019

Since 2010, there have been 11 NFL games with a single player who had 35 or more rushing attempts. The #Steelers had 4 of them, the only team with more than one.

— SteelersSuperFanDad (@STLRSuperFanDad) July 12, 2019

Of the 207 games Mike Tomlin has been the head coach of the #Steelers a single running back has had 20 or more rushing attempts in a game 86 times.

— SteelersSuperFanDad (@STLRSuperFanDad) June 30, 2019

The Steelers were one of two teams to use a five-wide receiver look in 2018, running 32 snaps and completing 24 of 32 pass attempts, per @MattBowen41. #Steelers

— Blitzburgh (@Steel_Curtain4) July 12, 2019

The Steelers tied with the Chargers for the NFL lead with 90 snaps out of 22 personnel last year, per @MattBowen41. #Steelers

— Blitzburgh (@Steel_Curtain4) July 12, 2019

Big Ben ranks highest in #BigTimeThrow percentage from a clean pocket indoors during the PFF era! pic.twitter.com/JqgPDCropd

— PFF (@PFF) July 10, 2019

That’s our HOF QB! #Steelers pic.twitter.com/N608oBzO1y

— Blitzburgh (@Steel_Curtain4) July 6, 2019

Big things are in store for JuJu in 2019.

His 30 receptions of 15+ yards from the slot are second-most among WRs since 2017. pic.twitter.com/Taj7GuEFua

— PFF (@PFF) July 3, 2019

The most #BigTimeThrows on passes outside the numbers in 2018. pic.twitter.com/UpWqFHz7tR

— PFF (@PFF) July 2, 2019

Mike Hilton’s 12.4% rush percentage was second-highest among slot CBs last season. pic.twitter.com/e7H09i6XSL

— PFF (@PFF) July 2, 2019

Top 5 win percentages in the last 10 years. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/oMP0ytmTZk

— Blitzburgh (@Steel_Curtain4) June 25, 2019

Stephon Tuitt generated the highest tackling grade among interior defenders last season! pic.twitter.com/2sHd2CooyV

— PFF (@PFF) June 25, 2019

Black and Gold Links: Don’t expect any “bold predictions” from Mike Tomlin in 2019

Behind the Steel Curtain - 13 hours 17 min ago
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

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

With all of the Steelers’ 2019 offseason workouts in the rear view mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan base has to suffer through the dog days of summer until the boys of fall return to the gridon. In the meantime, don’t think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over. As the team disperses for the summer, we continue to provide you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over until training camp!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how black-and-gold fans shouldn’t be worried about hearing any “bold predictions” from Mike Tomlin in 2019, and that will probably be just fine with the vast majority of the fan base.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Mike Tomlin has caught his share of heat throughout the past few years for his bold predictions. Fans shouldn’t expect much of that in 2019, and that isn’t a bad thing.

No “bold predictions” about 2019 season for Mike Tomlin

By: Josh Alper, ProFootballTalk

Tomlin said last month that any change in “chemistry or culture” won’t reveal itself until the team faces adversity. In a recent interview with Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, Tomlin said he’s not going to make any pronouncements about how that will play out.

“I acknowledge that there are some significant changes, but talking about it is not going to dictate the outcome,” Tomlin said. “You won’t hear a lot of bold predictions from us. That is not our style; that is not appropriate. We know that we are judged based on performance anyway.”

Should that performance fail to reach expectations, it wouldn’t reflect well on Tomlin and could impact his job security. The coach insists that’s not changing his approach in response to that state of affairs.

“I shaped my reputation in this business and this outlook in this business being singularly focused on the task at hand,” Tomlin said. “So I’d be kidding you if I told you I had a certain edge because of what happened in 2018. I just have a certain edge because I better have a certain edge.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • How will the Steelers handle the running back situation in 2019?

Asked and Answered: July 18

By: Bob Labriola, Steelers.com

TODD FURST FROM ALLENTOWN, PA: I’ve read good quotes from the Steelers top three running backs commenting on formations that have James Connor and Jaylen Samuels in the backfield together. Have any Steelers coaches commented on the running back by committee approach?

ANSWER: This seems to be an annual rite of spring, that being talk about the Steelers employing more of a two-back system in the upcoming season, and then fans getting excited about it. But what we also have come to learn is that once the season starts, the Steelers primarily revert to the procedure they’ve used since Bill Cowher was hired in 1992, that being the concept of one man being the primary ball carrier. The fact Jaylen Samuels can serve as an H-back does offer an opportunity for the Steelers to utilize formations with him lining up in the backfield, but if fans believe this is the precursor to the Steelers returning to the days of a split-backfield, a la Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, that’s not going to happen. At least not as a primary offensive formation.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The trio of additions on defense is all the rage, and rightfully so.

Three for the show

By: Mike Prisuta, Steelers.com

Jon Bostic and L.J. Fort both made starts and played significant snaps at the position in 2018 but are no longer on the roster.

Free-agent addition Mark Barron, fresh from starting Super Bowl LIII for the Rams, and No.10 overall pick Devin Bush have been brought aboard as re-enforcements.

It remains to be seen how the division of labor is ultimately sorted out.

“They haven’t really told us anything,” incumbent starter Vince Williams maintained at the outset of OTAs this spring. “However ‘Coach Butz’ decides to divvy it up, that’s how it’ll play out.”

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler revealed little as to his intentions during Mandatory Veteran minicamp, other than to acknowledge the anticipated upgrade having Barron and Bush at the Steelers’ disposal will provide in the passing game.

“It’ll help us in coverage,” Butler said. “It’ll help us in coverage quite a bit.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

Last Friday without ‼️#FridayFeeling | @joehaden23 pic.twitter.com/KR4gZqhUxP

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 19, 2019

7️⃣ to 1️⃣9️⃣ on 7️⃣/1️⃣9️⃣@_BigBen7 | @TeamJuJu pic.twitter.com/6D76L9hbCs

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 19, 2019

Who's coming⁉️

MORE: https://t.co/aEPjfffl7w@Fedex | #SteelersCamp pic.twitter.com/Y3yErW4CM7

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 19, 2019

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions and open thread: Offseason Edition, Vol. 29

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 5:46pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

There is plenty to talk about regarding all things black-and-gold!

Several people have asked if we could bring back the Friday Night Open Thread. I had moved the event to Saturday morning, but after minimal success, I decided to bring it back to Friday night — with a slight twist.

I liked the Saturday Six-Pack theme, so I decided to just take the six questions and move them to Friday night. Say hello to Friday Night Six-Pack of Steelers Questions and open thread!

The rules haven’t changed...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

  • I’ll ask at least four questions strictly related to the Steelers.
  • The rest of the questions could be about anything.
  • Be respectful.
  • Have fun talking about the Black-and-gold.

That’s it! With that out of the way, it’s time to get this party started. Hey, don’t act like you’ve never done a little Friday night drinking. Here goes:

1. Which players not named Artie Burns is likely to be a shocking “cut” when the team trims the roster to 53 players?

2. Which division do you think is the best in the NFL from top-to-bottom?

3. Which division do you think is the worst from top-to-bottom in the NFL?

4. Outside of injury, what would be the worst-case scenario for the Steelers during Training Camp?

5. Which training camp battle intrigues you the most?

6. You have to choose from one of the following jobs, which do you choose and why?

a.) Third String QB
b.) Bullpen Catcher
c.) Golf Caddy

No matter what, always remember...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

BTSC Pittsburgh Steelers Jeopardy: School Days

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 2:21pm
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Test your Pittsburgh Steelers knowledge in the BTSC Steelers Jeopardy game!

This... is...Jeopardy! Well, BTSC Steeler Jeopardy. Once again, I put my black-and-gold mind to work and came up with 5 Steelers “answers” from one specific Steelers category. You will be charged with trying to guess the responses in the comment section below.

Remember to always phase your response in the form of a question, and if you don’t know it, you can simply skip it. Keep track and share your scores. A word of warning though, the correct responses are right after each individual wager in blue. Consider this something fun to pass the time until the real news starts!!

Todays Category: School Days $200

Question: What is a Hokie?

Once called the “Gobblers”, the name and corresponding turkey mascot eventually fell out of favor in Blacksburg. In 1981, Tech switched to the hokiebird that was already included in their battle cry since 1890 when a student won $5 for using it in a cheer.

$400

Question: Who is Troy Polamalu?

The 2005 team was tight and Joey Porter took to honoring coaches by having members of the defense wear their throwback jersey. After honoring the likes of DC Dick Lebeau and HC Bill Cowher with Lions and Browns jerseys respectively, about 24 members of the team decided to honor Jerome Bettis by sporting his green No. 6 Fighting Irish jersey on the plane on the Monday before the Super Bowl. A few players that went to rival schools of ND like Larry Foote of Michigan and Troy Polamalu, struggled wearing those threads. Polamalu, an All-American USC Trojan, told Bettis (as recounted in Jerome’s autobiography), “ I just want you to know that I would never ever wear a Notre Dame jersey. But the fact that I am wearing this says a lot about the person you are and the respect I have for you.”

$600

Question: What is Louisiana Tech?

Bradshaw was the top pick in the 1970 draft. The Steelers won a coin flip against the Chicago Bears to be in position to nab him. In 1999, the Steelers were hungry for a WR and selected Edwards 13th overall. They both played college ball for the Bulldogs on the rural campus in Ruston, LA.

$800

Question: What is Maryland?

The Steelers currently have four Maryland Terrapins on their 91-Man Roster. They are Sean Davis, Trey Edmunds (split time at Maryland and Va Tech), Damian Prince and Derwin Gray. The Tennessee Volunteers on the roster are Joshua Dobbs, Cameron Sutton, Daniel McCullers and Ramon Foster.

$1000

Question: What is the University of Colorado?

The scouting department must have taken a lot of trips to Boulder in those days. In 1992 NT Joel Steed was selected from the Buffaloes in the third round. The top two selections in 1993 were CB Deon Figures (1st) and LB Chad Brown (2nd). In ‘94, they went to Colorado again with their top pick in the form of WR Charles Johnson and picked QB Kordell Stewart with the second selection in 1995. All made significant contributions in their Steeler careers.

How’d you do? You didn’t resort to cheating did you? Let us know in the comments. See you next time on BTSC Steeler Jeopardy.

Mike Hilton named as Steelers most underpaid veteran

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 12:18pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Steelers cornerback appears to have supporters in his quest to receive a new contract this offseason

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton has made no secret of his desire to sign a new contract this offseason, and it would appear that he has some sympathizers in that regard from some in the national media.

In an article highlighting the AFC’s most underpaid veterans released on Tuesday and penned by Danny Heifetz of The Ringer, the slot cornerback was the player chosen as the Steelers’ representative.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Hilton, Cornerback

Contract: One year for $645,000 (signed 2019)

The fine print: One year for $645,000

Total guaranteed at signing: $0

Average annual value: $645,000 (tied for 185th among cornerbacks)

2019 salary and bonuses: $645,000 (tied for 165th among cornerbacks)

“Hilton has been Pittsburgh’s primary slot cornerback for the past two years, and while his 2018 wasn’t as strong as his stellar 2017, he’s still far more valuable than the $645,000 tender Pittsburgh slapped on him this offseason. Hilton said he is not considering a holdout (after witnessing the Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown situations from the inside, it’s hard to blame him). But slot cornerbacks are getting paid more closely to what outside corners earn. Chris Harris Jr. earned a raise to $12 million to avoid a holdout, and Indianapolis made Kenny Moore the highest-paid slot corner in the NFL last month. If Hilton produces for a pittance, it could help keep Pittsburgh in playoff position.”

But while BTSC editor Jeff Hartman predicts that Hilton will receive the extension he is hoping for by the time training camp roles around, the team’s current salary cap situation suggests a new deal might not as forthcoming as the cornerback would like.

With just $984,968 in available cap space at the time of writing, there is every chance that Hilton will have to wait one more year before earning his big pay day. Set to be a restricted free agent in 2020, the former Ole Miss product should expect to earn at least $3.25 million next year if he receives an assumed second round tender.

However, having extended the contract of Alejandro Villanueva at a time was he was an exclusive rights free agent like Hilton is now, Pittsburgh has created a precedent that his agent Drew Rosenhaus is sure to have reminded the organization about on numerous occasions. Failing to do the same this year may not ultimately be received well.

Hilton has vowed not to hold out in an effort to force the teams hand ahead of the regular season, but you can be sure that his patience will be worn thin by daily questions about it from the local media once training camp begins.

30 predictions in 30 days: Steelers will beat the Cleveland Browns twice in 2019

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 10:25am
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are approaching training camp, and we provide some potential predictions for 2019.

With 6 days to go until the start of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers, we continue our 30 predictions in 30 days series with another bold claim for 2019.

Alternating daily between myself and BTSC Editor Jeff Hartman, we will offer our forecasts for the upcoming season. Some will be team oriented, while others will be specific to individual players. Posing an argument for and against our predictions, we invite you to weigh in on the debate as well.

Following on from Jeff’s claim that Mike Hilton will receive a new contract before the start of training camp, I turn my attention toward the Steelers’ oldest AFC North rival

Prediction: The Steelers will beat the Cleveland Browns twice in 2019.

Why it will happen: While there are a number of supposed experts who are already fitting the Cleveland Browns for the AFC North crown this offseason, they still have to go through Pittsburgh if they want to win their first division title since 1989. And regardless of all the hype surrounding the Browns in 2019, they remain a team made up mostly of players and coaches who have never experienced a win over the Steelers.

Even with an intimate knowledge of the Pittsburgh offense in 2018 thanks to the hire of former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the Browns still could not get the job done during a down year for Pittsburgh.

Games against Cleveland have resulted in two wins a season almost every year since their reincarnation in 1999, with the Steelers boasting 34-6-1 in that time. A trend that would have repeated itself once again in 2018 if not for a missed field goal by Chris Boswell in Week 1.

Carrying a weight of expectation they have not experienced in decades, the Browns will follow a man who has never been a head coach at any level in Freddie Kitchens, supported by a cast that includes temperamental wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., suspended running back Kareem Hunt and a quarterback potentially headed for a sophomore slump.

Fired Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks has yet another new scheme for the players to learn after taking over as defensive coordinator from Greg Williams. And for all the ability that Beckham brings to the offense, the loss of Kevin Zeitler as part of the deal has unquestionable impacted the quality of the line protecting Mayfield.

In contrast, the Steelers have lost one key player from 2018 and added a top 10 draft pick on defense at a position of need, as well as a veteran starters at receiver and cornerback. Continuity also remains among the coaching staff of team team suitably motivated to prove the doubters wrong.

The bookmakers might like the Browns in 2019, but I will be backing the Steelers to win both of their matchups against them with some confidence.

Why it won’t happen: No matter how much I might let my disdain for the Browns influence my opinion of them, it is impossible to ignore the improvements the moribund franchise made in 2018. The dismissal of Hue Jackson was a move that should have come after his first season in Cleveland and new general manger John Dorsey appears to finally have the team on the right track.

The performances of Mayfield during his rookie season suggests the Browns might have have found a quarterback capable of seeing out a contract in Cleveland for once, someone who could be a real thorn in the Steelers side for years to come. And regardless of what he gets up to off the field, much like Antonio Brown, Beckham usually shows up big on game day.

Names like third-year defensive lineman Myles Garrett and second-year cornerback Denzel Ward have also given the Browns genuine talents on defense as part of a unit that could improve this year.

As much as it would be nice to be able to say that this is the same old Cleveland Browns team we have all been laughing at for decades, that is simply not the case anymore.

What are your thoughts on this prediction? Do you think it will happen? Or are we crazy? Let us know by voting in the poll, and letting your voice be heard in the comment section below!

NFL owners should go all in on an 18-game schedule, or simply scrap the idea entirely

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 8:45am
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

If the NFL owners are going to ask for an 18-game schedule with a 16-game player cap, they might as well scrap the idea entirely.

The idea of an 18-game NFL season is again in the news this week, thanks to a reported new proposal floated out by the league on Monday .

The new proposal stipulates that, while the league would expand to an 18-game regular season, players would be capped at 16 games. This, of course, is a compromise by owners to appease those who are concerned with the health and safety of the players—specifically, the NFLPA players union who the owners will be negotiating a new CBA with after the 2020 season.

Speaking of the players union, Steelers union rep Ramon Foster Tweeted about this proposal, suggesting that the league cares more about making money than it does about the integrity of its game.

“With this proposal it’s almost saying “we know certain games just aren’t important, we just gonna pocket more money,” said Foster on Monday in one of several Tweets about the latest proposal. “Almost makes it seem like it’s ok to play down or we won’t put our best players out each game. Profit over quality?”

Foster also expressed other concerns—including players still being required to practice during weeks in-which they weren’t scheduled to play; and, oh yeah, how bad would that replacement kicker suck?

All valid points broached by The Big Ragu.

From a safety perspective, I’m sure something could be worked out where the regulars who are scheduled to be off for that week’s game would also be required to skip physical practices as a means to preserve their bodies.

That’s one thing.

As for the integrity of the game and fairness to players and fans, that’s quite another story.

First, let’s assume that the mandatory two games each player is required to sit would be spread out over the course of the season. Aren’t you then asking fans to pay regular season prices for a bunch of semi-preseason games?

If you’re walking to your seat at Heinz Field knowing Ben Roethlisberger, Stephon Tuitt, David DeCastro, Steven Nelson and Chris Boswell are all deactivated for the game, how excited would you really be?

How excited would the activated players be for such a contest? You might say it would be equal for both sides.

Or would it?

Would the Ravens, for example, be forced to sit Lamar Jackson if Roethlisberger was required to miss a game between Baltimore and Pittsburgh?

You might say that divisional games should be exempt from this new proposal, with teams being required to field their full complement of players. Fine, but what are you saying about the other 12 games? Are you saying they’re less important? They’d almost have to be deemed that way.

With football being the ultimate team sport, it might be easy to envision most games appearing to be business as usual, even with a handful of players sitting out each and every week.

OK, but what about the two games sans the starting quarterback? Missing a handful of players is one thing. But missing the most important one? Based on how the majority of NFL teams function without their starting quarterback, those two games would likely be a disaster.

You might say some players—including the quarterback, kicker and punter—should be exempt from this proposed 16-game cap.

Good luck with that.

Even kickers and punters are members of the NFLPA, so I doubt their union brethren would let them be taken advantage of in such a way.

I don’t think it would be fair to the fans to make them pay for and/or watch an expanded regular season if none or even the vast-majority of the 18-games includes the full complement of players.

Speaking of the players, how fair would it be to them to have their seasons potentially decided because their backup quarterback or kicker wasn’t as good as the other team’s backup quarterback or kicker (or any other position, for that matter)?

There isn’t a whole lot in this new proposal that seems fair to anyone. And that is why the owners should fight tooth and nail for an 18-game schedule that includes no other compromises other than perhaps an expanded roster and/or keeping the four-game preseason model intact (with financial concessions to the fans, of course).

If the owners win that battle during negotiations, good for them. If the players win out (while likely bending on other issues in the process), kudos to them.

A wishy-washy proposal that dilutes the product and forces the fans (and even the networks) to pay full price is not the answer.

Go hard or go home, NFL owners.

2019 Steelers Depth Chart Prediction: Running Backs

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 6:52am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Time to take a look at who will not just make the team, but be atop the depth chart heading into training camp.

Now that the Le’Veon Bell saga is officially over, the Pittsburgh Steelers can focus all their attention on the running backs who will be on the field in 2019. How is that pecking order going to play out and what their roles will be is yet to be seen. There has been talk from head coach Mike Tomlin that he wants to have a more balanced attack in 2019 compared to the pass-happy team that led the NFL in both passing attempts and completions last season. If the rushing volume increases, how are the touches distributed?

Tomlin has hinted that Pittsburgh may take more of a running back by committee approach this upcoming season.

“James’ versatility and level of conditioning will be factors in that discussion,” Tomlin said when asked about a committee approach. “We’re open to it. All people are working hard, but there are some other viable men. It’s just not a two-man discussion at the running back position. I’ve been pleased with the progress of the larger body.”

Is this just “coach speak” or will Tomlin use a true running back by committee for the first time in his coaching career? Fans should take this with a grain of salt until an RBBC is seen on the field of play during meaningful games.

In 2018 despite missing the last three games of the season, James Conner was voted to the Pro Bowl while amassing 1,470 total yards and 13 touchdowns. The injury bug has bit the former Pitt Panther star each of his first two pro seasons and that is something he will need to overcome to return to the Pro Bowl. Conner will need to show he can be durable if he wants to hold off any chance that other running backs cut into his bellcow playing time in 2019.

Former North Carolina State, running back Jaylen Samuels (jack of all trades) started off 2018 slow while not touching the pigskin for the first four weeks. During the next six week stretch, the 2018 fifth-round selection toted the ball 13 times for 31 yards and another 54 yards receiving. With Conner out, the Steelers gave Samuels three straight starts with the premiere game against the New England Patriots. During his breakout game, Samuels showcased his wiggle to breaking many arm tackles en route to 172 total yards on 21 touches. Is this what the Steelers can expect going forward or the 11 rushes for 28 yards in a loss to the Raiders the week before?

Samuels use going forward became complicated by the Steelers adding Benny Snell Jr. in the draft last April. The former Kentucky product rushed for 3,873 yards and 48 touchdowns in his three-year college career and left school before his senior season. While Snell does not have the receiving hands that Samuels has, he still hauled in 17 receptions in 2018 and is seen as a dual purpose back for the Steelers moving forward.

Trey Edmunds, Steelers starting safety Terrell Edmunds older brother, spent the first 13 games on the Steelers practice squad before being promoted to the active roster following Conner injury. Edmunds is out of practice squad eligibility so his only hope is to make the 53 man roster which is only liable to happen if an injury occurs. The other unlikely event is the Steelers carrying four running backs. Such a move is highly unlikely to happen. Edmunds has a leg up on the other three backs on the roster who are camp bodies.

Prediction

The talk about a running back by committee is just that but the Steelers need to limit Conner touches and not run him into the ground. While Samuels had a great game against New England, it was just one game. As he barely played running back in college, Snell is the true running back option for the direct backup role. Samuels would be limited to more of a specialty third-down back role. In fantasy football terms, Snell is Conner’s handcuff and will be the first off the bench if an injury were to befell Conner.

Depth chart

RB1 — James Conner

RB2 — Benny Snell

RB3 — Jaylen Samuels

Podcast: The best, and worst, case scenarios for Steelers Training Camp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 5:29am

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

The 2019 NFL Draft is over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for a fresh, new season — so it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview. On this show Jeff Hartman, Dave Schofield and Bryan Anthony Davis break down all things Steelers leading into the offseason.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • The best, and worst, case scenario for the upcoming Steelers training camp
  • Steelers News
  • The ever popular Either/Or segment
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, Bryan Anthony Davis and Dave Schofield walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold.

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

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

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

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

Black and Gold Links: Realizing the true value of a player like Tyson Alualu along the Steelers’ DLine

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/19/2019 - 4:29am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

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

With all of the Steelers’ 2019 offseason workouts in the rear view mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan base has to suffer through the dog days of summer until the boys of fall return to the gridon. In the meantime, don’t think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over. As the team disperses for the summer, we continue to provide you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over until training camp!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how a player like Tyson Alualu is a very valuable part of the Steelers’ defense.

Let’s get to the news:

Versatile Tyson Alualu unsung contributor to Steelers’ defensive line

By: Jonathan Bombulie, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

As the game has evolved over the past decade or so, though, 3-4 defensive ends have been asked to do more.

Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt don’t just eat up blockers. They make plenty of plays.

This evolution explains why the Steelers have found a valuable piece of their defense in Tyson Alualu. A nine-year veteran, he has been around long enough to see the evolution of defensive line play firsthand. At 6-foot-3, 304 pounds, he’s big and athletic enough to accomplish any task the Steelers ask of a defensive lineman.

“Even when I was coming into the league, I think that was one of the biggest things, being versatile, being able to play all the positions and do it to the best of my ability,” Alualu said. “I kind of find it easier to adapt to different schemes, whatever’s asked, depending on what defense I’m in.”

The evolution of defensive line play hasn’t been a complete transformation, of course. There are still times when Alualu, in a two-gap scheme, can make his greatest contribution to the defense by patiently and powerfully occupying a pair of blockers.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Even the harshest Mike Tomlin critic should be upset about the latest coaching ranking.

Tim Benz: Even Mike Tomlin’s critics should find this ranking unjust

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

I know your complaints about Tomlin. I have them, too.

• Doesn’t win enough in the playoffs

• Can’t control the locker room

• Loses to bad teams too often

• Underachieves with superior talent

• Poor timeout and clock strategy

• Plays favorites too often

I agree on all fronts. But that doesn’t mean some of the guys ranked higher on that list actually are better than him.

One playoff season from Anthony Lynn with the Los Angeles Chargers shouldn’t vault him to a spot in front Tomlin.

Seventh is the Ravens’ John Harbaugh, who got to Baltimore just one year after Tomlin signed on with the Steelers. While he does have a better playoff record (10-6) than Tomlin (8-7), Tomlin has beaten Harbaugh twice in three postseason tries. Tomlin has a better regular-season winning percentage (.654) than his AFC North rival (.591). And he’s won the conference championship twice as opposed to just once for Harbaugh.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Going to the Steelers’ home opener vs. the Seahawks? There are some other festivities you might want to take in.

Steelers announce Fantennial Weekend

By: Steelers.com’s Staff Writers

The Steelers will host the Seattle Seahawks in their 2019 regular-season home opener at Heinz Field on Sunday, September 15. Kickoff for the Week Two home opener is 1 p.m.

Honoring the NFL’s 100th season, the days leading up to the home opener will be a Fantennial Weekend, presented PNC, UPMC and U.S. Steel.

On Friday, Steelers alumni and current players will attend a high school football game featuring Riverside High School vs. Western Beaver at Blackhawk High School. Western Beaver is coached by former Steelers WR Derek Moye, who also played high school football in western Pennsylvania.

On Saturday, a Steelers Fan Fest will take place on Art Rooney Avenue outside of Heinz Field from 2-6 p.m., with a number of activities for fans, including a car show and an evening concert at Stage AE.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

Plenty of fun to be had at #FamilyFest‼️

MORE: https://t.co/b4G0HF6Q6c@OurFordStore | #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/bSl8BJo6lU

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 18, 2019

@Fedex | #SteelersCamp pic.twitter.com/0THYC1A2b7

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 18, 2019

Have a good one @Rudolph2Mason‼️ pic.twitter.com/CU71hCaHrC

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 17, 2019

Have a #HappyBirthday @_Dbush11‼️ pic.twitter.com/Dm0QuGinbs

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 18, 2019

BTSC Pittsburgh Steelers Jeopardy: Trading Spaces Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/18/2019 - 3:14pm
Photo by Greg Crisp/Getty Images

Test your Pittsburgh Steelers intellect in the BTSC Steelers Jeopardy game!

This... is...Jeopardy! Well, BTSC Steeler Jeopardy. Once again, I put my black-and-gold mind to work and came up with 5 Steelers “answers” from one specific Steelers category. You will be charged with trying to guess the responses in the comment section below.

Remember to always phase your response in the form of a question, and if you don’t know it, you can simply skip it. Keep track and share your scores. A word of warning though, the correct responses are right after each individual wager in blue. Consider this something fun to pass the time until the real news starts!!

Todays Category: Trading Spaces

$200

Question: Who is Roosevelt Nix?

Rosie Nix, an undrafted free agent out of Kent State for Atlanta in 2014, was a defensive lineman for the Golden Flashes, Roosevelt switched to linebacker because of his lack of NFL size for his college position. The Falcons switched RNJ to the fullback position, but Nix was cut in camp. The next season, the Steelers signed him as a linebacker. They then switched Nix back to fullback because of overwhelming depth at the lb position. But his odds were still long with Will Johnson entrenched at the position. Nix did stand out as a special teams player and won a job on the 53 man roster. In 2017, Nix was named to the Pro Bowl and is a hard-nosed player no matter the position.

$400

Question: Who is Ray Mansfield?

After his rookie season in Philadelphia, the DT arrived in Pittsburgh and embarked on a record 182-game streak as a Steeler. “The Ranger” switched to Center in 1965 and began a long-run of just six principle centers that extends to present day. Mansfield even was called upon as a Kicker in the 1976 playoffs. Sadly, Mansfield died hiking in the Grand Canyon in 1996 at the age of 55.

$600

Question: Who is Carnell Lake?

Carnell Lake played inside linebacker as a Bruin, but was considered too small to play it professionallly despite being the all-time leader in tackles-for-loss at the school. During two college all-star games, Lake played safety and the Steelers drafted him third in ‘89. He played at that position most of his ten seasons in Pittsburgh, but switched to corner briefly in 1995 as a sub for the injured Rod Woodson. He earned a Pro Bowl nod that season in his temp gig.

$800

Question: Who is Larry Brown?

Brown caught the first Steeler TD reception in a Super Bowl and played tight end for his first six seasons in Pittsburgh and two Super Bowl wins. Because of a knee injury in 1977, HC Chuck Noll wanted the blocking TE to temporarily train as a lineman. However, the next eight years, Brown started at the right tackle position and earned a Pro Bowl nod in 1982. When once asked which of these players from the Super Bowl teams that was not in the Hall of Fame deserved it the most, Noll pointed to Larry Brown.

$1000

Question: Who is Carlton Haselrig?

Thats not a typo. Back in those days, the winner of the Division-II Wrestling Title was invited to compete in the D-1 tourney. Haselrig swept both his sophomore, junior and senior seasons as a grappler for Pitt-Johnstown, This led four teams to bring Haselrig in for workouts, but Pittsburgh drafted him in the 12th-round as a defensive lineman. As a member of the Scout Team, Rig played both ways and the team realized that the natural fit for him was on the offensive line as a guard. Haselrig played in Pittsburgh until 1993 and was out of football by 1996.

How’d you do? You didn’t resort to cheating did you? Let us know in the comments. See you next time on BTSC Steeler Jeopardy.

Former Steelers TE Mark Bruener to be enshrined in Pacific Northwest Hall of Fame

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/18/2019 - 1:15pm
Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The former tight end and current scout will be honored at a ceremony in Seattle next week

Long before Heath Miller became the unanimous choice among Pittsburgh Steelers fans as their favorite tight end in team history, it could have been argued that his predecessor Mark Bruener wore that crown with some members of Steeler Nation. Primarily more of a blocking tight end than a receiver, while the former first-round draft pick earned his fair share of admirers in the Steel City, it would appear that he also left a notable impression on those who watched him at college.

Bruener will be recognized for his efforts as a tight end for the University of Washington when he is inducted into the Pacific Northwest Hall of Fame on July 25. Set to be part of a class that includes former Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander and head coach Chuck Knox among others, Bruener will be enshrined during a ceremony held at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

Congrats to current #Steelers scout & former tight end Mark Bruener on his induction to the PNW Hall of Fame. https://t.co/NvAzLf5EFI

— Burt Lauten (@SteelersPRBurt) July 16, 2019

In four season with the Huskies, Bruner would record 90 receptions for 1,012 yard, with one of his college highlights coming during his freshman year when he scored a touchdown in the Rose Bowl to help secure a share of the National Championship. He would leave Washington as the all-time leader in career receptions at tight end and was voted All-Pac 10 twice and was also honored as an All-American.

Selected by the Steelers with the 27th overall pick of the 1995 NFL Draft, Bruener would play nine seasons in Pittsburgh before finishing his career with the Houston Texans. In 14 years in the NFL, he recorded 152 receptions for 1,333 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Soon after his playing career was over, Bruener made a move into scouting thanks to in part to an internship with the Steelers. Still with them to this day, Bruener is predominantly responsible for scouting the northwest region of the country.

Brandon Boykin believes Steelers offense will decline in 2019 because of their backup QB

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/18/2019 - 11:30am
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

In one of the more bizarre pieces of analysis we have seen this season, former Steelers cornerback Brandon Boykin predicts a down year for the Pittsburgh offense this year

If you thought the NFL Network had already run out of players with any connection to the Pittsburgh Steelers they could bring on the show to criticize their former team, the appearance of Brandon Boykin on NFL Total Access on Wednesday ended that dream.

But while Boykin’s last year in the league was in 2017 when he spent the season on injured reserve with the Baltimore Ravens and his last game was with the Steelers in 2015, it would appear that the former cornerback has not been paying much attention to the NFL since he left.

Asked his for thoughts about how well the Pittsburgh offense will fare having lost Antonio Brown this offseason, Boykin expressed doubts about how effective JuJu Smith-Schuster could be as the No.1 receiver before going on to question the talents the Steelers have at quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger.

#Steelers offensive expectations this season? pic.twitter.com/SSbaOLaRo5

— NFL Total Access (@NFLTotalAccess) July 17, 2019

“Absolutely, for a couple of reasons. Number one, you don’t lose a guy like Antonio Brown and not replace the productivity that he gave you and get better the next season. You talk about a guy that had 1,300 yards, 15 touchdowns. And I know a lot of people like JuJu Smith -Schuster, I like JuJu Smith-Schuster as well, I think he’s a great receiver. But let’s be honest, without Antonio Brown and the attention that he commanded all year, I don’t think JuJu Smith-Schuster’s numbers would have been the same. So now that he’s No. 1, we’ll see what he does. The second thing that I feel like is that they don’t have a backup quarterback. Nobody has experience other than Ben Roethlisberger. If he gets hurt, what’s the situation going to be?”

And if Boykin’s final words were not insane enough, resident Pittsburgh hater David Carr was on hand to make the former cornerback’s remarks seem even more inflammatory than they actually were.

“Brandon hit it right on the head. From a defensive guy to say that I don’t know who you’re afraid of other than JuJu. I mean, that just tells you how they’re going to play him. They’re going to put JuJu on the best corner and then the other guys just got to find a way to win and it’s going to be difficult. We saw JuJu one game without Antonio last year and it wasn’t the greatest, so we’ll see what they can do.”

Despite going back over the tape a few times, I still cannot find the part where Boykin says “I don’t know who you’re afraid of other than JuJu.”

Taking shots at Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph is also rather odd given that it was not an issue for the media last year, nor does it seem to be an issue for the countless other teams around the league with an inexperienced backup quarterback. If any analyst believes that 95 percent of teams in the league would not suffer significantly on offense without their starting quarterback, they are insane.

The only logic for Boykin’s redundant argument is that he was asked to provide two reasons by the show’s producer and froze up live on air; the second answer was the best he could come up with on the spot. If this is a sign of things to come, a career in media might not be in Boykin’s future. That being said, Carr somehow miraculously manages to keep his job, so clearly anything is possible.

30 Predictions in 30 Days: Why Mike Hilton will receive a new contract before the Steelers first official camp practice

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/18/2019 - 10:15am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are approaching training camp, and we provide some potential predictions for 2019.

In case you didn’t know, the Pittsburgh Steelers will return to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA in exactly 7 days of this article being published. With that, I decided to revive an old series we used to do as a lead up to training camp.

30 predictions in 30 days.

Myself and Simon Chester are alternating days giving a prediction for the upcoming season. Some will be team oriented, while others will be specific to individual players. Either way, read on to see the reason why we think today’s prediction will come to fruition, and why it might not come true. Give your thoughts in the comment section below the article.

Training camp is almost here! Here We Go!

Prediction: Mike Hilton will be rewarded with a new contract before the first training camp practice.

Why it will happen: Unlike some other players who want a new contract, Mike Hilton has been following the Alejandro Villanueva approach by showing up every day and putting in work. This all while not signing his Restricted Free Agent tender which was given to him this past offseason.

The Steelers love loyalty, and, like Villanueva, will often reward this loyalty with a deal they find satisfactory. The question then becomes whether or not the player finds the deal equally as satisfactory.

Hilton’s case is a tough one. After a stellar 2017 season, Hilton had a 2018 which was up-and-down. But before you feel this is a cut against Hilton, it could be viewed as a way for the Steelers to give Hilton the contract he wants. Coming off a mediocre season, and the rising cost of slot cornerbacks, the Steelers could be on a path to get Hilton cheaper than they would have last offseason.

The big question now surrounding Hilton is if he can bounce back and re-gain his 2017 form...a big if indeed for a team looking to give the player a new contract.

Why it won’t happen: Let’s be honest here. Hilton is undersized, and in 2018 it seemed as if teams were starting to pick on him when it comes to his overall lack of size. You saw teams flex tight ends and taller receivers over Hilton and abuse the mismatch.

Not a ringing endorsement for a player looking to hit a large payday.

While Hilton could bounce back in 2019, there is no guarantee he will, and this is a huge issue for a team looking to break out the checkbook and writing a hefty check. One other big factor in this scenario is the financial state of the team. The Steelers are hard up to the salary cap, and will need to make moves to free up space to make any moves. This might not even happen, which means Hilton won’t be given the contract he desires.

Then you wonder if he would sign his tender, or push his luck and holdout...but that is a scenario for another day.

What are your thoughts on this prediction? Do you think it will happen? Or are we crazy? Let us know by voting in the poll, and letting your voice be heard in the comment section below!

Devising a plan of attack for the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers Offense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/18/2019 - 8:49am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Developing a clear-cut plan for the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve dedicated much of the space Jeff grants me at BTSC to studying the Steelers offense. I’ve put out a primer on some of the Steelers core offensive concepts , broken down their favorite personnel group, their creative use of Empty formations, how the Steelers attack Cover-1 defenses, and how the Steelers have increased their use of RPOs. Hopefully, this has given us some idea how offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner operated in 2018. Now, it’s time to look forward.

Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, two of the most prolific playmakers and spectacular headaches in franchise history, are gone. So is backup tight end Jesse James. How might the Steelers replace the production that trio offered? What wrinkles might Fichtner add to accommodate the abilities of his new talents, receivers Donte Moncrief and Diontae Johnson and running back Benny Snell Jr? In short, what might the Steelers 2019 offense look like? Here are some thoughts and suggestions.

STAY CREATIVE

One area where Fichtner demonstrated a difference from his predecessor as OC, Todd Haley, was his creative use of formations and play calls. Haley was a fairly traditional coordinator who preferred to operate from conventional structures and to retain control over the play-calling. Fichtner was more willing to use unconventional sets and to allow, through an increased reliance on on-the-ball adjustments, Ben Roethlisberger to have more freedom at the line of scrimmage or as a play unfolded.

Here are two quick examples of his outside-the-box thinking. In the GIF below, we see tight end Vance McDonald split wide like a receiver in order to gain a physical advantage over a smaller cornerback (in this case, the Saints Eli Apple). Watch McDonald create space for a big play by shrugging Apple off of him as Apple attempts to press McDonald at the line of scrimmage:

In addition to traditional alignments as a tight end and H-back, Fichtner lined McDonald up out wide, in the slot, in bunch sets and even in the backfield. McDonald’s blend of size, speed and athleticism makes him a matchup nightmare for defenses. Fichtner would do well to continue to find new ways to deploy the Steelers version of Weapon X (or in this case, Weapon V).

Here’s another one. Trailing 16-13 to the Jags and the ball on the +1 yard line with just :08 remaining, the Steelers line up in a bunch set to the boundary with Antonio Brown wide to the field. With James Conner set away from the bunch, a sweep into the boundary with a backside RPO or a fade to Brown would be typical play calls in this situation. Instead, Fichtner runs a shovel pass, giving Roethlisberger the option to pitch inside to McDonald, who is coming around from his inside alignment in the bunch, or to keep it himself on the edge. Roethlisberger will read the unblocked defensive end (#91, Yannick Ngakoue) for his key. Ngakoue jumps inside to defend McDonald so Big Ben keeps the football and manages to lunge into the end zone. Touchdown and ballgame.

I like this play-call because it is safe and unpredictable. A power run to Conner with the obligatory play-action to the fullback or tight end in the flat would have been sniffed out by everyone in the stadium. It is likely that no one envisioned the cumbersome Roethlisberger attempting to run the football to the edge. With :08 on the clock and a timeout remaining, the Steelers would have been able to stop the clock should the play have failed to reach the end zone. Shovel option was a great call, then, because it gave Roethlisberger the chance to make the defense wrong no matter how they reacted. That’s a smart move with a Hall of Fame signal-caller running the show.

This type of outside-the-box thinking was fairly common last season, especially in the red zone. We saw a variety of quick receiver screens, screen passes to the backs, pick and rub routes and even a fake field goal for a touchdown. The result was a twenty percent improvement in red zone touchdown rate from 2017 to 2018 (53 to 73%), which led the NFL.

One hope I have for the 2019 offense is that Fichtner expands on some of the unconventional ideas that made this offense difficult to defend. Empty formations, myriad bunch sets, RPOs, zero-read throws and receivers aligned in the backfield were staples of Fichtner’s game-plans last season. However he chooses to build on these ideas — reverses, unbalanced sets, two or three running back groupings, etc — should add diversity and multiplicity. Staying creative will surely benefit the offense this coming fall.

POUND THE ROCK MORE

That said, the Steelers still did well when they lined up in old-school power formations and ran the football right at people. 22 personnel was the Steelers second favorite offensive grouping and they did well hammering away at defenses. They were especially effective as a red zone power run team. Conner scored nine touchdowns in 2018 on runs of four yards or less, eight of them from 22 personnel.

The key to the Steelers ability to implement more power run schemes is fullback Rosie Nix. Nix, I believe, is an underrated blocker and key piece of the offense. We see some of his versatility in the GIF below.

In the game last season against Atlanta, the Steelers had scored a first-half touchdown on a 1 yard run from 22 personnel where Conner followed a lead block by Nix right up the gut into the end zone. Now, with Atlanta packed in tightly against the same heavy personnel group, the Steelers attack the edge with a pin-and-pull sweep.

The key to making this play work (other than David DeCastro’s excellent seal block) is Nix’s ability to block linebacker Duke Riley in space. This is a trickier block than it seems. Nix has to get out quickly and put himself in position to block the outer half of Riley’s body without going too wide and letting Riley slip underneath him. He then has to stay on Riley long enough to let Conner turn the corner without holding him. This takes quickness, strength and excellent technique - each of which Nix displays in escorting Conner into the end zone.

Of course, when most people think of Nix they tend to think of blocks like this one:

Or this one:

That’s Nix kicking the edge on a classic Power run against the Browns and administering a dose of shin splints to a Bengals linebacker while filling on a sweep (nice down block by Xavier Grimble on the first one, by the way, for those of you like myself who are worried about him as the #2 tight end). Nix can block with both finesse and power, making him the prototypical fullback for an offense that features a combination of inside and outside runners like the Steelers have in Conner, Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell.

Don’t expect the Steelers to morph into a power run team in 2019. They will still base out of 11 personnel and let Roethlisberger throw the football. However, their 67/33% pass-to-run ratio in 2018 represented the widest disparity in the league, so some old-fashioned power run concepts would be a nice way to bring greater balance to the offense. With Jesse James gone and Grimble a question mark as an in-line blocker, it may fall on Nix to put some of the “power” into those power runs.

DEVELOP THE PLAY-ACTION GAME

Every good running attack needs a complementary play-action passing package. The Steelers had a great one in Roethlisberger’s early years when they were a run-based offense behind a smash-mouth line and Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker. Anyone who remembers the playoff run in ‘05 on the way to the Super Bowl XL title remembers how the Steelers jumped out in front of the Colts and Broncos on the road using effective play-action concepts. Consider:

That’s the second play from scrimmage of the 21-18 win over the Colts (otherwise known as the game where I smashed two tv remotes and nearly suffered a stroke). The Steelers, in a 22 personnel set, fake to Parker and Big Ben drops a dime into the arms of Heath Miller for a huge play. It’s not even a great fake by Roethlisberger but the fact the Indy defense sold out so completely to stop the run allowed Miller to slip behind them.

Fast forward to 2019. Football has changed a great deal since 2005, most notably, as it pertains to play-action, from the perspective that the majority of snaps are now taken from the shotgun. Play-action from the shotgun is simply not as good as it is from under center, predominantly because a quarterback cannot turn his back and hide the football from the defense as convincingly. Still, with the Steelers aiming to commit more to the run in ‘19, and with 22 personnel their second favorite group, and with a tight end in Vance McDonald who stretches the field even better than Miller did, you can envision play-action concepts like the one above becoming a bigger part of the offense.

There’s just one problem with this: Ben Roethlisberger has never been a huge fan of the play-action game. According to Pro Football Focus, Roethlisberger attempted the lowest rate of play-action passes (11.9%) of any quarterback in 2017. Since 2012, Roethlisberger’s play-action passer rating was less than a full point higher than his non-play action passer rating. This is unusual considering most quarterbacks have a higher passer rating on play-action throws due to the deception involved. In fact, in 2017, Roethlisberger was one of only four QB’s in the league to post a higher QBR on non-play action throws.

Part of this struggle is likely due to the fact that the Steelers have run the ball less and less in recent seasons. It’s hard to be a big play-action team when the defense is expecting the pass. Part of it, too, has been Roethlisberger’s reliance on full-field reads in the passing game which require him to keep his eyes on the defense in order to read the drops and movements of multiple defenders. On play-action, the quarterback takes his eyes off of the defense while run-faking and generally throws to either a single receiver or reads a single defender to determine where to go with the ball. If you watch the GIF from the ‘05 game again you will notice Miller is the only receiver in the pattern (Parker shows late as an outlet in the flat but this is basically a zero-read throw). The Steelers got away from these types of throws under Haley.

Under Fichtner, Roethlisberger improved in play-action situations last season. His 69.6 play-action completion percentage was tenth best in the league and significantly better than his 2017 numbers (62.5/18th). Fichtner has said he hopes to be more balanced on offense in 2019, and the addition of Snell in the draft would seem to indicate a move in that direction. Play-action, then, is the natural compliment to an increased focus on the run. Without Brown, the Steelers won’t have the luxury of a guy who can simply get open just about any time he desires. They will have to scheme a little harder in the passing game, and play-action is a great way to exploit aggressive defense. Throw in the fact that the Rams and the Patriots, last year’s Super Bowl participants, each ranked in the top four in play-action yards per attempt and overall passer rating (this is a copycat league, after all), and it is my hope we will see more play-action in the offense come September.

SPREAD THE FOOTBALL AROUND

Finally, there is the much-discussed issue of who will replace Antonio Brown’s production. The simple answer is this: as an individual, no one. Collectively, however, it can certainly be done.

The Steelers have actually been transitioning away from an over-reliance on Brown in the passing game since 2016. From 2013-2015, Brown was targeted an average of 181 times a year, second in the NFL over that span to only Julio Jones of Atlanta. From 2016-2018, however, those targets slipped to an average of 161 per year.

The emergence of Juju Smith-Schuster was one of the biggest reasons for the decline. Smith-Schuster was targeted 166 times in 2018, nearly equaling Brown’s 168 for the team lead. Prior to that, only Le’Veon Bell had come within 50 targets of Brown since 2013 (Bell had 46 less targets in 2014). In this regard, the Steelers spread the ball around more in 2018 than they had in the five seasons prior.

They will have even more opportunity to do so this season. This is not an exact science, but for the sake of argument, if we divide up Brown’s 168 targets from 2018, where do they go?

Smith-Schuster will be elevated to the #1 receiving option, but he may not receive many more than the 166 targets he got last year. Two reasons make this plausible. One, 166 is ten-plus targets a game, which is already a significant number. How many more is Juju likely to get? The most Brown received in a season was 193 in 2015. I can’t imagine Juju topping that number. Two, he will likely draw more attention from defenses as teams rotate their coverages towards him. This may actually make it harder to get him the football. Juju’s targets may go up but the increase will likely be minor. Instead, I expect the bulk of Brown’s touches to be distributed among the supporting cast.

Moncrief, the likely #2 receiver, should get his share of looks as a deep ball threat and man-coverage beater, especially if Juju draws significant attention. McDonald should see his 72 targets from last season increase as he takes on a larger role in the offense. James Washington, the 2018 2nd round pick who struggled early in his rookie season but showed progress towards the end, could double the number of targets (38) he received. Slot receivers Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers, provided both make the team, will have an opportunity to improve on their targets (44 and 14, respectively) as well. Rookie Diontae Johnson is a wild card here due to the uncertainty of his development. But should he progress quickly, he might receive 30-40 targets as a fourth or fifth receiving option. Grimble, the backup tight end, will likely absorb James’ 39 targets while Jaylen Samuels should improve on the 29 targets he received as a rookie.

Whatever math is left to balance the numbers can reasonably be expected to be filled in the run game, where Conner (215 carries) and Samuels (56 carries) should see their rushing attempts increase while rookie back Benny Snell should figure into the rotation as well. In short, when you spread the football around among the many options in the Steelers arsenal, it is reasonable to expect them to equal or even surpass Brown’s production.

So, to conclude, what should we hope to see from the offense in 2019? Personally, I’m hoping for a multitude of personnel groups and formations; continued creative game-planning from Randy Fichtner; a bigger role for Vance McDonald; greater balance between the run and pass; an emphasis on the play-action passing game; a varied scheme that utilizes all of the weapons in the offensive arsenal; and as always, a Ben Roethlisberger-centered attack that allows him to get the ball out of his hand quickly, take what defenses are giving him and minimizes situations where he has to force his throws or play “hero ball” and win games on his own. The best way to do the last of these is to minimize the egos in the offense so Ben can do what is best for the team without having to worry about the touches or targets certain players are receiving. With Brown and Bell gone, Roethlisberger should have the freedom to do just that. The result might just be a surprisingly prolific Steeler offense.

2019 Pittsburgh Steelers Depth Chart Prediction: Quarterback

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/18/2019 - 6:52am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are about to head to training camp, and it is time to predict the depth chart at key positions.

Ben Roethlisberger enters his sixteenth season as the lightning rod of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense. How Big Ben plays dictates the chances the Steelers succeed or fail. Who carries the clipboard in the regular season and who runs the scout team in practice is where the talk heats up between Steelers fans. Could a virtual unknown quarterback with gigantic college stats stick his nose in and create even more controversy?

Coming off his first 5,000-yard season the 37-year-old veteran looks to duplicate the 2018 season, except his league-leading 16 interceptions. But what if injury befalls the former Miami of Ohio alum? The waters get muddied when the discussion turns in this direction with experts and fans taking multiple positions countering each other.

In 2017, Pittsburgh drafted Joshua Dobbs. Speculation ran rampant on if the former Tennessee Volunteers was going to be groomed as a backup or seen as the heir apparent to Big Ben. Most of the speculation ended when Pittsburgh drafted Mason Rudolph in the third round in 2018 and Dobbs face planted against the Oakland Raiders in Week 14. Taking over for an injured Roethlisberger, Dobbs was ineffective on four second-half drives which resulted in an interception, three first downs, and zero points while completing just four of nine passes.

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert touted having a first-round grade on Rudolph prior to moving up in the 2018 draft to snare the 6-5 235-pound signal caller. The former Oklahoma State Cowboys star did not supplant Dobbs for the backup position with a poor preseason showing. Rudolph looks to improve during 2019 with what he learned running the scout team in practices hoping to pass Dobbs on the depth chart and improving on his 54.5 percent completion rate last preseason.

While the battle will generate a lot of media and fan coverage during training camp and preseason, do not count out undrafted rookie free agent Devlin Hodges. While playing at Samford, the former four-year starter set the FCS record for passing yards (14,584). While seamlessly transitioning from a small school to the NFL is highly unlikely, his competitors have not lit the world on fire either. Will the coaching staff relegate him to limited snaps in camp and the preseason to see Dobbs’ and Rudolph’s progress? (Hodges bio.)

Prediction

Roethlisberger while entrenched as the starter heading into his 16th season is never in doubt. What is in doubt will he remain healthy all season or will one backup be called upon again? Rudolph should be the first quarterback off the bench in camp and presason to supplant Dobbs for the backup quarterback position. Dobbs is given every opportunity to compete and sees a generous number of snaps so Hodges rarely sees the field until the fourth preseason game. But he shines in his limited time against weak competition and becomes the first quarterback in recent memory to secure a position on the team’s practice squad.

Depth chart

QB1 — Roethlisberger

QB2 — Rudolph

QB3 — Dobbs

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