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James Washington: The forgotten man in the Steelers’ WR corps

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/19/2020 - 11:45am
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiving corps is a steady unit

Heading into the season, much of the talk for the Steelers’ offense was about the return of Ben Roethlisberger, and rightfully so. JuJu Smith-Schuster was also a hot topic along with Diontae Johnson and some other weapons on offense that get to play with Ben again. A guy who seemed to slip under the radar was James Washington. Even after his Hines Ward-esque effort to get in the end zone in that pivotal two minute drive at the end of the first half against the Giants to put the Steelers ahead, Washington still seems to be flying under the radar. The third year pro will be a crucial piece to this offense moving forward.

It’s hard to ignore guys like Smith-Schuster, Johnson, and even rookie Chase Claypool, who made one heck of a catch for his first reception of his career, as guys who figure to lead the charge on offense. Two catches for 34 yards and a touchdown are certainly not sexy numbers, but Washington will have plenty of opportunities to make plays this year.

Last year, Washington made a big jump from his first year, and that jump occurred with mostly with Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph under center. Nonetheless, Washington once again has come into camp and the season in phenomenal shape as he continued to work on his farm in the offseason.

Washington is the guy the Steelers can rely on to win a lot of jump balls, as well as make the contested catch over the middle of the field. As Claypool makes more plays, JuJu’s redemption tour and Johnson’s explosiveness, it is going to provide more one-on-one chances for the former Oklahoma State receiver. On top of his pass catching ability, Washington is also a physical blocker in the run game and constantly shows up on tape with great effort, even when the ball does not come his way.

The one area where fans would like to see improvement and more consistency with Washington is his ability to create yards after the catch. He will never be a player like Diontae Johnson who can take it the distance every time he touches the ball, but if Washington can replicate the effort he made on his touchdown in the opener more consistently, it will certainly take him and this offense to the next level.

Washington is a physical receiver and he can utilize his physicality as a way to create with the ball in his hands. I mentioned Hines Ward earlier and he certainly is not Ward, but that should be his thought process. Ward was not a guy who was the fastest or the shiftiest, but it took two or three guys to bring him to the ground. We saw a small sample of that last year, especially his 79 yarder against the Steelers where he bullied former Steelers corner B.W. Webb on his way to the endzone. If Washington adds more consistency to his YAC, it is going to make the offense that much more explosive.

Look for the quiet, low maintenance Washington to come up big for the Steelers, even if he doesn’t receive the attention that others will.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Denver Broncos in Week 2 of the regular season.

Steelers NFL Draft and College Game Day Open Thread 

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/19/2020 - 11:00am
Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s take a look at Week Three of the 2020 college football season

Week 2 of this unusual college football season is in the books and there was already a Top 25 upset. The Ragin’ Cajuns from Louisiana Lafayette beat Iowa State, which at the time was the 23rd ranked team. Louisiana Lafayette is currently ranked #19.

The Big Ten has opted back into the 2020 season and is scheduled to start play on October 24. As of 4:30 pm on a Friday evening the PAC 12 is still contemplating their return. It will be interesting to see if players decide to opt back into the 2020 season. One of my favorite prospects, Shaun Wade CB Ohio State, is considering a possible return. Wade has already shown the ability to play the slot at an elite level, but was rumored to be moving to the outside this year. If Wade opts back in and can display those same talents his stock will certainly rise.

Highlighted Game(s)

#17 Miami at #18 Louisville 7:30 ABC

Highlighted Player(s)

Brevin Jordan #9 TE 6’3” 235lbs

Real deal athlete here, that will present issues with match ups. Has soft hands and solid body control. Has a sneaky ability to leak into open spaces as a safety valve. Lacks the elite height that is associated with the position but that hasn’t stopped his play making ability. Interested in blocking but isn’t the best at technique. Excellent run after the catch(RAC). Currently projected at the end of the first round to the middle of the second round.

Other Notable Players:

Miami Hurricanes

Gregory Rousseau - Opted to not play, projected first round draft pick

Quincey Roche #2 Edge 6’4” 235lbs

Louisville Cardinals

Chatarius (Tutu) Atwell #1 WR 5’9” 165lbs

Join in on the conversation and tell us what game you are watching and what prospect(s) you would like to see in the Black and Gold.

Stay Safe and GO STEELERS...in Ed Orgeron’s voice!!

Here We Go Steelers Pre-Game Podcast: Week 2 vs. Denver

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/19/2020 - 10:45am

Get ready for the Steelers’ 2020 home opener with pregame analysis from BTSC’s Bryan Anthony Davis and Kevin Smith

Join BTSC’s Bryan Anthony Davis and K.T. Smith as they set the scene for the Steelers’ home opener and break down the Denver Broncos like no one else does on the latest podcast, the Steelers Pre-Game. Also, joining the fray tonight is Broncos insider Jon Rice.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Steelers vs. Broncos Head-to Head Series
  • Broncos overview
  • Keys to a Steelers victory
  • Predictions

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Steelers fill out their practice squad ahead of their Week 2 matchup with the Broncos

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/19/2020 - 10:30am
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Steelers add another lineman in place of the recently promoted Derwin Gray.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have finished the week of practice and are preparing for their home opener against the Denver Broncos on Sunday at 1 PM in front of an empty stadium at Heinz Field. To fill out their roster ahead of the game, the Steelers have added offensive tackle Brandon Walton to their 16-man practice squad.

We've added Brandon Walton to the practice squad (T - Florida Atlantic)

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 19, 2020

Walton came in for a workout with the Steelers on Tuesday due to their open practice squad spot vacated when Curtis Riley was signed by the Arizona Cardinals. The Steelers ended up filling Riley’s spot with safety John Battle who spent training camp with the Steelers. But when Stefen Wisniewski was placed on the Reserve/Injured List and Derwin Gray was promoted to the 53 man roster, the Steelers had another practice squad position to be filled. Ultimately, the Steelers went with Walton who played collegiately for Florida Atlantic and spent the preseason with the Buffalo Bills. It was also reported Walton had a workout with the Kansas City Chiefs last Saturday.

Some fans may ask why the Steelers made a move with the practice squad when there are no more practices remaining before their next game. This was actually an important move when it comes to the practice squad for 2021. If a team does not have a full roster each week of the NFL season, they are not permitted to have players who are on their final year of practice squad eligibility the following season. This rule is in place for teams looking for a way to save money by not filling all their spots, specifically as it pertains to the end of the season. Although there are 6 veteran spots on each NFL team’s practice squad which means teams who didn’t follow the rule in 2019 would still have somewhat of an out, the inclusion of players with an unlimited amount of accrued seasons is a rule specific to 2020.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for all your Steelers news leading up to kick off, throughout the Steelers Week 2 match up against the Denver Broncos, and all the post game analysis.

Breaking down all of Kevin Dotson’s NFL snaps heading into his first start

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/19/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers third string guard will be the starter against the Broncos.

With David DeCastro and Stefen Wisniewski officially out, the Steelers will start Kevin Dotson at right guard in Week 2. Kevin Dotson started 52 straight games in college at right guard, and after a one week stint as a backup, Dotson will again start at right guard.

If you want to look at Dotson in college, check out this film room from after the draft of his game against Alabama and two highly drafted defensive tackles. For this quick film room, I wanted to show the 5 plays he played at the end of the Steelers opening game against the Giants.

It’s 5 plays from the end of the game, it isn’t much, but it is something.

The first play is the one Zach Banner was hurt in, it isn’t awful, but if you don’t want to see that, skip this first gif and just read the explanation.

4th quarter, 5:28.

This is Dotson’s only snap of pass protection so far, and it’s pretty good, he absorbs the contact, gives a little ground, but stops the rush with a good grip on his opponent.

After the touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster on the first play Dotson was on the field, the Steelers ran 5 more plays as they tried to run out the clock and end the game. We aren’t going to look at the kneel down to end the game, but we will look at the 4 plays before it.

4th quarter, 1:52. 1st and 10. Kevin Dotson (#69) is the right guard here and in the rest of the plays.

Kevin Dotson is tasked with taking Leonard Williams from Chukwuma Okorafor on this play, and he moves Leonard Williams out of the run lane as Maurkice Pouncey is getting moved into it. Okorafor leaves the double team quickly but Dotson has Williams firmly under control. Williams terrorized the Steelers in Week 1, recording a sack, 2 quarterback hits, 2 tackles for a loss and 5 total tackles, and Dotson’s work to thwart Williams earns him a pat on the helmet from Pouncey.

4th quarter, 1:48, 2nd and 9.

I didn’t expect to get much at all from these plays, but seeing Kevin Dotson pull from right guard is a really nice rep to put on film. Dotson does a great job here, delivering a blow and wrapping up the defender without holding him. A key here is how low Dotson gets at the point of impact, and you can see that the defender loses from initial contact through the end of the block. These first two runs do a lot to build confidence that the Steelers can run the ball with Dotson starting.

This is also a great play by Derek Watt (44) lead blocking, he gets up field and makes an impact block that gives Snell an easier finish to the run.

4th quarter, 1:42, 3rd and 2.

Dotson’s first step is good, and he wins initial contact and helps Pouncey with his block. As the play progresses, Dotson stays with his man, pushing him past the play at the end.

This is another good snap from Derek Watt, and Snell likely picks up the first down if he follows Watt more closely instead of hitting the pile.

4th quarter, 0:55, 4th and 1.

I love this play. If you read my film room on the run game, you saw that the Steelers ran jet sweep motion a good amount this game, even using it to provide outside blockers for Benny Snell, because the Giants didn’t respect the threat of the jet sweep.

This is how you send the signal to other teams that they have to respect the jet sweep, you can see the Giants pushing the middle of the line hard on this play, and no one is prepared to stop Claypool from easily picking up the first down to ice the game.

Dotson delivers a good hit off the snap, and while he is driven back by the Giants numbers, he did enough to keep Claypool clean as he ran past.

Conclusion

Kevin Dotson is already on pace for a Hall of Fame career. That’s a joke, Dotson is a rookie that has played a total of five snaps, and while that isn’t enough to say much of anything at all about him, all five of those snaps were good ones. Which, John Madden would like to remind you, is better than the alternative. Most of all it gives us a glimpse of why the Steelers are comfortable letting the young man start in his second NFL game. It is also promising to know that he will be playing right guard, where he has so much experience, something that should help him be comfortable.

What are we thinking? BTSC picks the winner of Steelers vs. Broncos

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/19/2020 - 8:30am
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The staff at BTSC share their thoughts and predict the outcome of the Steelers home opener against the Denver Broncos.

Now that there is one regular season game is in the books for the Piittsburgh Steelers there’s no longer speculation surrounding the team. Of course, the narrative surrounding concen still exists, but it has shifted to go down different avenues. The contributors at BTSC have recorded their thoughts and predictions. Let’s see who’s closest to the mark and furthest from reality. Last week K.T. Smith came closest to the mark by forecasting a 27-17 Steelers triumph. Who will it be this week?

Michael Beck

The Steelers push the all time series against Denver to 2-0. Ben Roethlisberger takes advantage of a weakened secondary forcing the national media to declare ‘he’s back’ Minkah Fitzpatrick will pick off the Gunslinging Drew Lock. Should be another easy win for the Steelers

Steelers 28, Broncos 13

Geoffrey Benedict

The Kevin Dotson era starts off well. The Steelers will attack the Broncos lighter and quicker interior defensive lineman with inside runs, and attack their depleted corners and weaker linebacker group with JuJu Smith-Schuster and company. On defense I think the Steelers can get to Locke and force turnovers. Locke took only 5 sacks in his 5 starts in 2019, but he fumbled 3 times. Unless Mike Munchak has the Broncos line playing like the best unit in the NFL they are going to struggle. Bottom line? Ben is back, this game is at home, and the opponent is in trouble at cornerback. It’s not that complicated.

Steelers 27, Broncos 14

Bryan Anthony Davis

The Broncos struggled in their Monday Night opener, but I think this is a pretty good team despite the injuries. Drew Lock is dangerous and so are his young receivers, as well as Melvin Gordon. I’m worried about the patchwork offensive line of the Steelers, but I think they will eek out a win...2 AM style.

Steelers 24, Broncos 19

Mark Davison

Heading into Week Two both teams are coming off a short week and this favours our Steelers. While there are no fans in the stands at Heinz Field, I still see the Steelers making a lot of ‘noise’ in this game. Last week the Steel Curtin 2.0 showed up in full force by containing the Giants in the back field. I predict this trend will continue as T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree pressure off the edge early and often. The Steelers are in a brilliant position to put the league on notice. Steelers to be 2-0, here we go!

Steelers 34, Broncos 9

Anthony Defeo

The injuries along the offensive line are concerning, but the Broncos have their injury problems, as well. I think this game will play out much like the Week 1 affair against the Giants. It will be close in the first half, and Pittsburgh will pull away late. Look for the Steelers to open things up a bit more in the passing game this week and utilize their many aerial weapons.

Steelers 28, Denver 10.

Jeff Hartman

The Steelers return home, and although there won’t be any fans in attendance it will have to feel good being back at the friendly confines of Heinz Field. On a short week, being able to stay at home is an advantage many might overlook. But when it comes to the game I feel like this is a game the defense is the difference. I expect them to get after Drew Lock and to cause him to work for every inch on Sunday. Some takeaways will give the offense some short fields and equate to more points. It will be close at first, but like in Week 1 the Steelers will pull away in the second half.

Steelers 24, Denver 13

Matty Peverell

So close, yet so far, last week with my prediction of a 28-17 scoreline, kind of like Barkley trying run for positive yardage, credit to K.T. Smith who was even closer! The Steelers head into Week 2 in their first home game of the season ready to show the rest of the NFL they mean business by outscoring, out-passing, out-tackling, out-sacking and overall out-playing the Broncos. Expect the Steelers’ defensive line and outside linebackers to pressure the Bronco’s quarterback, Drew Lock, early and often. The win relies on a strong performance from Kevin Dotson or Chuks Okorafor upfront, and maybe even both, in keeping Ben upright.

Steelers 31, Broncos 17

Dave Schofield

The Steelers have never beaten the Broncos when they faced them in the first two games of the season. The Steelers also don’t have a winning record against the franchise in their 32 previous games. None of that matters as the Steelers will find a way to get the victory even with the uncertainties along the offensive line. But since their goal is victory and not margin of victory, the Steelers fail to cover the more than a touchdown point spread.

Steelers 21, Broncos 16

K.T. Smith

This game hinges on one central theme: pass protection. If the Steelers patchwork offensive line can protect Ben Roethlisberger, the veteran QB should have a solid day against Denver’s zone coverage scheme and mediocre secondary. If not, and if the Broncos can get to Roethlisberger, things will be considerably different. My money says the Steelers find a way to keep Big Ben (mostly) clean and the result is a 2-0 start.

Steelers 24, Broncos 17

Shannon White

Both teams come into Week 2 of the 2020 NFL season pretty banged up. The Steelers offensive line has been decimated by injuries already, to the point rookie Kevin Dotson may be force to make an emergency start at right guard if starter David Decastro and veteran Stephen Wisniewski are unable to go. A less than optimal scenario to be certain.

Ben Roethlisberger appears to be back to his pre-injury form and his talented arsenal of skill position players should be too much for a Broncos defense dealing with the loss of some key starters to handle, providing the Steelers offensive line can keep Ben upright. The surging Steelers defense should apply some serious heat on young Broncos QB Drew Lock, eventually leading to multiple turnovers and favorable field position for the Steelers.

Steelers 27 - Broncos 17

Predicting the Steelers’ Week 2 inactive list vs. the Broncos

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/19/2020 - 7:15am
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Steelers will only need to have five players inactive for Week 2, hopefully this time they will get it right.

Last Monday evening did not start off on a very good foot for both me and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was pulling our what little hair I have remaining as the Steelers had one more player in active than what they needed for their Week 1 game. After addressing the issue at his press conference on Tuesday, I believe head coach Mike Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers organization now know exactly how many players need to be on the inactive list going forward.

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

NOTE: If there is an elevation of a player from the practice squad after the release of the projected inactives, it will be updated to reflect the move.

Game Status

Out:
G David DeCastro (knee)
* G Stefen Wisniewski (chest) was originally ruled out but has since been placed on the Reserve/Injured List

Here are the possibilities to end up inactive for Week 2:

Definitely:

G David DeCastro- Already ruled out for the game, the best Steelers fans can hope for is DeCastro’s return for Week 3 against the Houston Texans.

Most Likely:

QB Josh Dobbs- Although this selection could basically be definite, there could always be an illness or something which sneaks up where Dobbs would then be active. Otherwise, he gets to stand on the sidelines again.

DT Carlos Davis- Not getting a helmet in Week 1 helped solidify exactly where the Steelers place Davis on the depth chart. While he did surprise and make the 53-man roster, he was the odd man out and will be again this week.

TE Zach Gentry- I projected Gentry to be inactive last week, which he was. With the Steelers two tight ends only having two receptions between them, Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron need all the snaps they can get to get going.

Possibly:

LB Ulysees Gilbert III- Since he was inactive last week in what was a big shock to a lot of Steeler fans, it is highly likely Gilbert will not get a helmet again in Week 2. But if the Steelers wouldn’t have messed up their inactive list, would UG3 have been the guy to dress?

RB Anthony McFarland Jr.- The other surprise on the inactive list in Week 1 was the rookie running back. With the Steelers hopefully not messing up the list this week, McFarland might be the guy if there any concerns over James Conner‘s health.

Unlikely:

CB James Pierre- Although I thought he would be inactive last week for sure, the Steelers dressed all six cornerbacks last week. Getting seven special team snaps, Pierre will most likely get a helmet this season until the Steelers show they have no need for the extra corner.

Projected Inactive List:
  1. David DeCastro
  2. Josh Dobbs
  3. Carlos Davis
  4. Zach Gentry
  5. Ulysees Gilbert III

Last week I was fairly confident with my first four picks only to be incorrect. This week I’m feeling the same way with the top four and the final spot comes down to Gilbert or McFarland. I would not be shocked either way, but with James Connor missing time already in Week 1, I think the Steelers should consider carrying the extra running back.

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

Derwin Gray is ready to seize the opportunity at hand if the Steelers must call on him

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/19/2020 - 6:00am
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Steelers answer for their lack of depth at guard may turnout to be former seventh-round selection Derwin Gray.

The Pittsburgh Steelers enter into Week 2 of the 2020 NFL season looking for answers to their depth issues along an offensive line that has been decimated by injuries at this early stage of the season. There are more questions than answers at this point, but the Steelers have no choice but to find the necessary answers to get where they ultimately want to go. That would be on stage lifting another Lombardi Trophy after the Super Bowl.

Not every question currently facing the Steelers coaching staff will have a simple black or white answer. Actually, when it comes to the Steelers offensive line depth issues, the answer may very well be Derwin Gray.

Until Friday, Derwin Gray resided on the Steelers practice squad. He was one of the four players who the Steelers designated as protected in Week 2 for a reason. And now we know why.

Last season, Derwin Gray was a seventh-round selection from Maryland that impressed the Steelers coaches enough during training camp and the preseason that he was signed to the practice squad for a "redshirt" season. He says he utilized that time to fully heal from a knee injury suffered his junior year, and to show position versatility by learning to play guard. This is where his story gets really interesting.

Gray took full advantage of his time at the feet of a master tactician, the since retired Ramon Foster. Foster served as a mentor of sorts for the young man, and who better to receive instruction from than a former UDFA who managed to overcome his own limited athleticism and become a vital member of one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

Both men were speaking the same language so to speak, one classic overachiever to hopefully another.

After not having any preseason games to show all that he had learned from the Big Ragu in live competition, he failed to make the final roster at a position filled with proven depth and potential. Oh how times have changed.

With David Decastro still sidelined by a nagging knee injury suffered during camp, the Steelers turned to veteran Stephen Wisniewski to hold the fort at right guard in Week 1. Late in the Steelers Monday night victory over the New York Giants, Wisniewski went down with a pectoral injury. The very next play, right tackle Zach Banner was lost for the season with a ACL injury. The Steelers solid offensive line depth disappeared in two plays.

Now the Steelers are preparing to face the Denver Broncos Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. The status of Decastro and Wisniewski was quite grim all week, and on Friday they were both declared out on the Steelers injury report.

How bad is it? The Steelers are looking at the very real possibility that they will be forced to start rookie Kevin Dotson at right guard, along side new right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. It’s definitely not ideal, but the Steelers will have to make the best of a bad situation.

Even if Dotson starts and performs admirably, the Steelers presently have no player listed at guard to back up the starters on the depth chart. This is why I felt the Steelers would be wise to promote Gray to the active roster, which they did on Friday when they placed Wisniewski on the Reserve/Injured List. Gray has the aforementioned position versatility, because he also can play right tackle.

The Steelers do have J.C. Hassenauer already on the roster, but he is basically a backup center who could possibly fill in at guard in a pinch. The other linemen on the practice squad are both tackles only.

Sometimes one man's misfortune turns out to be another man's good fortune. In this case, it may have taken multiple player's misfortune, but Derwin Gray may just seize the opportunity and run with it.

Podcast: Slow start but she’ll be right

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/19/2020 - 5:30am

BTSC continues to offer new podcast for your Steelers listening pleasure. Check out our latest weekly venture with an international flavor. Put another shrimp on the barbie and check out Steelers Touchdown Under with two blokes from Australia, Matty Peverell and Mark Davison.

G’Day Mates! Now that the Steelers have played a regular season affair, Aussie blokes are back and thrilled to talk some real Steelers football from an Australian state of mind. Join Matty Peverell and Mark Davison from Steelers Nation Australia (and the future) as they bring an international perspective to the opener, the upcoming Steelers/Broncos matchup and much, much more. This is what will be discussed on the Touchdown Under, the newest sensation from the BTSC family of podcasts.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Overall reaction to Week 1
  • Standout performances - position groups and individual players
  • Difference makers for the Steelers and Broncos
  • Slingin’ the slang
  • Punts
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

PFF shines light on the Steelers Week 1 win, and the rookies who contributed

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/19/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

PFF dives into the Week 1 games prior to the Steelers turning the page onto Week 2.

The Pittsburgh Steelers Week 1 win over the New York Giants was certainly noteworthy for a lot of reasons. Whether it was Ben Roethlisberger’s return to the NFL after missing almost all of last season, the injuries sustained along the offensive line or even the rookies who had a hand in the win.

Plenty of headlines came out of the team’ first game, and first win, of the 2020 regular season.

But what trumped all others, as it pertains to the win, according to the folks at Pro Football Focus? The folks at PFF highlight players who played well, and those who didn’t, in their recaps. Here is what they had to say about the Steelers win on Monday Night Football:

STORY OF THE GAME

Many of the overall offensive stats ended up looking close, as the Steelers allowed the Giants to chew clock late and put a score up to flatter the end result a little, but Pittsburgh forced critical turnovers, including the first red-zone interception of Jones’ young NFL career. Conversely, while the Steelers put the ball on the ground with fumbles on multiple occasions, they were able to recover them to prevent further damage. Even an early muffed punt recovered by the Giants at Pittsburgh’s 3-yard line became only a field goal.

Perhaps no stat better shows this 2020 defensive unit’s impression of the Steel Curtain than the Giants’ rushing numbers. They had 24 net rushing yards, and their backs were hit 1.3 yards behind the line of scrimmage on average.

Roethlisberger’s return to action after missing almost all of 2019 started a little slowly, but things started to click for the Steelers once he got into a rhythm; he found an impressive connection with all four of his top wide receivers. Roethlisberger found himself under pressure at times, but it tended to come late in the play. When he was in rhythm, the passing offense looked like it could become something extremely formidable over the season.

Though Jones made a few nice plays, the Giants’ offense was just overmatched by Pittsburgh’s defense and, in particular, the pressure packages that they deployed to keep pace on the scoreboard.

PFF also highlights rookies who performed well, and the Steelers’ top two picks made the list:

ROOKIE WATCH

Steelers rookie receiver Chase Claypool looks set to continue the team’s incredible draft record at the position. He didn’t play many snaps (just 14 of 57 offensive plays), but he made a spectacular sideline catch from a Roethlisberger pass as well as a short catch and a late end-around to seal the victory.

Edge defender Alex Highsmith saw 10 snaps on defense for Pittsburgh as well, notching one defensive stop and chasing after Jones on one play as he escaped from the pocket.

It is now time to turn away from the Giants win, and look ahead to the Denver Broncos game in Week 2 at Heinz Field. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the upcoming game.

Friday Night Six Pack of questions and open thread: Week 2 Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/18/2020 - 5:45pm
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

There is always something to talk about when it comes to the black-and-gold!

It’s Friday again, so it’s time for the six pack of questions. It seems as if Jeff and Dave come to a consensus in cutting to the chase...

This week, I, Jeff, will be tasked with the questions up for discussion.

The rules are still the same...

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.

Procedural Note: Since the title feature has gone away, please feel free to leave your usual title as the first line of your response and even bold it if you can for the ease of others.

So here we go! With the formalities out of the way, it’s time to jump on in. Hopefully this party is exactly what you’re looking for on a Friday night. Here goes:

1. When the Steelers aren’t playing, how do you handle the NFL schedule? Do you watch as many games as possible, or do you just watch the Steelers and that’s it?

2. There were a lot of kicks missed this season, and several teams have already made changes at the position. If you were a coach, how long of a leash do you give kickers? There is the Josh Scobee performances, and then there is 2018 Chris Boswell. When do you pull the trigger and move on?

3. If James Conner and Benny Snell Jr. are the two main backs, what should be the division of labor between the two?

4. Let’s play some OVER/UNDER!!

Ben Roethlisberger TD passes: 2.5
Steelers Turnovers: 1
Steelers Takeaways: 2
Defensive Points allowed: 13

5. Which member of the secondary will have the Steelers’ first interception of 2020?

6. There are no fans at Heinz Field this Sunday for Steelers vs. Broncos, but this question is two-fold:

  • If they allowed tailgating before the game, even though you couldn’t attend the game, would you go?
  • If so, what food are you taking to the tailgate? If you aren’t going, what is your go-to game day dish?

Stay safe out there!

And it wouldn’t be a Friday night unless we said...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

We added some new shows and a new platform to our podcasts...if you haven’t checked out Jeff’s new morning show Let’s Ride, Bryan and Tony’s Steelers Retro Show or Dave’s Steelers Stat Geek, or even the new evening shows, give them a try by listening below!

Steelers Injury Report: DeCastro, Wisniewski ruled out for Sunday vs. Broncos

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/18/2020 - 3:27pm
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Steelers’ Friday practice report looks identical to Thursday’s.

The Pittsburgh Steelers held their final practice in preparation for their matchup Sunday with the Denver Broncos. In the final injury report of the week courtesy of the Steelers PR department, David DeCastro and Stefen Wisniewski have been ruled out while no other players carry an injury status.

With both the starter and primary reserve out at right guard for the Steelers, all indications point to rookie fourth-round draft pick Kevin Dotson to get his first NFL start in his second NFL game. Although considered a future starter for the Steelers, Dotson being forced to step into a starting role so early is not something the Steelers had planned on. But as head coach Mike Tomlin often says, “Next man up.”

Not only will Dotson be stepping in it right guard for the Steelers, Chukwuma Okorafor will be sliding into the right tackle position in place of Zach Banner who had ACL surgery on Friday and will be out for the remainder of the 2020 season.

Another question about the Dotson will be who will be acting as a reserve. The Steelers have guard/center J.C. Hassenauer and a newly signed tackle Jerald Hawkins on the roster. With the Steelers able to dress eight offensive lineman, chances are they will be elevating one of their practice squad players for the game by using the new rule for the 2020 season. If the Steelers choose to not elevate another offensive lineman for the game, they will have to play with only 47 active players on the roster, something they accidentally did in Week 1.

The most likely candidate to be elevated from the practice squad for the Steelers for Week 2 is 2019 seventh-round draft pick Derwin Gray. The other candidates are tackles Anthony Coyle and Jarron Jones who fill out the teams offensive lineman on the practice squad.

UPDATE: The Steelers have placed Stefen Wisniewski on the Reserve/Injured List and promoted Derwin Gray to the active roster. Wisniewski must spend at least three weeks on the list before returning to the team.

Running back James Conner was also able to practice for the second straight day on Friday and looks to play on Sunday. Whether or not Conner will get the start or if it will be Benny Snell Jr. remains to be seen. Snell rushed for 113 yards filling in for Conner after he left Monday night’s game against the Giants with an ankle injury.

As for the Broncos’ injury report, you can see the names below:

Phillip Lindsay, Mark Barron are OUT, three players are questionable on the final injury report for #DENvsPIT: pic.twitter.com/8GtdqpLkcI

— Aric DiLalla (@AricDiLalla) September 18, 2020

For a recap of the injury report, check out the BTSC Steelers Injury Update podcast below:

Steelers place Stefen Wisniewski on Injured Reserve, promote Derwin Gray

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/18/2020 - 2:23pm
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have placed free agent acquisition Stefen Wisniewski on Injured Reserve and promoted Derwin Gray to their active roster.

The Pittsburgh Steelers announced following Friday’s practice they have placed center/guard Stefen Wisniewski on the Reserve/Injured List and have promoted offensive lineman Derwin Gray from the practice squad.

This from the official Steelers Twitter account:

We have placed OL Stefen Wisniewski on the Reserve/Injured list and promoted T Derwin Gray from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.@BordasLawhttps://t.co/ifKfrUJ4wA

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 18, 2020

The roster move is more about the pectoral injury Wisniewski suffered in the Steelers’ Week 1 win over the New York Giants than Gray’s promotion. However, when it comes specifically to the Steelers Week 2 match up against the Denver Broncos Sunday at 1 PM at Heinz Field, the Steelers will need all the help they can get along their offensive line.

With adjusted rules for the 2020 season, players going on Injured Reserve (IR) only have to miss three weeks before they can return, if the Steelers felt Wisnewski was not going to be available for the next three games, the decision to place him on the reserve list was wise as it didn’t waste a precious roster spot.

The Steelers will now have eight healthy offensive linemen on the roster going into Sunday’s game, and they will all be able to dress as part of the teams’ 48-man active roster. If teams do not have eight offensive linemen, the most roster spots they can use for each game in 2020 is 47 players.

If the Steelers felt Wisniewski was able to return prior to Week 5, they simply could have used the new practice squad elevation rule in order to promote Gray just for this week‘s matchup. By placing Wisniewski on IR, it’s apparent the Steelers do not feel he will be available for the next several weeks.

The Steelers look to play their second game of the 2020 season with somewhat of a patchwork offensive line. Although Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, and Maurkice Pouncey all got the start in Week 1, rookie guard Kevin Dotson looks to get his first NFL start at right guard with Chukwuma Okorafor taking over the right tackle responsibilities after Zach Banner was lost for the season with an ACL injury. The Steelers three reserve offensive linemen for Sunday’s game will be J.C. Hassenauer, Jerald Hawkins, and Derwin Grey.

Stay tuned to BTSC for all your Steelers news leading up to their second game of the 2020 season as they take on the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field at 1 PM this Sunday.

Cam Heyward recognized by NFLPA for his work in the community

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/18/2020 - 1:30pm
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Heyward’s literacy program in Pittsburgh communities earned him the honor for Week 1

The NFL Players Association has named Steelers captain Cameron Heyward their Community MVP for Week 1 of the 2020 season.

Congrats to @camheyward on being named Week 1 #CommunityMVP for installing his first Little Free Library. The book-sharing boxes provide 24-7 access to literacy for underserved Pittsburgh communities while honoring the legacy in education of his late grandfather. pic.twitter.com/uKwbnz28A1

— NFLPA (@NFLPA) September 18, 2020

Heywards work in the community is a literacy program for underserved communities around Pittsburgh and is named in honor of his grandparents according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Steelers’ DL Cam Heyward named Week 1 NFLPA Community MVP for installing several Little Free Libraries in underserved communities across the Pittsburgh area. His efforts mark the official launch of the Rufus and Judy Jordan Literacy project, which is named after his grandparents.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 18, 2020

Heyward is the second recipient of the ward this season as the NFLPA handed out a “Week 0” MVP to Kevin Byard of the Tennessee Titans for his work distributing distance learning kits for needy families in the Nashville community.

The most recent member of the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the NFLPA community MVP award was Mark Barron in Week 12 of last season. Barron’s recognition came for distributing Thanksgiving turkeys to underprivileged families in Alabama.

By being named a weekly Community MVP, Heyward now becomes eligible for the NFLPA Alan Page Community Award which is considered the highest honor the NFLPA can award a player.

To be eligible for the Community MVP award, the following rules and conditions are outlined on the NFLPA website:

Each week during the regular season, we will recognize one active NFL player who has demonstrated a commitment to making a positive impact in his community. For being named Community MVP, the NFLPA will make a $10,000 donation to the player’s foundation or charity of choice. In addition, our new partner Pledge It will set up a crowdfunding campaign where supporters can pledge donations to the player’s cause based on their on-the-field performances during the season. The weekly Community MVP winners will also become eligible for the annual Alan Page Community Award, which is the highest honor that the NFLPA can bestow upon a player.

Community MVPs will be selected by a committee of NFLPA staff. Community MVPs will be announced on Friday of each week in order to gain maximum promotional exposure. Each week’s runner-ups will be recognized by name and with a photo and description of their charity work on the following Tuesday in a social media post. Once a player has been named Community MVP, he is not eligible to win again during the same season. Players will vary by positions and by NFL teams.

Players must meet the following criteria to be considered for Community MVP: Charitable/community initiative is organized and led by an individual player and/or his foundation (not an NFL team or sponsor-led initiative). Player should be active with a specific cause or through his foundation. The community/charitable initiative should have taken place within the one-week period (Thursday of the preceding week to Wednesday of the current week) before the Community MVP is announced. Player should have participated in recent community work or held other recent events. From the pool of weekly Community MVPs, a distinguished panel of judges will choose five finalists for the Alan Page Community Award, each of whom will receive an additional $10,000. From those five finalists, the active player membership will vote for the APC Award winner, who will receive $100,000 for his foundation or charity of choice.

The Alan Page Community Award (previously known as the Byron “Whizzer” White NFL Man of the Year Award prior to 2018) has been awarded every year since 1967. The award winner has been a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers four times in the award’s 54 years. The most recent award winner was Charlie Batch in 2013. The other three previous winners for the Steelers were Franco Harris in 1982, Rocky Bleier 1975, and Andy Russell in 1973.

Congratulations to Cam Heyward for his recognition of all he does for his community! The Rufus and Judy Jordan Literacy Project is one for several projects of The Heyward House, a charitable foundation founded by Heyward in 2015.

For more information about how to get involved with The Heyward House, visit thecameronheywardfoundation.org for ways to donate or volunteer.

A 2019 draft-day trade will be highlighted in Steelers vs. Broncos

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/18/2020 - 12:30pm
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The trade that helped the Steelers draft Devin Bush will be in the spotlight on Sunday.

Let’s wind the clock back to 2018.

The Steelers had a solid team, led by the offensive firepower of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster were both enjoying career years, while the defense was led by the talent of T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Joe Haden.

It was a playoff-caliber roster, with playmakers at nearly every position.

However, there was a gaping hole at inside linebacker.

It looked as if the Steelers had planned on drafting one before the season even started, but they watched from the 28th overall slot as Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, Leighton Vander-Esch, and Rashaan Evans, the top prospects at the position, were all taken ahead of their selection. Instead, the team went with safety Terrell Edmunds, Tremaine’s older brother, as their first round pick. The middle of their defense went undressed that draft.

Pittsburgh entered the 2018 season with veterans Vince Williams and Jon Bostic as their starters at the middle linebacker spot. Even though both were more than capable at stopping the run, their lack of sideline-to-sideline ability and pass coverage skills showed throughout the course of the year.

The Steelers clearly hadn’t done enough to address their inside linebacker problem, and their lack of athleticism at the position was an Achilles heel for the defense all year. The front office’s failure to address the position was one of the main reasons the team missed the playoffs that year.

Entering the 2019 draft, the Steelers’ main priority was to do what they could not the year prior: Draft an inside linebacker.

There was one problem, though. The Steelers were picking at the 20th overall selection, but the only linebackers worth a first round pick, Devin White and Devin Bush, would definitely be gone before Pittsburgh was on the clock.

White was taken in the top 5, and with 15 more picks to go, the Steelers recognized they would have to do something if they wanted Devin Bush. With the Broncos on the clock for the 10th overall pick, the Steelers traded up and selected the new centerpiece for their defense. It wasn't cheap, however. The Steelers had to trade their 2019 first round pick (20th overall), their 2019 second rounder (52nd overall), their 2020 third rounder (it would turn out to be 83rd overall) - all for the Bronco’s 2019 first round pick (10th overall).

That tenth overall pick turned out to be Devin Bush, of course. For the Broncos, their new first round pick from the Steelers turned into tight end Noah Fant. Denver continued wheeling and dealing after the Bush trade, sending their new second round pick to Cincinnati along with their fourth and sixth round picks that year to trade up in the second round and select quarterback Drew Lock. With their new third round pick in the following year, Denver selected LSU interior offensive lineman Lloyd Cushenberry III.

To recap, the Steelers came out of the trade with Devin Bush, while the Broncos ended up with Fant, most of the draft capital they used to draft Lock, and Cushenberry.

I’ve written before on which team ‘won’ this trade, as the Steelers got exactly what they needed in a game-changing middle linebacker. The Broncos ended up with three starters, one of which has the makings of a future franchise quarterback. It looks as if Denver got the most value, but the Steelers’ need for Bush that year cannot be understated. If they had ended up with Denver’s draft haul instead they would have been much worse off.

It can be argued that Denver won the trade, but Pittsburgh certainly didn't lose it.

Both teams made high-risk trades that they needed to make for the future success of their franchises, and got exactly what they wanted. However, with the players in question still incredibly young, their careers are very far from being decided. Bush is really the only one out of the four to have clearly established himself as an above-average starter in the league.

With their careers so closely linked, and a lot more of their stories to be written, all four players will be taking the field on Sunday when the Denver Broncos come to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. It’s rare to get such a side-by-side comparison of a trade in the NFL, but there's a high chance all four players will be on the field at the same time in the upcoming game. Lock, Fant, and Cushenberry will be leading Denver’s young offense, while Devin Bush will be manning the middle of Pittsburgh’s feisty defense.

There's a good chance that the play of the Bush, Fant, Lock, and Cushenberry will all be large factors in the outcome of Sunday’s game. The matchup of Bush and Fant, both athletic playmakers, could be visited often as both young players have taken up large roles with their respective teams.

The outcome of Sunday’s game won’t be a definitive verdict on whether Denver or Pittsburgh came out on top in their trade, but fans will get a front row seat in watching one of 2019’s biggest roster moves play out on the field on Sunday.

Make sure to stay tuned to BTSC for more news and analysis leading up to Week 2’s matchup with the Denver Broncos.

Expert Picks: Why experts are all-in on the Steelers over the Broncos

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/18/2020 - 11:30am
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Checking in to see who the experts like in Steelers vs. Broncos at Heinz Field in Week 2.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos are about to do battle at Heinz Field on Sunday in Week 2 of NFL action, and there are a lot of uncertainties surrounding both AFC teams heading into this game.

For the Steelers, the concern is about their offensive line. Likely without Stefen Wisniewski and David DeCastro, this would push rookie Kevin Dotson into a starting role in just his second professional game. Also, after Zach Banner tore his ACL in the Monday night win over the New York Giants, the team will turn to Chukwuma Okorafor to anchor the right side of the line.

As for the Broncos, they will likely be without A.J. Bouye, Phillip Lindsay and Von Miller will be out of the lineup for months before he could possibly return to the Broncos defense.

Talk about a ton of injuries for both teams, and it is just Week 2 of the 2020 regular season. Nonetheless, experts are making their picks prior to the slate of games this weekend, and it is time to check in and see who they like in this matchup between the Broncos and Steelers.

The expert panel at ESPN is a slam dunk for the Steelers. Not one of their experts is predicting an upset win over for Denver on the road, but have no fear, the haters at SB Nation are always good for someone to pick against the Steelers. Of all their experts who make weekly picks, only one thinks the Steelers lose at home in Week 2.

Those experts just provide winners, but some will expand on their picks and give a reasoning behind their selection.

Will Brinson of CBS Sports gave his prediction for the upcoming game between AFC foes:

Two Monday night teams coming off short rest will do battle in Pittsburgh’s home opener, and it’s hard to not feel bad for Drew Lock in this spot. He flashed at times against Tennessee in Week 1 and I think he can do the same against the Steelers, a la Daniel Jones. But Denver is banged up, on short rest, traveling halfway across the country and about to play an elite defense. I don’t think the Broncos defense can hold up against Pittsburgh over 60 minutes.

Pick: Steelers 28, Broncos 16

There are other experts at CBS Sports who also make their picks, and expound on their reasoning, and one would be Pete Prisco. See what Prisco had to say about the upcoming Steelers’ Week 2 showdown:

The Broncos are banged up and playing on a short week with a long trip. Bad combination. The Steelers will also be playing on a short week, but they are at home. They looked like a Super Bowl contender against the Giants and they will have that same look here. Steelers big.

Pick: Steelers 30, Broncos 16

The folks at Sporting News gave their thoughts on the upcoming game at Heinz Field:

Both of these teams are playing on short weeks, which in theory works in favor of the team that doesn’t have to deal with travel. The Steelers have realistic title aspirations in 2020 with Ben Roethlisberger back in the lineup to support a dominant defense. The Broncos are not yet on that level, especially without their best player, Von Miller.

Pick: Steelers 28, Broncos 17

The kicker in this situation is these are only a handful of websites who actually do weekly picks of games. What about all those other smaller sites who have experts who do their best to select winners every week for the world to see?

This is where NFL Pick Watch comes in. The folks at NFL Pick Watch take all NFL expert picks and put them into an easy-to-read graph giving percentages of experts, and which way they are leaning.

For the Steelers and Broncos game, 93% of the experts are believing the Steelers will be advancing their record to 2-0, while plummeting the Broncos’ record to 0-2.

Will the experts be right, and the Steelers win at home? Or will the Broncos come into Heinz Field and pull off the upset? Only time will tell, but be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Broncos this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

Podcast: Can the Steelers’ patchwork line hold up in Week 2?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/18/2020 - 11:00am

BTSC’s Jeff Hartman, Dave Schofield and Bryan Anthony Davis talk news of the day, Steelers receivers and more, while mixing in fun and frivolity like only they do.

The Steelers were victorious in Week 1 on Monday Nigh, but their already hobbled offensive line took an ever bigger hit with the injuries to Zach Banner and Stephan Wisniewski on back-to-back plays. With David DeCastro already out, barely proven Chuks Okorafor and completely unproven Kevin Dotson will be tasked with holding down the right side of the offensive line. But can they hold up? This is the subject that will be discussed and speculated on in the latest edition in the flagship show 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 and there you have the topic for the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview with Jeff Hartman, Dave Schofield and Bryan Anthony Davis. Join the triumphant trio as they combine the down all things Steelers and with shenanigans galore.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Injury Report
  • Updated Odds
  • Players to Watch
  • X-Factor
  • Fantasy FocusPredictions
  • Trivia

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

Outdated or not, Keith Butler’s weekly objective is stopping the run

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/18/2020 - 10:45am

The Steelers’ defensive coordinator is sticking to his guns as it pertains to the primary goal of his unit on a weekly basis.

Throughout the last decade the NFL has seen a shift in offensive philosophy. The goal is no longer to establish the run, and eventually open up the passing game, but now has turned to using the passing game to move the offense down the field.

You can’t blame the change of approach considering the rules put in place to protect the quarterback and receivers.

But even though the game might be changing doesn’t mean defense has been making such a drastic shift in overall philosophy. The athletes who are deployed, and the packages they use, might have changed, but for many, including Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive coordinator Keith Butler, the goal remains as tried and true as always.

Stop the run first.

This was always preached by Hall of Fame coach Dick LeBeau in his time with the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. Take away the run, make a team one dimensional and then you can go into attack mode.

Fans shouldn’t forget Butler comes from the same coaching tree as Butler.

“A lot of people think it’s outdated, but I don’t.” Butler told media via Zoom Thursday. “Everybody in the league comes in thinking the passing game is bigger, more exciting, stuff like that for the NFL. They come in thinking they are going to throw the ball a little bit more, but if you look at the people who were successful last year, what did they do? You know, you look at Tennessee and that big back they have. That got them pretty deep in the playoffs. You look at Kansas City. Kansas City has a good throwing team. They do a great job at throwing the ball, but they did run the ball too. You look at the Ravens. They were probably the top-running team in the league, and look how far—they won our division, stuff like that.

“The run is still very, very important, and it’s still very, very important to us to stop the run and get them in situations where we know they are going to throw the football and then try to defend them in those circumstances.”

If the goal is to stop the run every week, the Steelers achieved that with flying colors. Against the Giants they held Giants’ All-Pro running back Saquon Barkley to 6 yards on 15 carries for a .4 yards per rush average.

No, that is not a typo.

The Steelers will have another tough test in Week 2 when the Denver Broncos and Melvin Gordon come to town. Stopping the run and forcing the game to be played out of Drew Lock’s hand is the Steelers’ best chance at moving their record from 1-0 to 2-0.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the Broncos at Heinz Field this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

Plenty of young Steelers players showed up and showed out in Week 1

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/18/2020 - 10:00am
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Multiple Steelers youngsters showed the future looks bright in Pittsburgh based on their performances against the Giants.

One game into the 2020 NFL season, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have plenty of positives to be excited about. A far different situation than a mere year ago, when the Steelers had to endure a thorough beat down at the hands of the New England Patriots to open the season. The first stage of the Ben Roethlisberger 2020 Comeback Tour took place in front of a national television audience on Monday Night Football in New York City. Ben's return was a smashing success, and the Steelers opened the campaign with a victory. It doesn't get any better than that, Steelers Nation.

There was plenty of other positive developments to get excited about besides Ben's triumphant return. Benny Snell ran the ball like an individual that has no intentions on standing on the sidelines for any length of time. JuJu Smith Schuster looked like the joyful, fun loving young superstar that we had all come to know and love. James Washington showed off his Grandpa strength and determination on a truly impressive touchdown reception. Finally, Chase Claypool confirmed all the hype was justified. It's only one game, but that young man definitely doesn't look like a rookie playing in the first game of his NFL career. Just how good was he Monday night? He was the highest rated rookie receiver in week one according to PFF. All that good news only covers the offensive side of the ball.

The Steelers defense came out in an all out attack mode on the Giants backfield, repeatedly attacking the line of scrimmage. The Steelers defenders responded well to the uber aggressive approach. While the unit as a whole only registered three official sacks on the stat sheet, the Steelers defenders disrupted and dominated the line of scrimmage throughout the game. It was a defensive performance that superstar RB Saquon Barkley will not soon forget.

The Steelers defensive stars did what stars do, they shined. Particularly the front seven, which should come as no surprise. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are arguably the best tandem in the league. Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt are the best set of edge players in the NFL, and they played like it Monday night. Notice I didn't say edge rushers, because they are outstanding against the run also. Vince Williams was a battering ram against the run, and an effective pass rusher. Fellow inside linebacker Devin Bush utilized his speed and athleticism to it's full effect against both the run and pass.

Enough about the Steelers proven starters, my initial intention in writing this article was to focus on the Steelers young, unproven depth players, particularly as it pertains to the front seven on defense. Throughout the game, I repeatedly found myself pleasantly surprised by the performance of the Steelers young depth pieces.

Before I delve into those performances, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the above the line play throughout the game by defensive tackle Tyson Alualu. He tied up multiple blockers when possible, and penetrated into the backfield often when going one on one. Hopefully the very real pain being felt by those yearning for a nose tackle have been alleviated for the near future.

The aforementioned young backups that impressed me enough to want to write this article were none other than OLB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, OLB Alex Highsmith, and ILB Robert Spillane. Admittedly, I have a tendency to focus on the linebackers during each defensive play, but I was actually impressed by what I witnessed.

Adeniyi made his presence known the moment he stepped on the field. If he wasn't quickly disposing of a blocker and making a tackle for a loss against the running game, he was applying pressure on Giants QB Daniel Jones, once crawling on his hands and knees trying to trip up the quarterback. Outstanding effort, even if it proved futile in the end. Those kind of efforts don't go unnoticed and will earn him more minutes and the trust of his teammates.

The same could be said about rookie OLB Alex Highsmith. Like Claypool on offense, Highsmith looked like he belonged on the field playing outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In an effort to clarify that statement I will offer this comparison. The Steelers recently parted ways with a OLB depth piece that enjoyed multiple seasons on the roster, although he played on defense sparingly, and was no threat to make an impact play unless the ball found it's way to the area of the field he was standing in. I will leave it at that.

Highsmith was perpetually in motion, consistently attacking the line of scrimmage and defeating the blocker. One play in particular he pursued the athletic Daniel Jones clear across the field in close pursuit, only to have Jones toss the ball out of bounds at the last second to avoid the sack. Frustrating to be sure, but impressive none the less.

As great as the Dupree/Watt tandem is at the moment, with both guys in the prime of their careers, even they need a breather from time to time to stay energized and playing up to their abilities. The Steelers coaching staff has to feel encouraged by what they saw out of these two youngsters Monday night.

Inside linebacker Robert Spillane was the great unknown heading into the season. One game doesn't provide all the answers, but Spillane was aggressive and always around the ball while maintaining the integrity of each assignment. He played much quicker than many were expecting I feel certain. He appears to have been taking full advantage of his time with the cerebral Vince Williams, a player who knows a thing or two about playing in the NFL with limited athleticism.

I haven't even mentioned the quality play of young defensive linemen Isaiah Buggs and Chris Wormley, or the surprising decision to place Redman Award winner Ulysees Gilbert lll on the inactive list. That will be a discussion point of a future article more than likely.

Every victory only counts as a single number on the right side of the ledger, but some wins just feel more important than others. Monday night's victory gave a glimpse into the future, and the future looks bright.

Steelers sign safety John Battle to the practice squad

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/18/2020 - 9:26am
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

The former LSU Tiger takes the place of Curtis Riley who recently signed with the Arizona Cardinals.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have filled their open practice squad position left when safety Curtis Riley signed with the Arizona Cardinals earlier this week. The Steelers have brought back safety John Battle who spent the 2020 training camp with Pittsburgh.

John Battle has been added to the practice squad (DB - Louisiana State)

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 18, 2020

Undrafted out of Louisiana State University in 2019, Battle was originally signed by the New York Jets. However, Battle was released by the Jets in early June. Battle was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two months later once training camp was already underway. In fact, the Buccaneers added Battle just two days before they faced the Steelers in their opening preseason game last year.

During the 2019 preseason, Battle had a total of four tackles. Although he did not make the Buccaneers 53-man roster, Battle was signed to the practice squad.

In his four years at LSU, Battle had 144 tackles, five interceptions, and two forced fumbles.

The signing of battle keeps the Steelers practice squad with their full slate of 16 players. Along with Steelers 2020 sixth-round draft pick Antoine Brooks Jr., the Steelers have two safeties on the practice squad as well as one cornerback in Trajan Bandy.

The Steelers current practice squad consists of three defensive backs, one linebacker, two defensive lineman, two running back‘s, one quarterback, one tight end, three offensive linemen, and one kicker.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for player news, injury updates, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare to take on the Denver Broncos this Sunday at 1 PM at Heinz Field.

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