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What’s the more exciting Steelers event to attend: Training camp or a preseason game?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 6:00am
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Is it more exciting to attend a Steelers training camp practice or a Steelers preseason game? It’s so tough to decide.

The Steelers are roughly five weeks away from arriving at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., for yet another summer of training camp in preparation for the 2022 regular season. Speaking of preparation, Pittsburgh is about seven weeks away from playing its first tune-up game, which is to say a preseason affair against the Seahawks at Heinz Field on August, 13.

I’ve been to both events more than a few times in the past—training camp practices and preseason games—but I just can’t decide which one is more appealing.

It’s common for me to get an invite or two to training camp once practices open up to the public, and I always get offered free tickets to preseason games.

Will I attend one or both events this year, and which one will I enjoy more?

Training camp is a rather chill affair for me, mainly because I normally go by myself (I never said I accept the invites to go with other people, other than when children ask me to take them, of course—I’m not a total monster, but they have to pay for everything, including gas and tolls).

Preseason games are another matter. Sure, the outcome is fake, but everything else is like a real game. The beer is the same price as it is at a real game. Parking is the same price. The whines from the children to buy them hotdogs and jerseys are just as loud and annoying. I can go on, but I won’t. I realize I usually get offered a free ticket to a preseason game, but after spending money on beer, parking and a jersey just to say, “Thanks,” I may as well have financed a new car.

What about accommodations?

Let’s face it, for as much as I love the late, great Chuck Noll, the stands at his field are always full. I seriously have not been able to sit on those bleachers since 2009, and I often go during the week. Don’t people have jobs? Are they at camp while on vacation? Anyway, the lack of available seats at Chuck Noll Field means I have to try and pop a squat on that painful hillside. And it’s just not painful, either. I always feel like I’m sliding down the hill, and I constantly have to readjust my “squat.” What about the heat? Wow. It’s one thing to work out in that kind of heat while wearing 20 pounds of football equipment. Try sitting there bored out of your mind while the sun is beating down on your semi-bald head, and you’re listening to other fans clamor for Jordan Dangerfield’s autograph—no disrespect to him, I tell ya’, no disrespect at all.

Preseason games are much better when it comes to seating. I know I have a seat going in because that’s part of the deal when you buy (or are given a free) ticket. The seats are comfortable enough. Yes, it might be rather hot, but at least these “games” usually occur in the evening. Yeah, but what about always having to move my “squat” because that big guy three seats down won’t stop getting up to go buy “cotton candy”? The struggle is real.

What I really like to do when I’m at a training camp practice or a preseason game is just sit and talk to someone.

But if I do go to training camp with someone, like my nine-year-old niece back in 2018, all they want to do is talk about JuJu Smith-Schuster. “Where’s JuJu?” “Do you think I can get JuJu’s autograph?” “Do you think JuJu will do the floss dance?” She had no desire to learn anything about her uncle that day. My nickname is T.J. Did she want my autograph? Did she ask me how many sacks I recorded while playing for the Sheraden Vikings back in 1984? No. I still can’t believe I drove her back home.

Preseason games are actually better for sitting around and shooting the breeze. But nobody is interested in talking to you there, either, unless you’re in their section with a ticket you got from a friend. Then, it’s the Spanish Inquisition, “How do you know Bill? Good guy. He ain’t coming? What’s he doing, loafin’?” It’s like when you park near someone’s house, and the owner comes out and asks, “Can I help you?” No, you can’t, person who doesn’t own the street around your house.

I never know what I’m watching while at a training camp practice—it could be a drill, or it could be stretching.

I never know who I’m watching while at a preseason game—it could be Jordan Dangerfield, or it could be Rodney.

Oh well, it’s hard to say which event is better, but at least JuJu won’t be around to take attention away from me this year.

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/23/2022 - 4:30am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers seasons come and go with no real offseason, at least not for those diehard fans. For those fans, the preseason bleeds into the regular season, the regular season into the offseason, free agency and the NFL Draft. It is a vicious, never-ending cycle.

Nonetheless, we here at BTSC, and our podcast platform, are here with you every step of the way. In the past we have given you the podcasts in individual articles on the website but have decided to go with a ‘Podcast Roundup’ article which has the latest three podcasts for your enjoyment. The reasoning behind this is to take up less space on the site for the great written content we have at BTSC.

With that being said and typed, enjoy the shows below with a brief description of each show.

The War Room: Can Pickett be the Steelers’ pick fans wish for?

He played college football in the Steel City, has an All-American personality and loves the movie “Wedding Crashers”, but can Kenny Pickett be a franchise quarterback at the NFL level for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Check out BTSC’s Aussie perspective and stay a while with Matt Peverell in The Steelers War Room. Join Matty P. for his solo show as he examines the ins-and-outs of the Steelers in an attempt to put you in the mind of Art Rooney II, Mike Tomlin, Omar Khan, Brandon Hunt and Kevin Colbert when it comes to personnel.

Rundown of the show:

  • When will Kenny Pickett be QB1?
  • Much More

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

The Steelers Curtain Call: The crap shoot that is bringing players in after June 1

It’s the show where Geoffrey Benedict and Shannon White break down a black and gold off-season full of change in the manner in which they examine the enemy. Scenarios, questions and more will be pondered on the latest episode of the BTSC family of podcasts. This time around, Bryan Anthony Davis (subbing for Geoff) and Shannon welcome BTSC’s K.T. Smith to talk Larry Ogunjobi’s arrival to the Steelers.

  • News and Notes
  • A look at Larry Ogunjobi
  • Special Guest: K.T. Smith

Bryan and Shannon walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

The Steelers Stat Geek: Where do the Steelers pass catchers sit on the wide receiver totem pole?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a stable of talented wide receivers, but what level of the pass catching totem pole do the Steelers wideouts appear on? Thank goodness for the Stat Geek to break it all “dahn”. This is just one of the topics that will be discussed by Dave Schofield on the Thursday episode of the AM podcast lineup, “The Steelers Stat Geek”. Join BTSC’s Editor as he pulls out the Steelers slide rule and geeks out only like he can.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Steelers Wide Receivers
  • and more geeky numbers!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

Going For Two: Ulysees Gilbert III & Nate Gilliam

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/22/2022 - 2:30pm
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s Day 12 of Going For Two, featuring Ulysees Gilbert III and Nate Gilliam

Welcome to Going For Two! Over the 45 days leading up to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 training camp, we will be highlighting two players every day in order to cover the entire 90-man offseason roster. So without further ado, here are today’s two players:

Ulysees Gilbert III Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Position: Inside linebacker
Age: 24
Year: 4
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 230
Drafted: Round 6, Pick 207, 2019
College: Akron
Roster Outlook: Bubble
Analysis:

It seems like Ulysees Gilbert continues to hang on towards the bottom of the depth chart at inside linebacker. Despite appearing in 17 games last season, he only saw 36 defensive snaps compared to 337 on special teams. In fact, Gilbert only appeared on the field for the defense in two regular season games in 2021: Week 15 against the Chiefs and Week 16 against the Browns. Not viewed as a top option at inside linebacker based on his playing time, Gilbert’s special teams contributions keep him in the mix. Scoring a special teams touchdown on a Miles Killebrew blocked punt in Week 1 of 2021, Gilbert continued to get a helmet each week. But if the Steelers can find another option which adds more to the linebacking corps and still brings the special teams value, Gilbert could be on the outside looking in for 2022.

Nate Gilliam Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Guard
Age: 24
Year: 1
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 310
Drafted: UDFA, 2020 (Los Angeles Chargers)
College: Wake Forrest
Roster Outlook: Unlikely
Analysis:

Despite entering his third year of trying to catch on with an NFL team, Nate Gilliam has yet to appear in a regular season game. After a year with the Chargers, Gilliam was on the Steelers practice squad at two different points in 2021. Still eligible to participate in rookie minicamp, Gilliam is considered a first year player. When it comes to his possibility of making the team this season, his best bet would be to squeeze back on the practice squad again for 2022.

Be sure to check back everyday for another two players for the Steelers, and as we go along click back on previous articles listed below so you don’t miss a thing.

Will the Steelers make more moves, or are they content where they stand?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/22/2022 - 12:45pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made several moves, and it makes you wonder if they’re done or if more moves lie ahead.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been busy recently. After singing Minkah Fitzpatrick to a new 5-year contract last week, the team added defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi to their deep depth chart of defensive linemen. It has equated in the team’s salary cap space dwindling, and this begs the question if the team is done making moves this offseason?

The next move to be made, and why it hasn’t happened yet is a mystery, would likely be the singing of 2022 NFL Draft pick Kenny Pickett. Pickett isn’t just the only member of the Steelers’ seven player class left unsigned, but is also the last first round pick to sign on the dotted line.

Since this move is inevitable, you have to wonder if there are any other moves left for the team to make. Fans will tell you there are more moves to be made, but it doesn’t mean Omar Khan and Mike Tomlin agree with the assessment.

For instance, many will suggest the Steelers could add a veteran running back to their depth chart to help spell Najee Harris from time to time. Others will suggest bringing in another capable cornerback to bolster the proven depth at that position. Another option would be the team to give new contracts to some of their own players. Players like Chris Boswell or Diontae Johnson.

In a recent ESPN article written by Field Yates, he projected one final move for each NFL team before training camps begin. For Pittsburgh, he had them extending Diontae Johnson’s contract.

See what Yates’ thought process was behind the decision:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Extend wide receiver Diontae Johnson

The Steelers knocked off one major item from the to-do list when they extended safety Minkah Fitzpatrick on a record-setting deal for his position last week. Now, Johnson is put further into focus. He is just the latest in a string of outstanding wideouts drafted by the team not in the first round and deserves a lucrative deal. He is only 25 and has shown legitimate improvement in each of his first three seasons. The wide receiver market has exploded this offseason, so a deal with surely be a pricey one.

The suggestion of extending Johnson isn’t out of left field. In fact, anyone who has a platform of some kind has discussed this throughout the current offseason. However, agreeing on the value of Johnson is where things go off the rails. Johnson, coming off a Pro Bowl season, still has issues with drops, and where he stands among the league’s best receivers is up for debate.

As Yates suggests, the deal would be a pricey one for the Steelers. Is Khan willing to make that move, and allocate that kind of money into Johnson and his future with the team? Or is he a player the organization views as expendable and let’s walk in free agency?

If you don’t count JuJu Smith-Schuster’s one-year, void year laden, contract a year ago, the last receiver to get a second contract in Pittsburgh was Antonio Brown. In recent history, the team is more willing, and likely, to move on from a receiver than keep them in the fold. It is unknown whether Khan will take that same approach, or if he will blaze a new trail as it pertains to the retention of talent.

What do you think? Should the Steelers make another move before training camp? If so, what move would you make? Or would you prefer the Steelers to save some cap space for emergency, and be willing to roll it over to 2023 if need be?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the start of training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA on July 26th.

Mike Tomlin outlines the excitement, and uncertainty, of not having Ben Roethlisberger

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/22/2022 - 11:30am
Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

When Mike Tomlin joined the Pivot podcast, he talked about what it means not having Ben Roethlisberger under center anymore.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been known for a lot of things since they started the franchise in 1933. In the recent history of the franchise, the Steelers have been synonymous with Mike Tomlin. Since being named the head coach of the team in 2007, Tomlin has been through it all with the Steelers.

Championship wins.

Championship losses.

Tragedy.

Good times.

Bad times.

Through it all, Tomlin has been known to have a way with words. Whether it being in his weekly press conferences, or his rare occasion on an outside media source. Many fans might feel as it they’ve heard it all from Tomlin since being hired in 2007, but when he recently joined The Pivot Podcast, co-hosted by Ryan Clark, Fred Taylor and Channing Crowder, fans saw a different side of Tomlin.

An openness and willingness to share stories and wisdom never heard from other media outlets. It took a former player, and former NFL players, to bring it out of Tomlin. Throughout the entire hour-and-a-half podcast, which can be viewed at the bottom of the article, you can hear Tomlin talk about a myriad of topics. Hear him talk about his early years of coaching, stories about his time in Tampa Bay and even about what it will be like without having Ben Roethlisberger at the helm in 2022.

Tomlin’s answer to that question, was telling.

“First of all, the dude’s [Roethlisberger] talent. When you watch someone do something at a certain level for so long, it messes up your perception of what’s regular and what’s not” Tomlin said. “The dude’s arm talent was so special for so long. When you see special stuff every day, you get used to it. I’ve enjoyed that comfort, we’ve all enjoyed that comfort, I’m excited about being uncomfortable.”

Of course Roethlisberger’s talent was evident and on display for 18 seasons, but what about moving forward? How will Tomlin approach the next quarterback, whoever that may be.

“Yeah, we might not have the same type of quarterback play we’ve had, we might not have the special talent we’ve had, but we have capable dudes. And we’ve got a team.” said Tomlin.

One facet of the quarterback discussion which often times gets lost in the shuffle was brought up by Tomlin, and that would be the financial obligation to a franchise quarterback. Every team needs one, but it also comes at a cost. And heading into 2022 the Steelers don’t have that cost for the first time in a long time.

“We’re also not allocating the damn money that we’ve allocated at the position in the past.” Tomlin said. “So there’s a redistribution of the money, so there better be a redistribution of the playmaking.”

Nonetheless, Tomlin knows moving forward without Roethlisberger isn’t as easy as a few catchy phrases. It’s going to be difficult.

“I just view the challenges of what lies ahead in that way. First of all, I’m looking forward to the anxiety associated with that uncertainty. To have to stand and deliver, to live out what we believe in — the standard is the standard.

“It’s like McDonald’s. You know what a No. 1 is. It doesn’t matter what corner of the globe, a No. 1 is a No. 1, and that’s what I want Pittsburgh Steelers football to be. So it doesn’t matter who puts their hands underneath the center, as far as I’m concerned.

“But, with all that cool stuff being said, it’s scary. But exciting.” added Tomlin.

It isn’t as if Tomlin hasn’t spoken about life without Roethlisberger before, but he sheds a new light, and honesty, on the organization moving on from the franchise quarterback they called their own since 2004.

For more of this outstanding interview, and to see/hear the entire podcast, check out the video below:

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA on July 26th.

Steelers Vertex: Can Devin Bush get back to his pre-injury form?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/22/2022 - 10:00am
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After starting his career strong, the ACL injury Bush suffered in 2020 still affected his play throughout 2021.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are chugging on through the 2022 offseason. Looking at a number of players and positions as the roster has fluctuated, sometimes it’s players the Steelers have on their roster taking a step that can really add to the coming season. Looking at inside linebacker, can Devin Bush get back to his pre-injury form? This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

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

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

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

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

Since we are focusing on comparing Devin Bush before his injury to afterwards, I’ll break the numbers down in that manner. In Bush‘s first two seasons, he appeared in 21 games with 20 starts where he had two interceptions, seven passes defensed, one forced fumble, and four fumble recoveries with one being for a touchdown. Bush had 2.0 sacks and 135 tackles through the first 21 games of his career. He also had nine tackles for loss as well as four quarterback hits.

In 2021, Bush appeared in 14 games, starting all of them. Coming back strong in his first week against the Buffalo Bills, Bush had 10 tackles and a forced fumble. But after missing Week 2, Bush never got back to the same numbers again. On the season, he finished with 70 tackles and 2.0 sacks with four passes defensed, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Bush only had two tackles for loss of the season but did have four quarterback hits.

Playing every snap of the 2020 season before he was injured, Bush saw his playing time greatly reduced in 2021. Only two times on the season did Bush play 90% of the snaps in a game which was in Week 4 at the Green Bay Packers (90%) and Week 10 against the Detroit Lions (96%).

So while there was a difference in the numbers with Devin Bush, was it that obvious in his play on the field? You know it’s coming… It’s time to check the film.

The Film Line:

Devin Bush struggled a lot in 2021, but I don’t want to talk about how bad he was after he missed Week 2, I want to look at later in the season when he was playing better and compare that to his film from 2019 and 2020. Because the important question isn’t how bad was Devin Bush in 2021. The important question is what could we see from Bush in 2022.

Let’s start by looking at Devin Bush before his 2020 season ending injury.

As a rookie Devin Bush was a play maker, he was all over the field tackling everything. A year after free safety Sean Davis led the team in tackles Devin Bush recorded 109 tackles as a rookie and free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick ranked tenth on the team in tackles. Devin Bush brought instant impact at linebacker, and the film of his run defense shows why.

2019 Steelers vs. Bills, 1st quarter, 7:03.

Devin Bush (#55) is the linebacker on the hash marks to the right side of the screen.

Bush is sidestepping and keeping up with the running back, effortlessly mirroring the run to meet the back in his run lane and make the play. Bush wasn’t the greatest tackler in the world, missing 11% of his tackle attempts. But he was always there, always slowing the play, making the runner deal with him, and with the Steelers #2 tackler Terrell Edmunds (2nd in tackles with 105) frequently right behind him, his misses usually ended up getting tackled anyway.

2019 Steelers @ Ravens, 1st quarter, 11:29.

Devin Bush (#55) is the linebacker in the middle of the screen.

Devin Bush had weaknesses, a main one was his size making it hard for his to take on blockers. Here he is effectively blocked but is able to get off the block to make the tackle. Bush wasn’t going to take on offensive lineman or blocking tight ends and blow them up like Vince Williams. Players Bush couldn’t avoid with his quickness could move him, but he did show ability to shed blocks laterally.

In 2020 Devin Bush was used differently. The Steelers used him as a major component in coverage, and were incredibly aggressive in front of him. The Steelers recorded 20 sacks in the first four games of 2020, Vince Williams led the NFL in tackles for a loss with 9, T.J. Watt was second with 8 and Mike Hilton was tied for 4th with 5 tackles for a loss.

Together Hilton and Williams had 5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss over the first four games of 2020. They would combine for 1 sacks and 8 tackles for a loss the entire rest of the season.

Losing Devin Bush meant they couldn’t be as aggressive and had to cover more. Bush’s excellent coverage shows up on film constantly in those few games.

2020 Steelers vs. Texans, 2nd quarter, 4:23.

Devin Bush is the linebacker on the hashmarks to the bottom of the screen.

Bush absolutely locks down the Texans tight end, reads his eyes, and knocks the ball away. You can see the Steelers sending 5 players at the quarterback, the ball coming out 2 seconds after the snap, and no one is open.

2020 Steelers vs. Texans, 2nd quarter, 4:23.

Devin Bush (#55) is the linebacker on the hash marks to the bottom of the screen.

Bush’s man on this play stays in to block, so he’s free to try and make a play here. He helps cover the tight end then peels off to disrupt Deshaun Watson’s ability to throw the ball. The play ends with a sack.

The Texans know that the slot heading inside means Hilton is coming, the Steelers weren’t really trying to hide that at this point, they just let Hilton go do his thing. They also know that means Edmunds is going to be covering that TE from a deeper alignment. It was a great time to gain a few cheap yards and maybe more with a broken tackle. If you watch Watson on the play you can see how Bush disrupts this entire play, especially with how quickly he goes from covering to pressuring the quarterback.

Not hard to see Bush was a decisive, but mostly a quick and fast linebacker whose chief skillset was how effortlessly he covered ground and how well he could run with receivers.

2021 Steelers vs. Vikings, 1st quarter, 4:50.

Devin Bush (#55) is the linebacker near the hash marks to the left side of the screen.

That’s not the same Devin Bush. His first step is noticeably slower, making him appear much less decisive. It’s one thing to read the play and know where to go, it’s another to get there. Devin Bush was always good at seeing the play, but he was elite in his ability to get to where he needed to be.

Not last season though. Also notice the block hits him angled toward Bush. If he’s even a step farther that block is flatter and Bush can get off the block laterally to chase the play at a better angle. If he’s two steps faster, he’s past the block and cutting off the runner. That’s his burst and quickness not being what it was. After that you see he can’t run down the play like he used to, and has to take a longer angle to get to the back.

2021 Steelers vs. Vikings, 1st quarter, 1:13.

Devin Bush (#55) is the linebacker between the hash marks in the middle of the screen.

Devin Bush can still read the play, he can find the right spot to go to, and he’s still a good, not great, tackler. Just like in 2019 and 2020 he needs to be kept clean of lineman, but when he was, he was still a solid to good linebacker even without his speed.

2021 Steelers vs. Vikings, 3rd quarter, 2:11.

Devin Bush (#55) is the linebacker in the middle of the screen.

Bush still has the same instincts in coverage, and that’s enough to get just enough of this ball to alter the trajectory. The ball bounces off the receiver’s hands and Ahkello Witherspoon comes away with the interception. But you can also see that even as Devin Bush was playing better towards the end of the season, he didn’t have the elite quickness or speed that made him great.

The Point:

It is common for injuries like Bush’s to affect a player in their first season back, and then less in the following years. But there is enough concern seeing him play with such a drop from the elite mobility he had to warrant the Steelers going out and signing Myles Jack who brings a very similar skillset to Devin Bush pre-injury. News coming out of practices that Devin Bush is working on playing Buck linebacker may also be a sign that his mobility may not fully return and he is trying to adapt his game to survive in the NFL. Then again, a player is classified as being a Buck linebacker based on their alignment, so there is the chance the Steelers may be doing things different when it comes to the responsibilities of each linebacker position this season. Regardless of where he lines up, Devin Bush needs to regain his decisiveness along with his speed to be the player Steelers fans saw in 2019 and 2020.

Steelers fans needs to embrace the uncertainty of 2022

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/22/2022 - 8:30am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing to enter a season of uncertainty.

Regardless of what any individual tries to tell you, nobody knows the future. When it comes to the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers, the only certainty is uncertainty.

The Steelers have been the most stable and consistent franchise during the modern era of professional football. They have also been one of the most predictable organizations in the NFL. The Steelers are renowned for consistently having an intimidating defense and bludgeoning rushing attack. Although the degree of success can vary greatly from season to season, the hard earned reputation remains.

Even when the product on the field looks absolutely nothing like the reputation. Don't believe me, just listen to the broadcast team during any nationally televised Steelers game over the past few seasons. Even though recent Steelers squads have hardly resembled the reputation, it gets mentioned during virtually every broadcast. That actually started to change every so slightly during the past couple of years, as announcers started mentioning how the Steelers no longer represent their own reputable standards.

The punishing running game left the building years ago. Don't get me wrong, the Steelers had a very effective running game during the peak Le’Veon Bell days. That being said, while the rushing attack was very productive, it was far from punishing or pounding. The Steelers weren't imposing their will on the opposition, pounding them into submission, wearing them down by the fourth quarter, and controlling the time of possession.

The Steelers’ running game has evolved, right along with the rest of the NFL. You either evolve, or get left behind. The Steelers utilized Bell's rushing and receiving versatility to it's fullest. Therefore, they built the finesse offensive line that best fit Bell's specific skill set and abilities. That line was also a perfect fit for the elite talents of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, hence the success of the Killer B's.

As far as the intimidating defense goes, that mentality is no longer prevalent or possible, thanks to multiple rule changes. Intimidating, hard hitting defenders like Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Donnie Shell, Greg Lloyd, Ryan Clark, and James Harrison struck fear in the hearts and minds of skill position players. Those aforementioned players would always be great, but they would have to make some serious adjustments to their games to be as effective in the modern NFL. Intimidation, as they relied on, is no longer an option.

The 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers face a season of even more changes and uncertainty. For the first time in nearly two decades, the Steelers enter training camp without the benefit of a franchise quarterback. Instead, they have a three headed quarterback competition. There are some who believe that if you think you have three starter capable players at the position, you really have none, because that means none of the three have separated themselves from the competition. For the Steelers sake, hopefully one of the candidates grabs the reigns early in camp and runs with it, winning the position outright, rather than by default.

Adding to the uncertainty is the complete installation of Matt Canada's playbook to the Steelers new look offense. That was an impossible endeavor last season, as the Steelers simply lacked the personnel to execute the game plan. Kevin Colbert, in his last hooray as the Steelers General Manager, shrewdly acquired what appears at first glance to be many of the pieces that were no doubt missing last season. They also got noticeably younger in the process.

The Steelers improved their quarterback mobility, the speed and big play ability of the wide receivers, and the talent and stability of the interior offensive line. Now, Canada and the Steelers should be able to utilize the complete playbook to keep defenses off balance and guessing.

The severe limitations of the past few seasons created crippling predictability, resulting in an anemic offense that was quite frankly hard to watch. The 2022 offense should be anything but predictable, as even the Steelers can't be too sure what to expect.

The same could be said about the Steelers defense. Linebacker whisperer and pass rush maestro Keith Butler has left the building, no doubt wondering aimlessly throughout the early stages of retirement, still feverishly trying to devise a plan of attack to stifle the unstoppable Tyler Eifert. Sorry, I just couldn't resist the temptation.

In all seriousness, the impact of Butler's absence will no doubt affect the Steelers pass rush. I believe that is a huge reason that Mike Tomlin and company felt compelled to bring in Brian Flores, a defensive minded coach who definitely knows a thing or two about devising and executing an effective pass rush.

Similar to the Steelers new look offense, none of us really know what to expect with the Steelers new look defense. While there will still be familiar faces in some places, numerous newcomers have been added to the equation: names like Jack, Wallace, Kazee will be expected to quickly become acquainted with their new teammates and schemes so they can operate at peak efficiency.

We all know the plan, even if none of us have a clue what the final results will look like. Truth is, we seldom do. That's what makes it all so exciting.

The origin of one’s Steelers fandom is a big factor in expectations

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/22/2022 - 7:15am
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Asking when someone became a Steelers fan can tell a lot about what they consider being successful.

As I’ve stated multiple times, Steelers’ Nation is a diverse crowd. Whether young or old, from the Pittsburgh area or never setting foot in the United States, there are a lot of differences in the people that make up the Steelers fan base but a very common thread in which they are united.

As I participate in various podcasts on he BTSC network, there are some complaints about the Steelers that get to me quite often. Talking about the team not making the Super Bowl in 12 seasons, or only having three playoff wins since the last appearance, I understand that the Steelers could give much better results. But I’ll dive more into that later.

In looking at some of these differences in expectations for the Steelers, I found it was very common that it wasn’t just about how someone became a Steelers fan, but when they became a Steelers fan.

While I’m not going to try to speak for all fans at this time, I can do what anyone of us can do and share our perspective about my history with the Steelers and how it affects my expectations each year.

Born in the late 70s, I have no recollection of the great Steelers dynasty. They are very few players I remember at all only because their career spanned later in the 80s. Players such as Mike Webster, John Stallworth, and Donnie Shell are ones that I saw play as a kid, but not that I knew of them as being Super Bowl champions.

The first quarterback I remember for the Pittsburgh Steelers is Mark Malone. I have no idea where my first memory of games fell between 1984 and 1987, I just know it was during the Malone era that I can remember seeing the games on television.

Because the first two quarterbacks I experienced in my lifetime with any memory of the Steelers were Mark Malone and Bubby Brister, I started off my Steeler fandom as someone following a team that used to be good but wasn’t anymore. Hearing about the Steelers winning four Super Bowls in the 70s was ancient history to me. My experience with the Pittsburgh Steelers was a team that was unlikely to make the playoffs and nowhere close to the dynasties I saw in San Francisco and then Dallas.

With expectations of the Steelers not being a good football team anymore, I followed them through my middle school years but also paid attention to other dynamic players around the league such as Randall Cunningham. The Steelers would always be my team, but it’s not like I was cheering for someone who was going to hold a Lombardi trophy at the end of the season.

When I entered high school, the Bill Cowher era began and it was exciting as a Steelers fan. Seeing that team through the 80s, as well as my father constantly saying how bad they were when he watchedthe games, I still never really believed the Steelers could be Super Bowl champions. Even when they won the AFC Championship Game, I still never had an expectation that the Steelers could win the game. They were two touchdown underdogs to the Dallas Cowboys and I never really thought a win would happen. So when it didn’t, I wasn’t surprised.

The first ever NFL draft I watched was in 2004. There was all the drama of Eli Manning and where he would or wouldn’t play, plus I had watched a prime time college game late in the season where they were highlighting Miami of Ohio because their quarterback was someone who was going to get drafted. I remember saying how I would love for the Steelers to trade up and get him. But when the Cleveland Browns passed on Ben Roethlisberger, I knew that he would be there for them to draft at the 11 spot.

It was also an interesting time in my life because that was the first NFL draft that happened after I got married. I had followed the Steelers as much as I could the prior season, but now living outside of the Pittsburgh area and games not yet being available via the internet was a how things were. So when I got to actually see Steelers game on television, it was exciting.

As the Steelers kept piling up victories in 2004, more and more of their games were available to watch. I saw Roethlisberger take his first snaps earlier in the season as they were playing the Ravens which was the home market for my area. The back-to-back wins against the undefeated New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles were really exciting. But I still didn’t have Super Bowl expectations.

The 2005 season changed everything. The Steelers squeaked into the postseason, and I got together with my former college roommate to watch the playoff game against the Bengals. I thought the Steelers had a real good chance. As we know, they were victorious and moved on to the following week. I was excited because I felt they could upset the Colts, but I wasn’t banking on that they would. The fact that Indianapolis rested their players to end the season and had a bye, I felt that was unwise and that they were in the best position of the entire postseason to get knocked off. If the Steelers weren’t going to do it, they were going to run through the Super Bowl.

After that victory against the Indianapolis Colts, it was the first time in my life that I honestly believed the Pittsburgh Steelers could win a Super Bowl. I was 27 years old, and for the first time as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan I felt my team could actually win it.

As we all know, the Steelers went on to appear in three Super Bowls over the next six years and won two of them. It was a great time in the life of Steelers fans who weren’t alive in the 70s. I couldn’t believe I was getting to experience such a thing.

Because I had such low expectations of the Pittsburgh Steelers throughout most of my life, I’m not one of those people who are down on the team for not winning more playoff games over the last decade. Instead, I’m someone who loves the team is relevant every year. Looking back at Ben Roethlisberger and seeing that he only played in two games in his entire career where the Steelers weren’t still alive for the playoffs and therefore had a chance at a Super Bowl, that’s an amazing stretch. With the 2005 season showing all that it took was getting a ticket into the postseason and playing well at the right time, I thought the Steelers have had a chance ever since. Even if they haven’t won playoff games, knowing that your team at least is in a position to where they could contend has been an absolutely amazing run.

How long will this run continue? I don’t know. It would be great if it does through the 2022 season and then take it from there. But I’m just grateful for what the Steelers have offered through my adulthood. Because when I look at my childhood, I didn’t have any hope that my team would ever do anything.

Because this is where I come from, it frustrates me when other fans complain about the playoff wins or saying that not having a losing record is settling for mediocrity. I get it. But if your Steelers fandom started with Ben Roethlisberger, no wonder you feel that way. Even if it started with Neil O’Donnell, there’s a lot of good Steeler seasons in there to be happy about. But for me, growing up watching Mark Malone and Bubby Brister, I’m just happy going into the final week of the season and knowing that my team still has a chance to play for the championship.

Steelers will have two of their three preseason games televised

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/22/2022 - 6:00am
Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Who’s ready for some football that doesn’t count?!

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a national brand, and one the NFL loves to put in prime time. This is why the team usually has the league maximum five prime time games year-in and year-out.

The league wants to have the Steelers on television, and the preseason is no different. The three-game slate of preseason games will have the Steelers aired live for their first and last games of the preseason.

The NFL Network announced they will air the Week 1 preseason game vs. the Seattle Seahawks live, but you should prepare yourselves for the network to go away from the game at 9 p.m. ET when the Cowboys and Broncos games begin.

22 live #NFLPreseason games are coming to NFL Network this summer! pic.twitter.com/sLC3pOWGzm

— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) June 13, 2022

The Steelers’ final preseason game, against the Detroit Lions, will also be televised live on CBS. That leaves only the Week 2 game vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars as the lone non-televised game for the Steelers as they prepare for the 2022 regular season.

For the first time in a long time, there will be plenty to watch during the preseason. How will Mike Tomlin divide the reps for the trio of quarterbacks vying for the starting role? How will Teryl Austin and Brian Flores handle the defense? What will the offense look like with a more athletic quarterback at the helm?

These are just some of the storylines heading into the preseason, and thankfully the fan base will get to see plenty of action from the comfort of their own homes.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the offseason and training camp starting July 26th at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/22/2022 - 4:30am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers seasons come and go with no real offseason, at least not for those diehard fans. For those fans, the preseason bleeds into the regular season, the regular season into the offseason, free agency and the NFL Draft. It is a vicious, never-ending cycle.

Nonetheless, we here at BTSC, and our podcast platform, are here with you every step of the way. In the past we have given you the podcasts in individual articles on the website but have decided to go with a ‘Podcast Roundup’ article which has the latest three podcasts for your enjoyment. The reasoning behind this is to take up less space on the site for the great written content we have at BTSC.

With that being said and typed, enjoy the shows below with a brief description of each broadcasted episode.

The Steelers Fix: Fantasy Football All-Potential Team

As we start thinking about our fantasy teams for the 2022 campaign, it’s good to consider potential when drafting your players. As we start thinking about our fantasy teams for the 2022 campaign, it’s good to consider potential when drafting your players.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • The All Potential Team
  • and MUCH MORE!
The Scho Bro Show: Are the Steelers defensive line concerns now a thing of the past?

The Steelers signed Larry Ogunjobi to a one-year deal to replace the retired Stephon Tuitt. Have they fixed their problems? This will be just one of the subjects that will be discussed in the latest installment of the BTSC family of podcasts.

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

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Has the Ogunjobi signing fixed the defense of the Steelers?
  • Who was the first Steelers quarterback you remember as a fan?

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

Let’s Ride: Steelers should have confidence in their abilities

Chase Claypool thinks he has the ability to be a Top 3 receiver in the NFL. Some people scoff at that, but shouldn’t players be confident in their abilities? This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts, “Let’s Ride” with BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman. Join Jeff for this and more on the Wednesday episode of “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Fans should want confident Steelers
  • The Mail Bag
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

Steelers sign defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi to a one-year deal

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/21/2022 - 5:04pm
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have added some depth to their defensive line, and it is much needed.

The Pittsburgh Steelers needed help along their defensive line since the retirement of Stephon Tuitt. Some thought the team might sit back and let the answer along the defensive line come from within their organization, but newly minted General Manager (GM) Omar Khan had different plans.

After bringing in former Cincinnati Bengals Larry Ogunjobi for a workout Tuesday, the team announced they have made the move official by way of a one-year contract.

This per Adam Schefter of ESPN:

Former Bengals’ DT Larry Ogunjobi has signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers, per source.

Ogunjobi now will have played for the Browns, Bengals and Steelers, leaving the Ravens as the lone Ogunjobi-less AFC North team.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 21, 2022

Drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, Ogunjobi spent four years in Cleveland before spending 2021 with the Bengals. With 21.5 sacks and over 200 tackles in 79 games, Ogunjobi had 7.0 sacks and 49 tackles last season.

For those wondering if this is just a rumor, or official, the Steelers have made the move official.

We have signed DT Larry Ogunjobi to a one-year contract. @BordasLaw

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 21, 2022

The Steelers now have a plethora of players on the defensive line, and it will be one of the camp battles to watch when the players report to training camp at Saint Vincent College on July 26th.

If you are wondering how the team was able to make this move without releasing a player, the answer is the team only had 89 players on their 90-man offseason roster. The signing of Ogunjobi rounds out the offseason roster.

There was a concern about Ogunjobi’s overall health, and the likely reason why he was still on the open market as teams prepare for training camps, but the Steelers must have been comfortable enough with his health status to draw up the one year contract.

Ogunjobi being added to the roster should help a sluggish rush defense which ranked dead-last in the NFL last season without Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu available. Alualu is back for another season, and the hope is adding Ogunjobi will help make the group formidable once again.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the offseason and the 2022 regular season.

Going For Two: Pat Freiermuth & Zach Gentry

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/21/2022 - 2:30pm
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Day 11 of Going For Two, featuring Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry

Welcome to Going For Two! Over the 45 days leading up to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 training camp, we will be highlighting two players every day in order to cover the entire 90-man offseason roster. So without further ado, here are today’s two players:

Pat Freiermuth Photo by Michael Longo/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Position: Tight End
Age: 23
Year: 2
Height: 6’5”
Weight: 258
Drafted: Round 2, Pick 55, 2021
College: Penn State
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

After a rookie season where Pat Freiermuth saw 497 receiving yards on 60 receptions with 7 touchdowns, the sky appears to be the limit in 2022. Proving to be a go-to weapon for Ben Roethlisberger last year, Freiermuth simply needs to build a similar relationship with this year’s Steelers quarterback. As long as he can stay healthy, and the concussion issue doesn’t come up again this season, Freiermuth is poised for an even bigger bust-out year.

Zach Gentry Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Position: Tight End
Age: 25
Year: 4
Height: 6’8”
Weight: 265
Drafted: Round 5, Pick 141, 2019
College: Michigan
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

The fact Zach Gentry was labeled to be a roster bubble player going into the 2021 season, it goes to show how much of a marked improvement he made leading up to last season. Coming through as a great blocking tight end, Gentry was also wisely and creatively used in the passing game when needed. Obviously not the same player as Pat Freiermuth, Gentry brings a much-needed role to the tight end room as someone who is an adequate blocker and teams must account for in the passing game. Not only a great example of the work needed to become an NFL caliber player, Gentry will also forever be the answer of the trivia question when asked ‘Who caught Ben Roethlisberger’s final NFL pass?’

Be sure to check back everyday for another two players for the Steelers, and as we go along click back on previous articles listed below so you don’t miss a thing.

Steelers rookies get a glimpse of the Pirates rookies putting on a show

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/21/2022 - 12:45pm
Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Pirates have had a youth movement on their roster, and the Steelers’ rookies were in attendance Monday night.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have many similarities. Of course they share a city, but other than that simple fact the two organizations are very different.

The Steelers are competitive every season, whereas the Pirates haven’t had continued success in a very long time.

A new similarity has popped up this year, and it is a youth movement happening with both teams. For the Pirates, their Major League Baseball record 12 rookies who have been called up to play is almost uncalled for, and it’s only June. As for the Steelers, they too will be looking at a young core of players, especially on offense, to help them get over the proverbial hump.

There is no better way to visualize the youth movement within the Steelers than with the 2022 NFL Draft class. Almost all of the class, and several Undrafted Rookie Free Agents (UDFAs) were at PNC Park Monday night to get a glimpse of Oneil Cruz make his 2022 debut, and rookie Bligh Madris make his first appearance in the bigs.

Check out the photo from the game:

Rookies repping at the @Pirates game. #LetsGoBucs pic.twitter.com/ho1j7aP6xx

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 21, 2022

If you follow the Pirates, it was a pretty special night. Not only did they dominate the Chicago Cubs, but the way both Madris and Cruz played gave the Pirate faithful something to believe in...for now.

Check out some of what the Steelers’ rookies got to see at PNC Park:

Our guy Bligh with his first Major League hit! pic.twitter.com/LoHcefsmwL

— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) June 20, 2022

Woah pic.twitter.com/ngYuf4nNJf

— Jeff Hartman (@JHartman_PIT) June 21, 2022

These kids are fun…why’s they wait so long to bring them all up?! pic.twitter.com/AS1RlSwsjA

— Jeff Hartman (@JHartman_PIT) June 21, 2022

The Bligh Slide pic.twitter.com/cByZpYM4eS

— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) June 21, 2022

The rookies can take in the sights and sounds of Pittsburgh for the next few weeks, but the real work will begin on July 26th when the team reports to training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA for the first time since 2019. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the team as they prepare for the remainder of the offseason.

Mike Tomlin ranked 3rd best head coach by Pro Football Network

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/21/2022 - 11:30am
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

In the latest head coaching rankings from Pro Football Network, Mike Tomlin is ranked #3 in the NFL.

“Mike Tomlin is an elite head coach!” says Poindexter.

Cletus interrupts Poindexter’s spiel within 30 seconds and proclaims, “You must be out of your mind! Mike Tomlin is trash!”

As the two begin to bicker, Throckmorton steps in to break up this disturbing argument he is watching take place on the street corner of downtown Pittsburgh. Being the peacemaker Throckmorton always strives to be, he attempts to take the middle road by stating, “Mike Tomlin is a solid coach who, while far from perfect, is better than anybody the Steelers could get to replace him.”

After going back and forth and weighing evidence for each argument, the three parties went their separate ways, departing without reaching a conclusion to the matter. Can the BTSC faithful help determine whose stance is the best among Poindexter, Cletus, and Throckmorton? I doubt it, but the comments should be entertaining nonetheless!

Each and every offseason, Steelers fans debate the lively conversation that is Mike Tomlin. Despite the fact that many media outlets tend to underestimate the Steelers each year, those same outlets tend to think highly of Mike Tomlin. This may seem like an oxymoron, but we are continuing to see the same trend as we head into 2022.

In the eyes of the media, the Steelers are almost universally considered a poor to mediocre team that is unlikely to make a playoff push. However, Mike Tomlin is still receiving love in annual head coaching rankings. The latest ranking comes from Mike Kaye at Pro Football Network, who ranked Tomlin as the third-best head coach in the NFL. Here is what he had to say about Pittsburgh’s leader.

While Mike Tomlin’s Steelers are seemingly going through a rebuilding process with Ben Roethlisberger retired, there’s plenty of reason for optimism entering the summer. Tomlin has never had a losing season during his 15-year tenure in Pittsburgh. Coming off an early playoff exit last year, the Steelers have done a nice job in supplementing the roster for Tomlin’s continued track.

Here is the full top ten in Kaye’s rankings.

1. Andy Reid — Kansas City Chiefs
2. Bill Belichick — New England Patriots
3. Mike Tomlin — Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Sean McVay — Los Angeles Rams
5. John Harbaugh — Baltimore Ravens
6. Kyle Shanahan — San Francisco 49ers
7. Sean McDermott — Buffalo Bills
8. Mike Vrabel — Tennessee Titans
9. Matt LeFleur — Green Bay Packers
10. Pete Carroll — Seattle Seahawks

The majority of Steelers fans seem to be behind Tomlin, considering him to be in the upper echelon of head coaches currently in the NFL. While those on the flip side of the coin may be considered the minority, it is not a small minority by any means. The third group falls anywhere in between, generally saying Tomlin a good coach while also expressing frustration from the lack of playoff success.

Regardless of which argument you stand by, it will be interesting to see how far Tomlin can take a team that is not led by Ben Roethlisberger, who he inherited from Bill Cowher’s team.

With that in mind, what are your thoughts on Mike Tomlin? Are you a Poindexter that sees him as a top-notch coach, or do agree with Cletus when he states that Tomlin is undeserving of the praise he receives? Perhaps you like Throckmorton’s middle-of-the-road approach and consider Tomlin a good, but not great, head coach. Regardless of where you stand on the matter, be sure to state your opinion on this topic in the comment section below, and stay tuned to BTSC as we get you ready for the 2022 Steelers season!

Steelers hosting free agent Larry Ogunjobi for workout

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/21/2022 - 9:33am
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking at all options to help bolster their defensive front.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are from a finished product as it pertains to the 2022 team. With only 89 players on the 90-man offseason roster, the Steelers are looking to possibly add the 90th player in former Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Steelers hosted the free agent for a workout Tuesday.

Former Bengals’ DT Larry Ogunjobi, who had seven sacks last season, is visiting today with the Pittsburgh Steelers, per source. He recently visited with the New York Jets.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 21, 2022

Drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns, Ogunjobi spent four years in Cleveland before spending 2021 with the Bengals. With 21.5 sacks and over 200 tackles in 79 games, Ogunjobi had 7.0 sacks and 49 tackles last season.

There is a reason the defensive lineman is still on the open market, and that would be health issues. With Ogunjobi visiting the team, this after meeting with the New York Jets, a clean bill of health will be paramount before a deal gets done.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes on the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the offseason.

GAME PLAN: What is Matt Canada doing with all these shifts and motions?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/21/2022 - 8:30am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense will have plenty of shifts and movement, and none of it will be wasted.

This is the latest installment of the “Game Plan” series I’m working on through the reasonably quiet part of the calendar between the draft and training camp. To read the previous article in the series, see the link below.

My grandfather, Joseph Thatcher, from whom I take my middle name, was born in 1911 and passed away in 2003. He lived in North Jersey, about twenty miles outside New York City, and was a huge Giants fan. He spoke fondly of the Giants of the 1950s, who wore single-bar face masks and shook hands with fingers as crooked as question marks. Guys like Sam Huff, Jim Katcavage and Andy Robustelli. They played in an era where yards were earned by plunging the ball into a mass of bodies and where the forward pass was treated like a communist plot against the republic. My grandfather loved that sort of football. It made sense to him. He’d lived through the Great Depression, World War II and Vietnam.

Life was difficult. Buckle up, buttercup.

By the time football became the most popular sport in America in the 1970s, he was in his sixties. He was a hard man by then, molded by his life experiences and set in his ways. It was with great disdain, then, that he received the offensive revolution that changed the game around that time. The increasing importance teams placed on passing the ball was bad enough, but with it came two things he could not stomach: the shotgun formation, deployed most notably by the Dallas Cowboys, of whom he and I shared a mutual loathing; and the use of pre-snap motion, the purpose of which he could not fathom.

I remember watching a Cowboys-Giants game with him in which Dallas receiver Drew Pearson motioned about the formation like a yo-yo. At one point, Pearson went one way, then came right back and lined up where he’d started. “What the hell is he doing?” my grandfather shouted. “Just snap the damn ball!” He described the Dallas offense as “fancy pants football.” He swore it was ruining the game.

As I write this article, I can’t help but think of my grandfather. Specifically, of how much he would have disliked Matt Canada. That statement may find traction with some current Steelers’ fans. For many, Canada’s use of pre-snap movement, and his reputation as a guru in that area, seems like a whole bunch of nothing. On the other hand, football nerds like myself swear there’s a brilliance within. The pro vs. anti-Canada crowds aren’t quite the Hatfields and McCoys. But they have their differences.

Whichever side of that debate you’re on, it’s worth trying to understand the method to Canada’s madness. I won’t argue he’s the second coming of Bill Walsh, but there is value to all that movement he incorporates. Now that the Steelers have acquired players who better fit his vision, it could be the key to unlocking the potential of their 2022 offense.

Here it is, then — a deep dive into Matt Canada’s shifts and motions, and what he’s actually doing with them.

There are several reasons why an offensive coordinator moves players around before the snap. To gain leverage on a defense, for example. Or to keep receivers from being jammed at the line of scrimmage. To create deception. Sometimes they do it just to put pressure on a defense to make sound adjustments and rotations. Mostly, though, pre-snap movements are used to gain information. Think of them as fact-finding missions. A coordinator will ask himself, When I motion here, how does the defense react? There is a follow-up question, too, based on the information he receives. When they react this way, how can I counter back?

This is the reason for much of Canada’s motion. We saw some good examples in Pittsburgh’s win at Cleveland last season in Week 8. Cleveland had some injuries up front, and Canada thought the Steelers could have success running the ball. He knew, though, they weren’t good enough to simply line up and pound away, so he needed information that would help him find the best way forward.

On Pittsburgh’s first drive of the game, Canada brought Chase Claypool in motion from the right slot. He used jet motion, which calls for the snap just before the motion-man reaches the quarterback. This gave Ben Roethlisberger an option to hand the ball to Claypool on the sweep or give it to running back Najee Harris. As Claypool moved, Roethlisberger saw Cleveland’s linebackers and safeties move with him. That flow prompted him to hand the ball to Harris heading the other way:

From this angle, you can see the scheme. It’s an unbalanced formation to the side of the motion, with two tight ends outside the left tackle. Everyone from the left tackle on over blocked inside zone to their right, while the tight ends reached left to block the sweep. It was only a 3-yard gain for Harris, but it provided Canada with valuable information he would use throughout the contest.

The biggest takeaway from this play was that Cleveland planned to stop the jet sweep, or the strong-side run to the side of the sweep, by adjusting with their linebackers and safeties. This allowed Canada to use motion to get these players moving, then to exploit them on the back-side. He did so by using a steady diet of split and weak-side zone runs, and Harris finished with 91 yards rushing.

When Canada wasn’t handing off to Harris, he used motion to get the ball to his receivers in the run game. The jet sweep was not an option due to Cleveland’s rotations, so Canada ran weak-side reverses instead. Cleveland continued to bump their backers to the jet action, and Canada repeatedly found ways to exploit that tendency.

Another tactic Canada has used to gain information on a defense is a pre-snap shift. This is a tactic Roethlisberger favored, too, because it tipped the hand of a defense but also allowed everyone to get set before the snap (unlike motion, which Roethlisberger did not like because it was fluid).

Here, in Week 5, the Steelers shifted to get Denver into a coverage they could exploit. First, they aligned in a 2x2 set with Diontae Johnson split wide to the right and Claypool wide to the left. This drew a two-high look from the Broncos:

Canada then shifted Claypool across the formation, where he lined up as a third receiver to the right. Denver bumped their weak corner over to cover the tight end, and moved their nickel with Claypool. The safeties, however, stayed in a two-high structure:

Canada wasn’t buying this. Both he and Roethlisberger knew Broncos’ coach Vic Fangio was too smart to stay two-high in this situation. Cover-2 is not especially sound against a 3x1 set because it’s vulnerable to flood routes that outnumber the defenders to the trips. These routes are common on 3rd and 8, the situation Pittsburgh was facing. So, by motioning Claypool across, Canada was betting he’d get some sort of rotation by the Broncos out of their two-high shell.

He was right. As the route developed, the safety to the trips dropped down as a robber to defend the first down marker. This meant Denver was one-on-one outside against Johnson, a match-up Roethlisberger favored:

The safety (circled) is squatting on the low route while Johnson (top left of the frame) is 1-on-1 against the corner

Roethlisberger had a good pocket in which to set, and his throw was perfect:

A fair question to ask here is this: Couldn’t the Steelers have lined up in trips and gotten the same coverage? Did they need to shift to it? That’s hard to know. But the shift did one thing for certain: it took Cover-3, Denver’s best deep coverage, off the table. With nine defenders within five yards of the line of scrimmage, they could not rotate into a three-deep zone, which made them vulnerable to a shot play. Roethlisberger recognized this and took it. So, while it’s hard to say what coverage the Steelers would have gotten had they aligned in trips, by shifting they discovered what coverage they were not getting, which was just as valuable.

Not all of these pre-snap movements yield positive results, of course. Take this example from Week 15 against Tennessee. Canada began this drive by flipping right tackle Chuks Okorafor to the other side of the formation. This gave him a tackles-over look with Okorafor matched up against Bud Dupree on the left edge:

Conceptually, Canada had the right idea by shifting to gain a favorable match-up. Tennessee was prepared, however. They moved Dupree to a head-up alignment on Okorafor, then pinched him into the C-gap while bringing their safety down to set the edge. The Steelers ran a power concept at Dupree, but his penetration hampered the path of right guard Trai Turner, who was pulling on the play. That problem was compounded when no one up front could get a push. The result was a pile of bodies at the line of scrimmage, leaving Harris nowhere to run:

On the ensuing play, Canada threw this at the Titans:

It’s an elaborate-looking shift, with all four receivers changing positions and Roethlisberger moving from under center into Pistol alignment. All the Steelers really did, however, was to change the strength of the formation. They went from a 2x2 set, with tight end Zach Gentry on the right, to 2x2 with Gentry on the left. Against balanced sets like this, most defenses declare strength to the tight end. So, from an alignment and responsibility standpoint, Tennessee simply accounted for the change in strength by flipping their backers and their nickel defender. Everything else remained the same.

From there, it was just football, and on the play that followed, Tennessee won. Pittsburgh ran an RPO with double hitches to the top of the formation. Roethlisberger anticipated the blitz from the slot corner but not the rotation from the safety over top of him. So, when he pulled the ball from Harris to throw the inside hitch, it was covered, and he had to take a sack.

What was Canada trying to accomplish with this shift? Likely, he wanted some clarity on whether this was man or zone coverage to help Roethlisberger with the pass read on the RPO. Whatever the case, the information Canada gathered convinced him this was not a good look for the Steelers. He never used this shift again, nor did he return to the RPO game. This play was useful, then, because it showed Canada something to stay away from rather than something to pursue.

All of these shifts and motions paid limited dividends in 2021. That’s because the Steelers were hamstrung by a poor offensive line and a quarterback who preferred to operate from static structures so he could get a good picture of the defense. Much effort was made this offseason to improve the line and adapt the quarterback position to fit Canada’s scheme. Inevitably, if the Steelers can’t run inside zone or protect long enough to throw the ball down the field, the shifts and motions will be worth little. But, if Pittsburgh is good enough up front to execute the basics, and if the quarterback can accommodate Canada by allowing him to move the pocket and run play-action and RPOs, Canada’s pre-snap voodoo could create the edge this offense needs to make significant improvement.

Hopefully Chase Claypool is teaching his teammates the power of self-confidence

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/21/2022 - 7:15am
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The 3rd year wide receiver is brimming with confidence, as he should be.

The Pittsburgh Steelers Twitter space was set ablaze Monday when quotes were released from third year wide receiver Chase Claypool on the I Am Athlete podcast. During his time, Claypool was asked about where he put himself in the NFL rankings of receivers, and he said Top 3.

Places like Pro Football Focus (PFF), see below, ran with the quote and used it to rile up the Steelers faithful.

And it worked.

Chase Claypool says he’s a Top-3️⃣ WR in the league pic.twitter.com/W9WjFWIrRa

— PFF (@PFF) June 20, 2022

Steelers fans from every corner of the global fan base had a reaction to this quote. Some were in full support of Claypool, while others dismissed this as the former Notre Dame product being delusional.

Either way, no fan of the Steelers should view Claypool’s self-confidence as a negative. After all, what was he supposed to say?

Host: Chase, where do you rank yourself among the NFL’s receivers?

Claypool: I don’t know, probably bottom third.

Want to know what would ruffle more feathers? If Claypool had said something like that on the podcast.

Claypool, for all the negatives which came from his sophomore season, is brimming with potential. Everyone who watched the Steelers in 2020 saw how dominant Claypool can be when he is given the opportunity and stays focused.

So far this offseason all the reports out of offseason workouts have been about Claypool stepping up into a leadership role with the Steelers offense, and more specifically, the receivers. Let’s hope Claypool doesn’t just step up and lead, but is teaching his teammates about the power of self-confidence.

For any athlete, confidence in one’s abilities is a prerequisite to success. Have it, and you stand a chance. Don’t have it, and you might as well not show up. Steelers fans have seen any number of players who either didn’t have it, or lost their edge/confidence during their career. Let’s just say it didn’t end well for them.

If I’m a teammate of Claypool, I love him saying he is a Top 3 receiver in the league. Why? Because he is stating his goals publicly. Not everyone does this, mainly because they don’t want the attention. They don’t want the masses to point and say, “Told you!” if you don’t reach your goals.

Claypool didn’t care, and he put it all out there. I can respect that.

And at least one of his teammates took notice:

bro now y’all don’t want your players to have confidence in themselves?? ‍♂️ https://t.co/6UsegEGH7D

— 6’4 Nightskin (@kdd7696) June 20, 2022

Claypool has been very quiet this offseason. Last year at this time Claypool was going down the JuJu Smith-Schuster path of marketing and branding. I don’t mind a player trying to create an image for himself, but there are times when fans can view it as a distraction and being selfish.

Just taking a look at Claypool’s official YouTube channel, his last video was posted five months ago. On top of not posting anything on his YouTube channel, his last tweet was a very vulnerable video of him reacting to the news of Dwayne Haskins’ passing on April 9th.

Say what you want about Claypool, but the guy has stayed out of the limelight this offseason. The hope is he is focused not only on his skill set, but also his leadership and being the mentor these young receivers need in the receiver room.

Some fans will view him saying he is a Top 3 receiver in the league as a distraction and selfish, others will say he is beaming with self-confidence. Let’s hope it is the latter, and he puts his proverbial money where his mouth is in 2022 and dominates with the black and gold.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the offseason before reporting to training camp at Saint Vincent College on July 26th.

How a contract holdout ruined my first Steelers jersey

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/21/2022 - 6:00am
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Wow! Thanks for nothing, Mean Mike Merriweather.

Growing up as a poor kid in Pittsburgh in the early-'80s, the thought of owning an authentic Steelers jersey was merely a pipe-dream.

I never even considered asking for a Steelers jersey of one of the heroes of the Super ‘70s, and even if I had, I’m sure the answer would have had something to do with going out and getting a job. I didn’t go to my first game until late in the depressing and forgettable 1988 season; therefore, the chance of having one of those “Wow! Thanks, Mean Joe!” moments was also out of the question.

Speaking of Joe Greene, I did own my own jersey at one point during the summer and fall of 1984; only, it wasn’t a Steelers jersey. No, it was a Sheraden Vikings jersey. That's right, I was a defensive lineman/offensive lineman/running back/tight end/linebacker/safety for the Sheraden Vikings when I was 12 years old. And what digit did I pick out when “Pick Your Number” day arrived late in training camp? No. 75.

You talk about a lot of nerve. As you can guess by my “versatility,” I didn’t play all that much during that ‘84 season, and even when I did, I didn’t produce all that much. I did, however, get to wear the most famous football number in the history of Pittsburgh sports—professional, collegiate or whatever level 12-year-olds play.

Fast forward to Christmas of 1987. I had finally decided I had to have a Steelers jersey, but I didn’t even consider any number made famous by a player from the previous decade. No, by that point, I wanted one from the current roster of players...for some reason.

There wasn’t much to choose from in terms of superstar talent in the mid-‘80s. Sure, Rod Woodson had arrived by 1987, but I couldn’t have predicted at the time that he’d go on to have a First-ballot Hall of Fame career. Louis Lipps just had back-to-back forgettable seasons and, despite my love for him, I was unsure of his immediate future with the franchise. Gary Anderson was arguably the best kicker in the NFL back then, but I just didn’t think a kicker’s number was cool enough, even if I, as a chubby 15-year old with a bad haircut and bad fashion sense, was the total opposite of cool.

With all of that in mind, I decided on the No. 57 worn proudly by Mike Merriweather, a decorated outside linebacker who the Steelers selected from Pacific college in the third round of the 1983 NFL Draft.

Merriweather had been voted to three Pro Bowls through the 1987 season (1984-1986) and was also named a Second-Team All-Pro three times (1984, 1985 and 1987).

Merriweather had tallied 31 sacks in five seasons—including a whopping 15 in 1984—and an impressive 11 interceptions.

Merriweather was well on his way to continuing the great success the team previously had at outside linebacker with both Jack Ham and Andy Russell.

A number 57 Merriweather jersey seemed to be the perfect choice as my first, and I couldn’t have been happier when I opened my presents on Christmas morning.

It wasn’t long before I began to wear my number 57 jersey to school every Friday, which I did all throughout the remainder of ninth grade.

Unfortunately, everything began to change in the summer of 1988 when Merriweather held out in order to force the Steelers to give him a new contract. Sadly, this was before free agency and the salary cap, which meant even stars had little choice but to either play for what teams were willing to pay them or force a trade.

I was hoping Merriweather would come to his senses, but he never did. Merriweather’s holdout continued all throughout the 1988 regular season, as Pittsburgh posted its worst record—5-11—since going 1-13 in 1969. Maybe Merriweather would have made a difference for this downtrodden Steelers team. Perhaps the Steelers were so downtrodden that the organization was convinced that even a superstar outside linebacker wouldn’t have been able to help.

I continued my Friday tradition of wearing my Merriweather jersey during the Steelers 1988 disaster of a season, but the kids in 10th grade were cruel and would say things like, “Where’s Merriweather?” No, they weren’t the most creative bullies, but they still ultimately forced me to stop wearing my No. 57 jersey to class.

Merriweather and the Steelers never did come to an understanding, and he was eventually traded to the Vikings in exchange for their first-round pick in the 1989 NFL Draft (24th, overall). Pittsburgh used the pick to select Tom Ricketts, offensive tackle, University of Pittsburgh. No, Ricketts didn’t wear number 57, but he also didn’t give anyone a reason to wear whatever his number happened to be during his brief career with the Steelers.

My grandmother eventually took the name Merriweather off of the back of my Steelers jersey, but I still didn’t wear it all that much after 1988.

As for Merriweather, he didn’t produce at the same level with the Vikings, tallying just 10 sacks over four seasons before quietly finishing out his career with the Packers and Jets.

For as much as I wanted a Steelers jersey as a kid, that passion didn’t stay with me as an adult. Someone did buy me an authentic Hines Ward jersey which I proudly wore for years, but the tradition didn’t carry on after No. 86 retired.

I wonder if my fondness for Steelers jerseys would have continued to grow if my initial infatuation was nurtured a bit by Mike Merriweather going on to have a storied career with the Steelers?

I guess I’ll never know the answer to that question, which begs this one: Should I try for jersey love again at this point of my life, or is it simply too late for me?

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/21/2022 - 4:30am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers seasons come and go with no real offseason, at least not for those diehard fans. For those fans, the preseason bleeds into the regular season, the regular season into the offseason, free agency and the NFL Draft. It is a vicious, never-ending cycle.

Nonetheless, we here at BTSC, and our podcast platform, are here with you every step of the way. In the past we have given you the podcasts in individual articles on the website, but now we’ve decided to go with a ‘Podcast Roundup’ article which has the latest three podcasts for your enjoyment. The reasoning behind this is to take up less space on the site for the great written content we have at BTSC.

With that being said or typed, enjoy the shows below with a brief description of each show:

BAD Language: 2022 could end better than 2017 for the Steelers

So, BTSC podcast producer Bryan Anthony Davis decided to make no apologies and share his black-and-gold brand of enlightenment. Join BAD preaching his own gospel of the hypocycloids on the new show, BAD Language. This week, it’s all about

  • News and Notes
  • The potential of 2022 compared to the highs and lows of 2017
  • A visit from Britsburgh Owen, Voice from Across the Pond
  • and MUCH MORE!
Steelers Hangover: Is it possible to get off of the Steeler Nation Naughty List?

There are some former Steelers that will always be Public Enemy No. 1, while others found their way off of the list. How bad does the transgression need to be to not come off of the list of unforgiven? Bryan Anthony Davis, Shannon White and Tony Defeo discuss this and more on the latest edition of BTSC’s The Steelers Hangover.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Is it possible to get off of the Steeler Nation Naughty List?
  • and MUCH MORE!
From the Steelers’ Cutting Room Floor: Turning the corner at cornerback

Geoffrey Benedict examines cornerbacks and more on the latest episode of BTSC’s “From the Cutting Room Floor”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • The Steelers 2022 Cornerback Room
  • and MUCH MORE!

Geoffrey walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

Going For Two: Trey Edmunds & Minkah Fitzpatrick

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/20/2022 - 2:30pm
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

It’s Day 10 of Going For Two, featuring Trey Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick

Welcome to Going For Two! Over the 45 days leading up to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 training camp, we will be highlighting two players every day in order to cover the entire 90-man offseason roster. So without further ado, here are today’s two players:

Trey Edmunds Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Position: Running Back
Age: 27
Year: 4-6
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 223
Drafted: UDFA 2017 (New Orleans Saints)
College: Maryland
Roster Outlook: Doubtful
Analysis:

Despite logging games in five different seasons in the NFL, Trey Edmunds does not have that many accrued seasons by NFL rules. With a lot of time spent on practice squads, Edmunds has only played in six of his 37 career games over the last two seasons. A player that can give depth at the running back or fullback position as well as provide special teams play, Edmunds has proved to be a good practice squad player who is elevated as needed. Unfortunately, that’s really about all the offers once again in 2022.

Minkah Fitzpatrick Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Position: Safety
Age: 25
Year: 5
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 207
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 11, 2018 (Miami Dolphins)
College: Alabama
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

It is so refreshing to be able to talk about Minkah Fitzpatrick during the summer and not have to worry about an upcoming contract. Signed to the Steelers for the next five seasons, Fitzpatrick’s focus now is on being the best safety he can be for the Steelers. And for those who only can judge a players season based on the rankings by Pro Football Focus, they would talk about a down year and how Fitzpatrick was at the bottom of the league in 2021. But using the eye tests, and anyone with adequate knowledge of what the Steelers were trying to do in the secondary, tells a different story. Maybe that’s why former Steelers safety and NFL analyst Ryan Clark called 2021 Fitzpatrick‘s best season as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers despite not having as many ‘flashy’ statistics.

Be sure to check back everyday for another two players for the Steelers, and as we go along click back on previous articles listed below so you don’t miss a thing.

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