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AFC North Recap: Steelers refuse to go away, re-inject themselves into division debate

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/29/2019 - 10:49am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens didn’t play, but their lead in the AFC North got slimmer as the Steelers beat the Dolphins in Week 8.

The eighth week of NFL football is behind us, and it was quite the week in the AFC North division. With that said, it is time to see how the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns all did in the week that was.

Time to take a look...

New England Patriots - 27
Cleveland Browns - 13

Despite Jarvis Landry’s prediction of the Browns going into Foxborough and beat New England, the Browns were no match for the Patriots. The biggest discrepancy from this game was in coaching. The Browns have a talented roster, but the difference in discipline and in-game decisions were drastic. It ultimately led to the Browns falling to the Patriots.

Los Angeles Rams - 24
Cincinnati Bengals - 10

Did anyone even know this game was going on? I sure didn’t, but what surprised me the most is how for some reason the Bengals are refusing to be sellers at the trade deadline. Yes, the 0-8 Bengals are going to keep all their players instead of trying to build for the future. Are we sure Marvin Lewis isn’t still involved with the team somehow?

Pittsburgh Steelers - 27
Miami Dolphins - 14

It wasn’t pretty, especially in the early stages of the game, but the Steelers got a much needed win on Monday Night Football. Beating a winless Dolphins team isn’t going to turn many heads, but if they can beat the Indianapolis Colts at home in Week 9...now that is something completely different. Stay tuned.

AFC North Standings

Baltimore Ravens - 5-2
Pittsburgh Steelers - 3-4
Cleveland Browns - 2-5
Cincinnati Bengals - 0-8

Week 9 AFC North Schedule:

Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers — 1 p.m. ET
Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos — 4:25 p.m. ET
New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens — Sunday Night Football
Cincinnati Bengals — BYE

A look ahead...

Next three opponents for all AFC North teams:

Baltimore Ravens: vs. Patriots, at Bengals, vs. Texans
Cleveland Browns: at Broncos, vs. Bills, vs. Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers: vs. Colts, vs. Rams, at Browns (TNF)
Cincinnati Bengals: Bye, vs. Ravens, at Raiders

Winners and Losers after the Steelers 27-14 win over the Dolphins in Week 8

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/29/2019 - 9:47am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

After every game there are players who play well, and those who don’t. This is where the ‘Winners and Losers’ column comes from.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Monday ngiht when they hosted the Miami Dolphins in Week 8 of the regular season. After the prime time affair on Monday Night Football it is time to see who performed well, and who left a lot to be desired.

Improvement was evident in some ways, and hopefully will continue, but the judgement process must go on. Players who play well can be considered ‘Winners’, while those who left plays on the field can be deemed ‘Losers’. It may sound harsh, but it is the crux of this exercise.

Let’s check in to see who fell on which side of the ledger after Week 8...

Winners

James Conner
Stat Line: 23 rushes, 145 yards, 1 TD / 3 receptions, 5 yards

James Conner showed fans what they have been missing all season when he was running wild in that awesome color rush uniform, but Conner’s dominance was a big reason why the Steelers dominated the time of possession. Pittsburgh possessed the ball 35:18 to Miami’s 24:42, and a huge shout out to Roosevelt Nix and the offensive line for paving the way for No. 30 to have his first 100 yard rushing performance of the season. The shoulder injury is troubling, but you had to expect Conner to get dinged up at some point this season.

2nd Half Mason Rudolph
Stat Line: 20/36, 251 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT

In our post-game podcast I asked Lance Williams if the second half Mason Rudolph would be good enough for this team to win moving forward and he said yes. I agree. If the Steelers can have Rudolph calm, poised and under control moving forward they can make some noise with the defense amped up the way it is. However, there was that first half...I’ll get to that later.

Minkah Fitzpatrick
Stat Line: 2 tackles, 1 solo, 2 INTs

Going against his former team you have to think Minkah Fitzpatrick wanted to make a play for his new team. Make a play to help turn the tide and prove he didn’t make a horrible decision wanting out of Miami. I’d say he did that when he had two interceptions of Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Steelers’ defense has become a takeaway machine since acquiring Fitzpatrick after Week 2.

T.J. Watt
Stat Line: 3 tackles, 3 solo, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 QB Hits

T.J. Watt is a stud. Period. I could just stop there, but I won’t. It is tough to find a player who shows the hustle, work ethic and desire of a T.J. Watt. Watt is developing as a pass rusher, and is a monster when he rushes the passer. Is there still room for improvement? Absolutely, and that should be a scary proposition for opposing teams.

JuJu Smith-Schuster
Stat Line: 5 receptions, 9 targets, 103 yards, 1 TD, 20.6 average

If Conner needed that 143 yards on the ground, JuJu Smith-Schuster needed this 103 yard performance equally as bad. Smith-Schuster finally broke through and again showed he is one of the best combat receivers in the league. Hopefully this is just the beginning for Smith-Schuster and his offensive production.

Mike Tomlin
Stat Line: 1/1 on challenges

It is hard to believe, but Mike Tomlin won a challenge, and it was a good one too!! When it looked like the Dolphins had gotten a first down after a Ryan Fitzpatrick fourth down scramble, Tomlin’s challenge turned the first down for Miami into a first down for Pittsburgh. It was his first successful challenge since 2017.

Defense
Stat Line: 4 Turnovers, 4 Sacks, 10 QB hits, 60 yards rushing, 190 yard receiving

It will be talked about a lot moving forward, and it should be, but this Steelers’ defense is becoming a legitimate force in front of our own eyes. Sure, it was the Miami Dolphins, but the defense did what they were supposed to do. One area to clean up is definitely their third-and-long defense. Other than that, this defense could be dominant.

Losers

1st Half Mason Rudolph
Stat Line: Stat Line: 20/36, 251 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT

I’ll call it rust as an optimist, but the pessimist in me just wants to say Mason Rudolph was awful to start this football game. Whether it was the gift interception on his first throw of the day, or how all of his throws lacked any type of velocity as he wasn’t stepping into this throws. He settled down, but I’m holding out hope Rudolph’s awful start was because he hadn’t played in almost 3 weeks and coming off a hit that left him unconscious and concussed.

Tackling
Stat Line: Most embarrassing TD I’ve seen in a while

The Dolphins’ second touchdown where four defenders failed to bring down the ball carrier was downright embarrassing. This defense isn’t perfect, and the tackling needs to improve if they want to continue to trend in the right direction.

NFL Officials and Reviews
Stat Line: Awful OPI call, and overall time taken for Tomlin challenge/overturn

Officiating any sport is difficult, but the NFL has a long way to go before they start to really get this process right. Whether it was the bogus offensive pass interference call on Diotate Johnson, which wasn’t overturned when challenged by the booth, or how it took almost 10 minutes for the crew to sort out Tomlin’s challenge of the spot on the 4th down rush by Fitzpatrick. It is a bad look, and needs fixed; however, I’m not holding my breath.

Report Card: Grading the Steelers 27-14 win over the Dolphins in Week 8

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 10/29/2019 - 8:35am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

BTSC breaks out the red pen and assigns grades to the Steelers after Week 8 of the 2019 season.

The Steelers were supposed to destroy an 0-6 team that seemed to be tanking. Nobody told the Dolphins that they shouldn’t bother showing up. But they did. Mason Rudolph was late to the party and it looked like disaster from the get go, but James Conner stepped in.

For some reason, I’ve been given the responsibility to rate the performance of the squad. It’s not easy, but I’ll give it a whirl. Despite my less than prestigious BTSC teaching certificate, I have to issue the necessary disclaimer. You know the story; of course, I’m not a football coach, or a teacher, but I play one in blogs and podcasts. All week, I had certain expectations of this contest, then the game happened and judgments abound.

Grading games is an extremely difficult and somewhat thankless task. While the coaches’ grades, of course, are what counts the most, the media and fans can’t help but evaluate as well. All letter grades are simply based on the eye test of somebody watching at home. In this case, it’s my doofus opinion.

So let’s take a look at BTSC’s early perceptions:

Offense: C+

The game plan was better, so I don’t fault Randy Fichtner, but Mason Rudolph was pitiful most of the first half. He threw one pick, should have had two or maybe three. The second would have been James Washington’s fault. He was a huge disappointment as well. But Rudolph rallied and won vertically by going 20/36, 251 yards, and those two TD passes. JuJu Smith-Schuster (103 yards) and Diontae Johnson (84 yards) both had five catches and a touchdown to aid Rudolph, but the Steelers were carried by James Conner’s 145 yards rushing. No. 30 was aided by the return of Roosevelt Nix and a solid performance by the offensive line. The offense was better, but the ineptness early was a major concern.

Defense: A-

This is a powerful defense now and they are going to have to carry the offense for the foreseeable future. The rush defense was again a strength by allowing only 60 yards rushing. Cameron Heyward stepped up as a defensive leader, while Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt and Steven Nelson led with great play as well. They gave up two early TDs but the offense put them in poor field position. Once again, this is the strength of the team.

Special Teams: B

Berry didn’t have to punt much, but did it well when he did with an average of 46.7 on three kicks. Boswell has remained solid with two field goals and three point afters. His first miss of the year was a 54 yard attempt which came up short and right. The return game continues to be invisible.

Overall: A-

It was scary early, but they got it together. The offense stepped up, but Rudolph is still suffering from major growing pains. Thankfully, the defense is great now and providing the strength for this team. James Conner’s injury is a concern, and a lot of the short term could hinge on that diagnosis.

Valedictorian: James Conner and Cam Heyward

Honor Roll: Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, Roosevelt Nix, Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steven Nelson, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Vince Williams

Requires Improvement: Mason Rudolph, James Washington, Joe Haden and tackling.

Now it is your turn to play teacher. Use the polls and the comments section below. We can compare notes in the teachers lounge.

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