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Who is the Steelers’ X-Factor vs. the Giants?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 09/14/2020 - 2:00pm
Photo: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Who is the X-Factor for the Steelers in their Week 1 game vs. the Giants on Monday Night Football?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the New York Giants in Week 1. It is the Steelers’ first game of the season, and hopefully their first win of the 2020 regular season.

When looking at the matchup between interconference foes, there are players who can be viewed as ‘X-Factors’.

What is an ‘X-Factor’?

I would describe an ‘X-Factor’ as a player who can truly alter the outcome of the game, single-handedly. Not just a plug and play type player, but a player who always has to be accounted for, no matter what.

As a clear-cut example of what an ‘X-Factor’ player would look like, think Troy Polamalu. Polamalu’s skill set made him a force to be reckoned with on every play. So, who are the ‘X-Factors’ for the Steelers Week 1 game vs. New York?

Let’s take a look...

Jeff Hartman

X-Factor: James Conner

Why: There is no better friend to a quarterback than a good running game. The Steelers didn’t have that in 2019, but they sure could use it in Week 1 on the road as Ben Roethlisberger gets settled in. Not having thrown an NFL pass in almost a calendar year is something Roethlisberger has him anxious for the prime time game. What better way to get comfortable than to have Conner ripping off runs and big chunks of yards to take the pressure off Roethlisberger.

The best way for the Steelers to win this game is for Conner to really show he is not just durable, but effective when he touches the football. This would allow Roethlisberger to not have to feel the pressure of carrying the team, but making plays when they present themselves to the offense.

Dave Schofield

X-Factor: Vince Williams

Why: In order for the Steelers to win this game, they have to minimize the one player who could really hurt them. That player Saquon Barkley. If Barkley doesn’t get going, there’s not much else to the Giants offense that is truly scary. The best way for the Steelers to combat of the run in 2019 was with Vince Williams. His return to the lineup in Week 5 against the Ravens was apparent immediately.

But it’s not just playing against the run. The Steelers also need to minimize Williams having a large role in the passing defense. If Williams isn’t asked to do much in pass coverage and yet is in situations to be effective against the run, he is the biggest key in minimizing the Giants number one weapon.

Ed Valentine (Editor, Big Blue View)

X-Factor: Giants’ pass rush

Why: The X-Factor isn’t really a player. The X-Factor for the Giants is whether or not they can generate a pass rush. They weren’t good enough there last season, and the only new pass rusher is Kyler Fackrell, which isn’t inspiring. They are banking on improvement from Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. We’ll see if they get it.

Who would be your X-Factor for the Week 1 game at MetLife Stadium? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

Bold and Bizarre predictions for Steelers vs. Giants

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 09/14/2020 - 1:00pm
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Much to the chagrin of most, BTSC’s Nostradumbass predicts the Steelers’ matchup with the Giants.

The Steelers are back in black-and gold and ready to embark on a successful 2020. But there are many questions to be answered.

How will Ben hold up after not playing in 365 days? Will JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner stay healthy to begin their walk years? Will the ridiculous 23-game streak of the Steelers committing a turnover continue? Can the Steelers defense harass Daniel Jones and bottle-up Saquon Barkley? Will Eric Ebron and Chase Claypool find the end zone in their Steelers debuts?

With these questions, story lines, and more, I’ve compiled a list of predictions (some basic, and some utterly idiotic) to look for in this opening contest.

Last year, I came close, but ultimately whiffed on most of my predictions. Let’s see if I can rebound this week.

  • Boujee Smith-Schuster is denied entrance to the locker room, until JuJu convinces security and the locker room attendant that the pooch is the receiver’s service animal.
  • Le’Veon Bell announces that he will never perform again at halftime at Steelers games, but may make an appearance at his home stadium on his night off.
  • Anthony McFarland Jr., excited for his debut, is perplexed and chagrined to find his No. 26 jersey missing from his locker and a sharpie and a roll of duct tape laying by his stall.
  • Boujee is found sniffing and digging around the end zone, perhaps locating the eternal resting place of Jimmy Hoffa.
  • Ben Roethlisberger airs it out on his second play from scrimmage for a 45-yard connection with Diontae Johnson, Ben concludes his day with 242 yards and 2 touchdowns.
  • Big Ben also throws an interception, extending the Steelers turnover streak to 24 games.
  • Zach Banner, feeling anonymous and ignored after his No. 72 is not announced 47 times as eligible, asks Mike Tomlin to switch his spot with that of Chukwuma Okorafor. Bad news for him, his request is quickly denied. The good news for everybody else, Hulk does not give up a sack in his starting debut.
  • McFarland’s jersey is returned to him slightly altered and a shirtless Bell is found racing out of the MetLife Stadium exit.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster catches a fourth quarter TD pass from Ben. Despite no crowd, JuJu still manages to wow the fans at home by grabbing Boujee, jumping in a gas balloon and flying out of MetLife Stadium. The celebration is to honor Joseph Kittinger, the first man to pilot such a craft over the Atlantic Ocean alone. The feat happened on this date in 1984.
  • Eric Ebron catches six balls in his Steelers debut, including a 12-yard score.
  • Terrell Edmunds records his second career interception in the third quarter.
  • Bud Dupree gets back on the sack train with a strip sack of Daniel Jones, but T.J Watt adds two. All in all, the Steelers take down Jones on four separate occasions.
  • James Conner rushes for 112 yards on 24 carries and a score.
  • The Steelers hold Saquon Barkley to 74 yards on the ground. But the stud rusher still scores twice.
  • The Steelers have to shake of some rust, but they outplay the Giants for a 26-20 victory.

Will any of this actually happen? I’ll bet at least one or two. Heck, maybe every one of them. Be sure to post your predictions — basic or bizarre — below.

Behind Enemy Lines: A close look at the “unknown” Steelers opponent in Week 1

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 09/14/2020 - 12:00pm
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants are a team filled with unknowns, so I go behind enemy lines to try and get answers for the Pittsburgh Steelers fan base.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the New York Giants in Week 1 of the regular season on Monday night football, but who are they preparing for?

The Giants have a new head coach, new coordinators and a slew of new players on both sides of the football. This isn’t the Giants team with Eli Manning, Justin Tuck and Michael Strahan. No, this is a shell of that franchise, but leaves plenty of questions about what the Giants will bring to the table at MetLife Stadium Monday night.

With so much unknown I spoke with Big Blue View editor Ed Valentine to get a feel for what this “unknown” opponent has to offer in Week 1.

When the Giants have the ball, how will they try to move the ball with Daniel Jones entering his second year under center?

Listen, the Giants have a new head coach in Joe Judge and a new offensive coordinator in Jason Garrett. We haven’t seen anything, really, so it’s all guess work. I know this much — Saquon Barkley should see the football A LOT. I would expect Evan Engram to be heavily featured, as well. The Giants have hinted they might be run-heavy. We’ll see. That’s about all I can tell you right now.

When the Steelers have the ball, how will the Giants’ defense attempt to stop Ben Roethlisberger and company?

Again, this is difficult. New head coach, new defensive coordinator in Patrick Graham. We have little to go on, other than Graham’s one season with Miami and the fact that he worked for Belichick. I expect the Giants to be multiple on defense. I expect cornerback James Bradberry to follow JuJu Smith-Schuster. Other than that, haven’t got a clue what we’ll see.

Who is your X-Factor for the game (a player who will be a linchpin for the success of the NYG in the game)

The X-Factor isn’t really a player. The X-Factor for the Giants is whether or not they can generate a pass rush. They weren’t good enough there last season, and the only new pass rusher is Kyler Fackrell, which isn’t inspiring. They are banking on improvement from Lorenzo Carter, Oshane Ximines, Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. We’ll see if they get it.

One player to watch no one is talking about...

I don’t think he fits the “no one is talking about” criteria, but I have to give you Andrew Thomas. The Giants drafted him No. 4 overall and Nate Solder opting out means he will be at left tackle. Does he look overmatched in his NFL debut, or does he look competent?

Prediction

Want to see the Giants win. Can’t pick them until I see some evidence of what they are.

Steelers, 24-17

(For the best content on the other side of this matchup, be sure to check out Big Blue View for the best on the Giants.)

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

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 09/14/2020 - 11:15am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The staff at BTSC share their thoughts and predict the outcome of the Steelers opener against the New York Giants.

Now that the regular season is finally here and the offseason that seemed like an eon is over, there’s one last bit of speculation to be recorded. Are the Steelers going to live up to the lofty expectations that their fans have of them? Will they play down to a presumably lesser opponent or are those days over? The contributors at BTSC have recorded their thoughts and predictions. Let’s see who’s closest to the mark and furthest from reality.

Bryan Anthony Davis

This is not going to be the cakewalk that many fans believe that it is going to be. There is going to be some form of rust on Ben Roethlisberger and his black-and-gold clad warriors, But how much? I believe that home-field advantage means very little with no fans in the stands. I also believe that the Steelers are the better team, but they aren’t going to win running away. Expect some heartburn, but believe that there will be relief in a victory.

Steelers 26, Giants 20

K.T. Smith

I suspect it will take a bit for the Steelers to get rolling. A rusty Ben Roethlisberger plus a fired up Giants team with a new head coach in a prime-time spot should equal a struggle, especially in the first half. But I believe the Steelers are the better team and will prove that over sixty minutes. Once the adrenaline wears off and it becomes about ability and execution, Pittsburgh has the advantage. I look for the defense to lock New York down in the second half and for the offense to find just enough rhythm to prevail.

Steelers 27, Giants 17

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Geoffrey Benedict

I see this game starting one of two ways, either the Steelers jump out to an early lead either due to the defense making plays or the offense starting hot, and if that happens I think the Steelers run the ball a lot, focus on getting Ben back accustomed to being on the field and playing and test some of Matt Canada’s designs in the run game. The other way is a rusty start for Ben Roethlisberger, and the Giants keep it close into the second half. Either way the game ends up a relatively lower scoring affair with the Steelers coming out on top.

Steelers 21, Giants 10

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Shannon White

The Steelers are the far more talented team, but my gut tells me to expect the unexpected. There are a plethora of unknowns surrounding the matchup, due to new faces in new places and no preseason games. The amount of rust that Ben Roethlisberger will have to shake off is debatable, but a case of the jitters is almost guaranteed. Ben himself has acknowledged no less. That should dissipate once he takes a hit or two, and realizes that his arm isn't going to fall off once he has to really lean into a deep out route. The Steelers defense is superb, and should control the action. Limiting Barkley is priority number one, and stopping Danny Jones from making big plays with his legs is next. After a slow start by Ben and the offense, they eventually get rolling after the defense puts them in some favorable field positions throughout.

Steelers 24, Giants 14

Anthony Defeo

As I keep saying, this just feels like a comfortable, if not easy, win for the Steelers. I look for it to be close early, before Pittsburgh pulls away in the second half. The Giants are compromised along the offensive line, as well as the secondary. T.J. Watt will get multiple sacks, the Steelers will allow their fans to fall in-love with an old flame—the ground game—and Chase Claypool will put the nation on notice in his first game.

Steelers 31, Giants 13

Michael Beck

The Steelers (and Ben Roethlisberger) have something to prove. I expect huge games out of T.J. Watt potentially forcing multiple fumbles, and from the entire offense who have had a full year of listening to how terrible they were from the national media. The Giants are walking into a buzzsaw.

Steelers 38, Giants 10

Matty Peverell

If the Steelers can come out iron-hot from opening kick-off, the hype will only continue to build amongst Steeler Nation that the Steelers are a legitimate Super Bowl candidate in 2020. However, I think the Steelers start a little jittery, particularly Ben Roethlisberger, make some plays on offense through Eric Ebron and James Washington, while missing a couple of scoring chances and it’s a close game at halftime. The Steelers then come out and win the game in the third quarter by scoring on offense and shutting the Giants down through a key sack or tackle for a loss and a crucial interception. If this happens, look for the Steelers to run it down the middle with the likes of Benny Snell Jr. and throw short passes to their tight-ends, Claypool to make a big play in the redzone in the second half.

Steelers 28, Giants 17

Mark Davison

Here we go Steelers! Our first game back versus the New York Football Giants. I believe Ben Roethlisberger comes out slinging with the help of a solid running game. If James Conner can help the offense to move the sticks, the Steelers will be in good shape to get the win. On the defensive side of the football, T.J. Watt will lead the league in sacks after Week 1.

Steelers 31, Giants 10

Dave Schofield

For some reason, I feel this game is going to come down to the Steelers’ defense. As long as no major communication breakdowns occur, they will keep the Steelers in control as the offense settles for field goals more than fans will like. Look for the Steelers get rack up a large number of sacks to get the 2020 season started. But it will be a Week 1 victory to set the season off in the right direction.

Steelers 26, Giants 9

Jeff Hartman

No one knows what to think when the Steelers take the field at MetLife Stadium. Will Ben Roethlisberger start off fast, or will it be a sluggish start? Will the defense pick up where they left off, or will there be a learning curve for the veteran group? No one knows, but I have a feeling a slow start will result in a big win for the Steelers. Roethlisberger might be a bit off to start, and understandably so, but the defense will carry the day until the offense gets up to speed.

Steelers 24, Giants 13

Podcast: Taming the Bengals in a Queen City comeback

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 09/14/2020 - 11:00am

Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo take a look back into Steelers lore in the BTSC family of podcasts. Check out the latest episode of our newest offering. the “Steelers Retro Show“.

Join BTSC’s veteran duo of Tony Defeo and Bryan Anthony Davis as they set adrift on memory bliss to the time when Bill Clinton was nearing the end of his first campaign as POTUS, OJ was looking for the real killer on golf courses across the United States, Toy Story was the first Pixar movie ever released captivating audiences at theaters, radio listeners were tuning in to Name by the Goo Goo Dolls and the intriguing Steelers were fighting for a bid to the Super Bowl for the first time in 16 seasons.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • What was happenin’ in 1995
  • A look back at the Steelers at Bengals, 11/19/1995
  • and MUCH MORE!

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Steelers Roster Outlook: Minkah Fitzpatrick and the Steelers safeties are ready to dominate

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 09/14/2020 - 10:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Looking at the safeties heading into the 2020 season.

The Steelers started the 2019 season with veteran Sean Davis entering the final season of his rookie deal, and his second season manning the free safety position for the team. The loss of Davis for the season week 2 led the team to part with their 2020 first round pick in a deal for Minkah Fitzpatrick with the Miami Dolphins.

Opinions were all over the place on the deal, I liked the deal because Minkah Fitzpatrick was exactly the type of slot corner/safety that the Steelers had been looking for, and was still young with great upside. But I could not have predicted, and I doubt anyone else could either, the impact Minkah Fitzpatrick’s arrival would have on the Steelers defense, and the course of he season.

Heading into his second year on the team, with an actual off season to work with his coaches and team mates, what should we expect from the safeties in 2020?

A kind of Fitzmagic

Minkah Fitzpatrick was viewed as many things coming out of Alabama in the 2018 draft, but one things he was almost universally not seen as, was a free safety. You can find any number of reports putting his best usage as strong safety, slot cornerback, outside corner and dime linebacker, but go ahead and try to find a draft analyst that thought he would be best used at free safety, I’ll wait. Actually I won’t, but this article will.

The 2019 season proved those analysts wrong, right? Well. . . kind of. Minkah Fitzpatrick’s best use isn’t as the deepest defender on the field. By deepest defender, I mean the defender tasked with being the last player between the opposing team and the end zone. That’s commonly the free safety’s job, and also not Fitzpatrick’s best usage. He did a good job when the Steelers put him in that role, far better than anyone else the Steelers had after Sean Davis’ injury, but that speaks more to Fitzpatrick’s overall athleticism, intelligence and versatility than to him belonging in that role.

The Steelers use a lot of cover-1, especially on early downs. Sean Davis was at his most valuable in that role, where his good reading of the play in front of him, and speed to the sideline consistently limited the damage offenses could do when they bested Davis’ team mates. Minkah Fitzpatrick brought a different dynamic to the free safety position. Fitzpatrick tended to stay up closer to the line of scrimmage, and he didn’t drop back as deep as most free safeties, he seemed perfectly content with letting receivers get behind him and trailing them. There’s a reason analysts saw him as a cornerback after all.

Fitzpatrick is even more dynamic when he is attacking forward, crashing the short middle of the field, disrupting the routes teams like to run to give their quarterbacks easy throws. But the most valuable asset Fitzpatrick brings to the field is his intelligence. Almost all NFL players watch film, they take notes, they study, they put in the work required to do their job, and often put in more in order to try and improve their impact in the game. Minkah Fitzpatrick shows the ability to take that film, apply it to the what he is seeing on the field in real-time and make the right moves to take away what the offense wants to do. It gains him comparisons to Troy Polamalu, who also seemed to be able to read the offense’s mind and turn that knowledge into big plays.

Those big plays are the reason I don’t like Minkah Fitzpatrick locked in as the deepest defender on the field, because as we all remember, when Troy Polamalu would freelance to make a play, sometimes he got burned, Fitzpatrick has, and will get burned again as well, but if Fitzpatrick is the deepest defender on the play, there won’t be someone to limit the damage like Ryan Clark did for Polamalu. The deepest defender can’t leave his assignment to take a gamble on making a big play. That’s why analysts didn’t see Fitzpatrick as a free safety. The Steelers saw it too, and they used far more multiple deep zone defensive schemes after week 3, when Fitzpatrick’s first game on the team showed that single high safety wasn’t the best place for him. As the season progressed they would find more and more creative ways to get Fitzpatrick out of that deepest defender role on passing downs, and it made it really hard for opponents when Fitzpatrick could read the offense and take chances to make plays.

Heading into the 2020 season Minkah Fitzpatrick will be the teams starting free safety, and with an off season at the position, I think we’ll see him play much better in that deepest defender role, but I also expect the Steelers to have a lot of plans that get him out of that role, making him much harder to locate and avoid for the opposing offense. This may not sound like a glowing review for the young Steelers star, but consider this; last season was Minkah Fitzpatrick playing a new position that he hadn’t played much, in a defense he didn’t know, and he made an incredible impact even though it wasn’t that hard to know where he was and what he was doing. The Fitzmagic show is just beginning.

The sidekick(s)

Terrell Edmunds is built like he was engineered to be an NFL strong safety. He stands 6 feet tall, 217 pounds with 10.5 inch hands, an impressive 79 inch wingspan and 97th percentile athleticism. As a rookie he came second on the team in tackles, and tied for second in both interceptions and fumble recoveries (albeit with one each). He added 4 passes defended and a sack to his resume. A really good debut season.

As 2019 approached he was preparing to take a step forward at the strong safety position, playing in front of veteran Sean Davis, who made the calls for the secondary and was used heavily in single deep safety, while Terrell Edmunds would be focusing on playing in the box and covering tight ends and slot receivers. His major roles on the defense were run support, and switching with linebackers to cancel mismatches the offense managed to create.

That all changed when Sean Davis was injured. Terrell Edmunds was now the veteran at safety in his second season, and would take over calling the defense, and as Kam Kelly showed he wasn’t able to handle deep zone coverage, Edmunds was forced into that role as well. When Minkah Fitzpatrick joined the team and started learning the defense on the fly Edmunds retained the job of communicating and making sure everyone was in the right spot, and as the team saw more and more the increase in value to be gained by getting Minkah out of single high safety, his deep zone assignments also kept coming.

Am I making excuses? Yes, absolutely. Terrell Edmunds was thrust into two roles he wasn’t focusing on, and wasn’t ready for. His best film comes in week 2, when Sean Davis was playing and Edmunds was playing the same role he played his rookie season, strong safety. Edmunds has to improve his deep zone defense, he is not good enough there at all, but also it would be nice if the Steelers limit his usage there and let him play to his strengths more. Terrell Edmunds is a great run support safety who has the ability to cover wide receivers in man coverage. He isn’t the best in zone defense, he doesn’t move with the developing play, he tends to watch the play and react to what is already happening, instead of seeing the play and adjusting to the flow of the play before things happen.

Sean Davis’ return to the team could help the team utilize both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds better. Davis isn’t as good of a box safety as Edmunds, and he is awful in man coverage, and Davis isn’t the play maker that Minkah Fitzpatrick is at free safety, but he is much better at deep zone defense than Terrell Edmunds, and better in run support than Minkah Fitzpatrick (not by much though).

What Sean Davis brings to the safety position is the ability for the Steelers to put three safeties on the field and use them in any number of ways. That flexibility would make it very hard for defenses to predict where each safety will be post-snap, and when one of them is Minkah Fitzpatrick, that’s a big deal.

One thing that has been discussed with the departure of Mark Barron is the team using Terrell Edmunds in a similar role, essentially taking the nickle linebacker role against teams with athletic tight ends that like to line up in the slot. Terrell Edmunds is comfortable in slot defense, and he’s good in run support from that spot, something you can’t say for Vince Williams. The return of Sean Davis makes that much more attractive, as the team didn’t really have a good option for the other safety spot (if Edmunds slides into linebacker) before then. If Davis can get comfortable playing with Fitzpatrick, the Steelers can add using three safety sets to their ways to counter offensive personnel.

Every superhero does better when they have a sidekick that can cover for their weaknesses and help them play to their strengths. Minkah Fitzpatrick now has two sidekicks that the Steelers can use to maximize his impact on the field. With an off season to work on his new position, opportunity to work with coaches and to learn, but also to impact the defensive scheme, and two versatile and athletic safeties around him, this could be a truly special season for the Steelers’ newest star defensive back.

The depth

Jordan Dangerfield is the Steelers special teams captain, and while that’s a great job for Dangerfield, hopefully it’s the only one the Steelers need him to perform. Jordan Dangerfield isn’t a bad depth safety, but he’s a big drop-off from the three names ahead of him. If the Steelers lose one of those three for a game or two, they would be unlikely to go into a game with Jordan Dangerfield as the #3 safety. Special teams are important, and Dangerfield is worth his spot because of the quality play he brings to the field on those plays.

Curtis Riley is a 6 year NFL veteran with one season as a starter under his belt. Riley isn’t a well-rounded safety, and he has had problems with tackling, and possibly wouldn’t even be in the NFL right now if covid-19 hadn’t taken out the preseason and also led to expanded practice squads and the ability to put veterans on the squad. The Steelers named Riley one of their four protected practice squad players for week one, meaning Riley can’t be signed off the Steelers practice squad. If any of the top three safeties are set to miss a game or two, expect to see Mike Tomlin use a practice squad call up to get Curtis Riley on the active roster. He can play strong safety, but he is at his best when he is covering a part of the field in deep zone. He isn’t a single high safety, but he is really good in cover-3 and quarters zones.

Antoine Brooks Jr. is the only 2019 draft pick to not make the initial 53 man roster. With no preseason and Jordan Dangerfield occupying the special teams safety spot while being the only returning special teams ace to be active on the Steelers all of last season was too much to overcome for the 6th round pick. Antoine Brooks Jr. is a linebacker in a defensive back’s body. He is a developmental prospect for sure, if he can prove to be NFL capable in coverage, his blitzing and run defense will get him on the field, if not he’ll have to make his career on special teams.

Safety in numbers

The Steelers entered spent the off season and training camp with safety depth being a question mark. The play of mid-camp addition Curtis Riley and the eventual return of Sean Davis has turned what was a weakness into a strength. But more importantly, Davis is also a chess piece that they can utilize to put both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds in more favorable situations. After the incredible play of Fitzpatrick in 2019, before teams found it easy to avoid him, the idea that a much better season could be in store is an exciting proposition.

Other Position Breakdowns:

Offensive Line

Quarterback

Running Back

Tight End

Wide Receiver

Defensive Line

Linebackers

Cornerbacks

Predicting the Steelers’ Week 1 inactive list vs. the Giants

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 09/14/2020 - 9:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers will only need to have five players inactive for Week 1 with the new game-day roster expansion rule.

After a full Sunday of football, it’s finally time for the Steelers to have their turn. Having to wait the extra day for Week 1 is tough, but the wait is almost over.

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

NOTE: Although it does not apply this week as the Steelers did not elevate any practice squad players on Sunday, in the future if there is an elevation after the release of the projected inactives, it will be updated to reflect the move.

Game Status

Out:
G David DeCastro (knee)

Here are the possibilities to end up inactive for Week 1:

Definitely:

G David DeCastro- It was reported early in the week DeCastro was most likely not going to be available for the game, but the Steelers made it official with Saturday’s injury report. With DeCastro out, all other offensive lineman will dress for the game.

Most Likely:

QB Josh Dobbs- Unless the Steelers have too many injured players and have an open spot, their third quarterback does not dress. Look for Dobbs to be in street clothes Monday night.

DT Carlos Davis- It was a surprise the Steelers seventh-round pick made the 53-man roster. With the Steelers usually only dressing five defensive lineman, it would be even more of a surprise if he was active for the game.

CB James Pierre- Coming out of nowhere to make the 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie free agent, Pierre must have really shown the Steelers something special in camp. Unfortunately, the Steelers really don’t need to have six cornerbacks active during the game with none dealing with injury. With the special teams value of Justin Layne, Pierre looks to be the odd man out.

Possibly:

TE Zach Gentry- There were plenty of times in 2019 when the Steelers did not have three tight ends active for the game. With both Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald looking to get lots of playing time, there may not be any need for Gentry on Monday.

LB Robert Spillane- If Marcus Allen truly is an inside linebacker, there’s may not need to dress all five of them. Splaine could be the one they don’t use even though his special teams play will most likely be needed.

S/LB Marcus Allen- Here’s the tricky one. Do the Steelers need five safeties? Do they need five inside linebackers? Marcus Allen could be the last one on both lists and therefore might not be active. But he does bring depth at two positions.

Unlikely:

DL Isaiah Buggs- The Steelers usually don’t dress five defensive lineman. While many assume Carlos Davis will be the one inactive, it was also a surprise he made the roster. Maybe there is a shock in Week 1 and it’s Davis over Buggs, but I highly doubt it.

LB Ulysees Gilbert III- As mentioned before, the Steelers may not need five inside linebackers for the game. Although it would more likely be Spillane or Allen, to not at least mention the possibility of UG3 would be irresponsible. But I don’t think he’s going to be the odd man out.

RB Jaylen Samuels or Anthony McFarland Jr.- It should at least be noted the Steelers are carrying an extra running back at the cost of a sixth wide receiver. Since it’s not a wide receiver on the list, it could be the last running back. According to the Steelers depth chart, it would be Jaylen Samuels, but there is a chance the Steelers feel the rookie isn’t ready. When it really comes down to it, there’s no reason to carry four running backs if the Steelers aren’t going to dress them all. so the likelihood of it being either player inactive is small.

Projected Inactive List:
  1. David DeCastro
  2. Josh Dobbs
  3. Carlos Davis
  4. James Pierre
  5. Zach Gentry

The top four names I’m confident in, but the last one gets a little tricky. It really comes down to who the Steelers would not necessarily need to use. I went with Gentry because it would be tough for him to get any time on the field without an injury. The other possibilities at linebacker, safety, or even running back are all players who would see snaps, even if it’s just on special teams. With those things considered, I think Gentry just wouldn’t see the field under normal conditions if he did dress for the game.

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

A win over the Giants isn’t critical for the Steelers, but it sure is important

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 09/14/2020 - 8:00am
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Do the Steelers have to win on Monday? No, but it sure would be nice.

As the Steelers prepare to open their 2020 regular season against the New York football Giants at MetLife Stadium on Monday Night Football, the question must be asked: How vital is this game?

It’s not. That’s silly. Why would a contest in Week 1 of any regular season be vital? The only way that would be the case is if head coach Mike Tomlin had a gambling problem and he bet all of his life savings on the Steelers going undefeated through Super Bowl LIV.

Other than that very unlikely scenario, Monday’s curtain-raiser isn’t a must-win.

But I do think a win is important.

For starters, the Steelers would probably like to know what kind of football team they have. It’s one thing to perform well at training camp, but it’s quite another when the bullets start flying for real.

Ben Roethlisberger may be hungry to return, Diontae Johnson may be expected to make a huge second-year leap and Eric Ebron may really be a match-up nightmare, but nobody is going to know for sure until the first whistle blows.

As for the defense, I think it will be elite, once more, but will it be elite right out of the gate on Monday night? They may have engaged in some tackling drills at Heinz Field this summer, but everyone knows the restrictions placed on padded training camp practices in the modern era, and it’s hard to imagine them going full-tilt day-in and day-out.

And if Steelers defenders aren’t used to tackling quite yet, well, Giants running back Saquon Barkley may have a little something for them.

Having said all of that, however, I really do think the Steelers will win this game fairly easily. They do have the better team on paper.

It will be veteran quarterback vs. young quarterback. It will be veteran head coach vs. first-time head coach. It will be a team with no COVID opt-outs vs. a team with multiple COVID opt-outs.

Furthermore, it will be a team that barely missed the playoffs last year despite losing its franchise quarterback vs. a team that finished with four wins.

And if you want to really hammer the point home as to who has an advantage, Monday night, the G-Men won’t benefit from the adrenaline rush of 70,000 fans cheering them on.

The Steelers should win, and it would be nice to make a bit of a statement. And not for the sake of showing the world or proving the doubters wrong.

They need to make a statement for themselves, for their own collective psyche.

The Steelers got off to some pretty bad starts in both 2018 and 2019. They rebounded each time, sure, but the playoffs were just out of reach the past two Decembers. I don’t think they want to try and climb that hill again in 2020.

The Steelers have a chance to make some hay early in the 2020 regular season, and that starts on Monday night against a very beatable Giants squad.

A win isn’t a must, but it sure would be nice.

Tale of the tape, Week 1: Steelers vs. Giants

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 09/14/2020 - 7:00am
Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

The complete break down on the New York Giants from the Steelers perspective

The Pittsburgh Steelers are set to go to battle with the New York Giants in a Week 1 matchup on Monday Night Football.

Location/Time Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers travel over to MetLife stadium, where they hold a combined 3-2 record against the Giants and New York Jets since the facility opened in 2010. The Steelers are currently on a two game winning streak against the Giants but trail the all-time series at 44-30-3. The Steelers are currently on an eight game winning streak on Monday nights, last loss Sept 16, 2013 in a 20-10 loss vs Bengals, while the Giants are on a three game skid with their last victory coming 21-20 against the Bengals in 2016.

Best player Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Saquon Barkley in undoubtedly the most talented player on the Giants roster, and despite the lack of talent around him he still has the potential to lead the entire NFL in rushing. The Steelers will have to key off of Barkley and limited him the best they can. If Terrell Edmunds leads the defense in tackles on Monday you can believe that Barkley would have gashed them all day long. The Steelers extremely talented front seven will be tested early.

Weakest position group Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The Giants offensive line is by far their weakest position group. Aside from Kevin Zeitler the talent just isn't their. Left Tackle, Nate Solder opted out for the 2020 season which forced first round pick, Andrew Thomas to slot into the left side of the line and make his debut against Bud Dupree. The right tackle spot will now feature Cam Irving who will have the unenviable task of defending T.J. Watt. Will Hernandez and Nick Gates are expected to slot into the final two positions.

Coaching Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Joe Judge is in his rookie season as an NFL head coach. Coming from the Bill Belichick tree, Judge was most recently the Patriots special teams coach, and by all reports is attempting to run a Belichick-esque style training camp. Former Cowboys head coach, Jason Garrett takes over as offensive coordinator, and Patrick Graham takes over as the defensive coordinator. And let’s not forget about our old pal Freddie Kitchens who after a failed season as Browns head coach, is now the Giants tight end’s coach.

How will the Giants attack the Steelers defense Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

The teams that will be most successful against the Steelers defense in 2020 will be the ones that utilize quick passes to the slot, and those that establish the run. Unfortunately, for Pittsburgh those are real the only things that the Giants are set up to do. Getting Evan Engram lined up against Vince Williams and Mike Hilton would be ideal for New York, as the Steelers have struggled mightily against big framed tight ends the last number of years.

How will the Giants defend the Steelers offense Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Giants defense has been hit by the injury bug already this year. David Mayo and 2020 second round pick, Xavier Mckinney could both potentially miss the entire season which led to the Giants picking up Logan Ryan. This patch work defense will need to get after Ben Roethlisberger, and really test whether or not his elbow is 100%.

X-Factor Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Like I said earlier, the Giants will need to exploit the Steelers in the slot, and Golden Tate could be that guy opposite of Evan Engram. Tate has been battling a hamstring injury but has been practicing leading up to the game. If Tate doesn't play I just don't think the Giants have enough offensive talent to move the ball against the Steelers defense consistently. Tate needs a big game.

Where the Giants can be exploited Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Daniel Jones led the NFL in fumbles with 18 in 2019 and he added another 12 interceptions. The Steelers defense has a knack for getting the ball back leading the NFL with 38. Adding those factors together and the defense could be in for a big turnover party. Look for T.J. Watt to have another big Week 1 performance and potentially punch out the ball a couple of times.

Monday at 7pm EDT, we will get these answers.

Steelers football is back!

Matt Canada better enjoy this time when he’s everyone’s favorite Steelers coach

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 09/14/2020 - 6:00am
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone loves the offensive mind until they see a failed play...

I’m sorry, but I may not be able to finish this article before all of my points are made. Why? Because I might come down with a severe case of motion sickness from hearing about all the motion Matt Canada, the Steelers new quarterbacks coach, will add to the offense in 2020.

Or maybe what’s truly making me nauseous is all the talk about Canada sort of being the apprentice offensive coordinator, a man who is here to take Randy “have they fired him yet?” Fichtner’s job well before people finally figure out how to spell his last name (and, no, it’s not that derogatory one that you seem to think is funny).

Can I ask you something? If Canada is the offensive coordinator in-waiting, why isn’t he the offensive coordinator right now? If he has such an innovative offensive mind, why aren’t the Steelers paying him for all of that knowledge in 2020? Why haven’t they sent Fichtner packing? Because of Ben Roethlisberger? I realize Roethlisberger and Fichtner have worked together for a very long time, but do you actually think the former has such influence and power, they’d go along with his every whim just to keep him happy? I know the franchise quarterback has clout, but the Steelers didn’t even keep Roethlisberger’s little buddy, Ryan Switzer, around to be his fifth receiver and fellow concert/snow-tubing enthusiast. Why would they hinder their global offensive vision just for the sake of their quarterback’s wishes? Do you think he’d retire? Do you think he’d walk away from over $60 million in salary over the final two years of his current deal just because he didn’t have his Coach Randy around to play with?

How would he explain that to his wife, Ashley, who is featured quite prominently in the first three episodes of Bigger Than Ben, the YouTube series that chronicles Roethlisberger’s journey pre and post-major elbow surgery? “Sorry, Honey, but generational wealth isn’t everything, right? Why are you packing your suitcase?”

Anyway, if this whole “secret coordinator” business sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a replay of last year’s saga known as “Teryl Austin is the secret defensive coordinator, while Keith Butler is DC in name only, and he’ll be gone by 2020.”

I’m not sure if that was the official title of said saga, but it was the actual sentiment at the beginning of the 2019 campaign after Austin, who had spent the previous five seasons as defensive coordinator for both the Lions (2014-2017) and Bengals (2018), signed on to be the Steelers Senior Defensive Assistant/Secondary Coach.

Heading into 2019, Butler, who was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2015 after spending years as the team’s linebackers coach, could accurately be described as beleaguered. In fact, it wasn’t long after Butler was promoted that you began to hear rumors of head coach Mike Tomlin pulling rank and taking over the defensive team meetings and game-planning.

With the addition of the experienced Austin, and with Butler beginning the final year of his deal, maybe the writing really was on the wall as it concerned the latter’s time in Pittsburgh.

Of course, we know what happened last season. After years of struggle before and after Butler’s promotion, the Steelers defense finally became dominant again. Yes, the early-season trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick didn’t hurt, neither did the spectacular performances of so many others—including T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Cameron Heyward and Steven Nelson. But the coaches deserved a lot of credit, too, specifically Butler, right?

Not if he was just a figure-head. If he was just a figure-head—someone who was DC in name only—why not let him walk now that his contract had officially expired? Think about it, who would have cared if the team parted ways with Butler? He wasn’t a sacred cow on the level of a Dick LeBeau or even Mike Munchak. And even if the fans did express outrage over the team ridding itself of its defensive coordinator after such a dominant year, they’d eventually come around once the true masterminds of the unit’s resurgence were revealed.

Here we are in 2020, and in addition to taking on the duties of coaching the outside linebackers following the departure of Joey Porter, Butler is still the defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I doubt it’s in name only. And I doubt Austin would settle for being the secret defensive coordinator if he wasn’t also secretly receiving a defensive coordinator’s salary.

Fact is, a coaching staff has and will always continue to be a collaborative unit. I mentioned Austin’s resume. What about Tom Bradley, who also coaches the secondary? The guy spent three decades coaching defense in the college ranks—including 12 years as Penn State’s defensive coordinator. You don’t think he has some thoughts and opinions on designing the Steelers defense? How about the legendary John Mitchell, who’s been with the team since 1994 and spent a quarter of a century coaching the defensive line?

Take a look at just about every assistant coach’s Wikipedia Page. They almost all have a wealth of experience. For example, Canada has served as offensive coordinator for several college teams—including NC State, Pitt, LSU and Maryland. Obviously, some of his ideas will be implemented in 2020, but I’m sure the same can be said for Ike Hilliard, the receivers coach, and Eddie Faulkner, the running backs coach.

If the Steelers offense performs better in 2020 than it did a year ago when it averaged just over 18 points per week, you could credit Canada and his wrinkles, but you could also point to the return of Roethlisberger, whose contributions helped the team put up over a touchdown more per game in 2018. You don’t think a franchise quarterback is worth at least a touchdown more—or less—per week? If not, those guys really are overpaid.

The Steelers don’t have time for conspiracies. If they didn’t think Fichtner was doing the job as the team’s OC, they’d make a change, whether he was Roethlisberger’s buddy or not.

Finally, if you’re reading this, Matt Canada, enjoy this time, because if you are indeed promoted to offensive coordinator in 2021, it may not take long before people are motioning for your dismissal.

Crunching the Numbers: The long wait to see the Steelers on the field again

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 09/14/2020 - 5:30am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Steelers are finally ready for their Week 1 matchup with the New York Giants on Monday Night Football.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are closing in on the beginning of their 2020 regular season. The anticipation of players and fans is continuing to grow with the ultimate climax coming shortly after 7 PM on Monday night. It’s been a long offseason. Too long. Excruciatingly long. And we are forced to wait yet another day for wait to be over.

But the end is near, and the time to see the Steelers on the field in action is closing in…

In this installment of Crunching the Numbers, we’ll take a look at exactly what the wait has brought, and why waiting the extra day to see the Steelers play may not be so bad.

260

It will have been 260 days between games since the Pittsburgh Steelers have stepped on the field against another opponent when they take the field Monday night against the New York Giants. I’m pretty sure this is a new Steelers record, but it’s so depressing I don’t care to verify it. With no preseason and the Steelers not making the playoffs in 2019, it has been a long time for fans to wait.

6

This will mark the sixth straight season the Pittsburgh Steelers have opened on the road in Week 1. No other team in the NFL is anywhere close. With the Steelers going 2-2-1 during their opening road streak, they have a chance to go above .500 with a victory Monday night.

5

Since the 1970 NFL merger, the Steelers have only played five times on Monday night football in Week 1. In those games, the Steelers are 4-1 with the only loss coming in 2002 at New England.

3

This will only be the third time since the NFL merger in 1970 where the Steelers are playing a Monday Game where the kickoff is before 8 PM ET. In the two previous contests, the Steelers have performed quite well. The most recent was a 4:30 PM Christmas Day game on Monday in 2017 where they defeated the Houston Texans 34-6. The Steelers other earlier game was a 7:11 PM kickoff in Washington in 2016 where they were 38-16 victors. In both previous games, the Steelers have scored over 30 points, won both contests, and were on the road.

9

The Steelers success on Monday Night Football is well documented. They have now won nine straight games on Mondays, eight of which were specifically Monday Night Football. The other victory thrown in there was the aforementioned Christmas Day game in Houston. The last time the Steelers lost in a game played on Monday was in Week 2 of 2013 at the Cincinnati Bengals.

14

When the Steelers have struggled and came up short on Monday Night Football, it’s usually a result of the offense failing to put up a fair amount of points. Since 2000, the Steelers are 21-6 on Mondays with all six losses having the Steelers scoring 14 points or less.

11-18

As kind as Monday Night Football has been to the Pittsburgh Steelers, it has been anything but to the New York Giants. Since 2000, the Giants do not have a winning record as they are 11-18 on Monday nights. Also, they have lost four of their last five Monday night games dating back to 2017. In looking specifically in Week 1, it has not been good for the Giants as they are 0-2 since 2000 and have given up more than 30 points in both games.

So there are some numbers in regards to the Steelers offseason and their success on Monday Night Football. Of course, past success does not guarantee future success. This week, defensive captain T.J. Watt credited the Steelers Monday success to proper utilization of the extra day of preparation. But as we have seen, the Steelers have had 260 days to get ready for their next game. All that is left now is to get it done on the field.

Podcast: The table is set, time for the Steelers dig in

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 09/14/2020 - 4:30am

Jeff Hartman brings an AM studio show to the BTSC family of podcasts with the latest episode of “Let’s Ride“.

It’s finally game day for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After all of the the blood, seat and tears and preparation...the table is set for a successful 2020, But now the Steelers have to dig in and execute their plan. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join Co-Editor Jeff Hartman with his show, “Let’s Ride” as he looks ahead to the 2020 season opener for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • The Steelers opening night in New Jersey
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Week 1 Late Games Open Thread: Keep tabs on all the late NFL action

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 09/13/2020 - 2:55pm
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers don’t play until Monday night, so time to keep tabs on the other games going on in Week 1.

It is hard to believe, and some might still struggle with it, but NFL football is back!

It wasn’t always certain there would be a return of America’s favorite game, but here we are, preparing for the first full slate of games in Week 1.

This will be the first NFL Sunday of the 2020 season, and also the first weekend of games with our new commenting system. While improvements have been made, and they aren’t done with those improvements, just wanted to put a message here from NFL Manager Jeanna Thomas about the system:

Here are a few features that you might want to include in game day thread articles, to help your community enjoy the game day threads more:

If you change the ‘Sort By’ option to “Oldest,” you can read all the comments in chronological order, and the comment box moves to the bottom. If you leave it as “Newest”, the latest comments will appear at the top.

If you’re using a computer, you can move down the comments using C, and move back up using shift-C by clicking once inside the comments area. This can also be used to ‘load more’ comments.

Under the ‘My Profile’ tab, you can keep track of replies to your comments, and also sign up for email notifications of replies

If you want to auto-show all images/GIFs/Tweets, you can opt into this under My Profile - Preferences

As always, we’re continuing to improve the system, and will be watching how everyone is using it on game days – and if you or your community have suggestions on how we can further improve the game day thread experience, we’d love for you/them to join our commenting feedback group: https://forms.gle/2FTSCHRgnggxH6SR6 or you can email support@coralproject.net.

For those wondering, you can enjoy some lively commentary with the best Steelers fans across the globe in the open thread for all BTSC members in the comment section below. Let’s remember to keep it clean, respect everyone’s thoughts and ideas, and ultimately remember we’re all here for the same reason—to root for the Steelers!

If you don’t want to listen to the talking heads during games, you can always watch the games on mute and listen to some of our great Steelers podcasts. Check out the playlist below:

So enjoy the game and be sure to follow BTSC for all the latest news surrounding the team throughout the game and afterwards!

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

Week 1 Early Games Open Thread: Keep tabs on all the early NFL action

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 09/13/2020 - 11:45am
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers don’t play until Monday night, so time to keep tabs on the other games going on in Week 1.

It is hard to believe, and some might still struggle with it, but NFL football is back!

It wasn’t always certain there would be a return of America’s favorite game, but here we are, preparing for the first full slate of games in Week 1.

This will be the first NFL Sunday of the 2020 season, and also the first weekend of games with our new commenting system. While improvements have been made, and they aren’t done with those improvements, just wanted to put a message here from NFL Manager Jeanna Thomas about the system:

Here are a few features that you might want to include in game day thread articles, to help your community enjoy the game day threads more:

If you change the ‘Sort By’ option to “Oldest,” you can read all the comments in chronological order, and the comment box moves to the bottom. If you leave it as “Newest”, the latest comments will appear at the top.

If you’re using a computer, you can move down the comments using C, and move back up using shift-C by clicking once inside the comments area. This can also be used to ‘load more’ comments.

Under the ‘My Profile’ tab, you can keep track of replies to your comments, and also sign up for email notifications of replies

If you want to auto-show all images/GIFs/Tweets, you can opt into this under My Profile - Preferences

As always, we’re continuing to improve the system, and will be watching how everyone is using it on game days – and if you or your community have suggestions on how we can further improve the game day thread experience, we’d love for you/them to join our commenting feedback group: https://forms.gle/2FTSCHRgnggxH6SR6 or you can email support@coralproject.net.

For those wondering, you can enjoy some lively commentary with the best Steelers fans across the globe in the open thread for all BTSC members in the comment section below. Let’s remember to keep it clean, respect everyone’s thoughts and ideas, and ultimately remember we’re all here for the same reason—to root for the Steelers!

If you don’t want to listen to the talking heads during games, you can always watch the games on mute and listen to some of our great Steelers podcasts. Check out the playlist below:

So enjoy the game and be sure to follow BTSC for all the latest news surrounding the team throughout the game and afterwards!

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

Ulysees Gilbert III is your 2020 Isaac Redman award winner

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 09/13/2020 - 11:30am
Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

The Steelers young linebacker went from 4th in 2019 to winning the award in 2020

Go get your #54 Ulysees Gilbert jersey before the rush of Steelers’ fans, there’s a new fan favorite manning the depths of the roster in Pittsburgh, and his name is Ulysees Gilbert III:

-The man who single-handedly put Akron sports on the map when he took his talents from north-central Florida to 40 minutes south of the snot-green sea known as Cleveland.

-The man who went 4-0 vs Kent State, alma mater of two Steelers defensive legends, and 2015 Redman Award winner Roosevelt Nix.

-The man who scored 5 touchdowns as a defender and special teams player for the Zips, including a punt return touchdown when he wasn’t the punt returner.

Ulysees Gilbert isn’t just the Isaac Redman award winner, he is in the unique position of being one of only two Redman award winners still on the 53-man roster.

During the 2019 season, the Steelers had 5 Redman Award winners on the 53 man roster at various times, Daniel McCullers (2014), Roosevelt Nix (2015), Tyler Matakevich (2016) and Mike Hilton (2017) all played for the team, while 2019 winner Tuzar Skipper was an inactive member of the roster at the end of the season.

Only Hilton and Gilbert are on the 53-man roster right now, while Daniel McCullers is on the team’s practice squad. Hilton is the most successful Redman award winner to date. Can Ulysees Gilbert III follow in his footsteps and become a starter on the Steelers defense? The reality of a Redman Award winner’s situation on the roster is never secure, and the voices of players now reviled by fans whisper a warning to our hero, “As you are now, so once were we.”

But really, that doesn’t matter right now. Much more important are Ulysees Gilbert III’s accomplishments of legend.

Ulysees Gilbert was once fired as a grocery store bagger, because when people got home all they had were sacks full of quarterbacks.

Ulysees Gilbert would have been a star running back, but every time he thought he was escaping the defense, he ran into himself.

Ulysees Gilbert once beat Chuck Norris in a fight.

The above one is actually untrue, as Gilbert isn’t a fighter, but a lover who loves to love love.

When Ulysees Gilbert walks past 6 Lombardi trophies on his way to work, they catcall him.

(I’m good at this stuff, right?)

The vote results

For those that are interested in the numbers, Gilbert won the award with 38% of the vote, Ray-Ray McCloud came in second with 20%, Marcus Allen third with 18% and 14% of voters voted to skip the award all together this year. As an honorable mention, Matt Canada received a good amount of support in the comments following his nomination by Ryland B., but even by the Toronto Steeler Fan suggested formula of each like on his nomination comment counting as ten votes, Matt Canada would have fallen short of the support for Ulysees Gilbert III.

So send up cheers for Behind the Steel Curtain’s newest hero, a man whose fame is sure to rise to the highest of heights, and whose exploits will be recorded in the annals of Steelers lore.

Leave a note in the comments section with your expectations for Ulysees Gilbert, and any tales of his greatness that you wish to share.

Here We Go Steelers Pre-Game Podcast: A Giant opener to 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 09/13/2020 - 11:15am

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

The speculation is finally coming to and end for fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers with their 2020 NFL season set to commence at MetLife Stadium in prime time on Monday Night Football. Join BTSC’s Bryan Anthony Davis and K.T. Smith as they set the scene for the Steelers’ opener and break down the Giants like no one else does on the latest podcast, the Steelers Pre-Game.

Check out the rundown of the show:

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

3 ways the Steelers could use the new 55-man game-day roster rules

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 09/13/2020 - 10:30am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are permitted to promote two practice squad players to the game-day roster each week. But will they?

There is a lot in the NFL which looks different in 2020. From having reduced or no fans in the stadiums, no preseason games, players wearing masks on the sidelines, or Andy Reid‘s face shield getting fogged up in the rain, there are many things which are not the same from past seasons. But a new Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in March also gave some new rules for the 2020 season.

Two particular rules for the season which deal with roster size are quite intriguing. First, teams will be allowed to have 48 players active for a game rather than 46. The only requirement is one of the additional players must be an offensive lineman in order for the team to have 8 active. Teams who do not utilize this feature are simply foolish. Having an extra body available during the game is not something teams should shy away from for any reason.

The other rule as a pertains to NFL rosters which is new due to the CBA is teams being able to elevate two players from the practice squad each week to, in essence, have a 55-man roster. Teams are not required to do this, but are able to if they feel the need. These players must be elevated by 4 PM the day before game (with the exception of Thursdays) and will not require teams to make a corresponding move to reduce their number of players on the roster. These players act as practice squad players but will be paid 1/17 of the minimum salary based on their accrued seasons. At 4 PM the next business day, the player automatically reverts back to the practice squad.

But there is a catch. A given player can only be elevated twice before their practice squad contract would be voided and they would be free to sign with any team if not having to go through waivers or they could be claimed.

So should the Steelers take advantage of this rule? Is it something they will look to do each week we’re only do it as needed? Let’s look at three possibilities of how this rule could be implemented for the Steelers in Week 1. Remember, this rule has nothing to do with if a player ends up on the Reserve/COVID-19 List as any move in that regard would not apply.

1: Compensating for Injury

If a player is dealing with an injury, elevating another person at the position would be a wise move if the team might be thin at a given position. It was believed that Steelers may have considered elevating Deon Cain or Amara Darboh for this game if Diontae Johnson‘s foot injury would have lingered through the week of practice and had him questionable for the game. Only having four players as an option for the Steelers at wide receiver would have been a problem.

The Jacksonville Jaguars elevated two players on Saturday for their Sunday game against the Indianapolis Colts. They chose to elevate a running back and a wide receiver as they were dealing with injuries at both positions.

2: Nothing

Simply because this rule exists does not mean a team should use it. The last thing you want to do is use up a player’s elevation and not be able to keep them around for the season. If your team is healthy and has enough players available, they should simply just roll with 53. After all, what sense does it make to elevate a player and pay them only to have them inactive for the game?

3- Bringing up a Veteran

Perhaps a team kept a young player on their roster only to realize they are not quite ready for the big stage of the NFL. One option would be to elevate a more veteran player to use in their place.

There is one other way this could be used. This might be a bit of a stretch, but hear me out. The wording in the new CBA is based on typical practice squad rules. But as we all know, 2020 is an atypical year. Since teams can carry up to six veteran players who would not have been eligible for the practice squad otherwise, perhaps they could use one of those players every week. This would, in essence, keep a player on the active roster without using a roster spot.

Once a veteran player is elevated twice from the practice squad, they are not subject to waivers based on their years of experience. Instead, they are simply free to sign where they please. There would be nothing keeping them from instantly signing back on the practice squad only to be elevated again the next week.

It’s a crazy scenario, but think about this one for a minute: The Steelers didn’t want to expose their seventh-round draft pick Carlos Davis to waivers either on roster cut down day or throughout the season. The team decides to keep Davis on the active roster knowing they will have him inactive for game day. They could use the excuse of inexperience or something like that, but really what they’re really done was worked out a deal with Daniel McCullers to where he will be elevated every week. After he is elevated twice, McCullers is free to sign right back on the Steelers practice squad and not even entertain other options. Of course, this means the team would be paying McCullers $61,764 each week rather than the usual $12k a practice squad player makes.

Do I think this is what the Steelers did? No, I do not. Is this a way teams could try to get around the rules this season? Honestly, by reading the wording of the CBA, I believe they could. It just doesn’t seem like a very Steelers-like move.

So those would be the three reasons behind elevating a player from the practice squad. With only David DeCastro out for the Steelers due to injury in Week 1 and the Steelers still having eight lineman available, I don’t see them using this rule and therefore will do option #2. Although they could bring up another lineman, if they are inactive for game day it wouldn’t make sense.

There very well may come a time where the Steelers will need to use this rule this season. If a player has a questionable status for the game, look for them to use a practice squad player who would then be active if the player is not able to go and was a game-time decision. Otherwise, look for the Steelers to ride with their 53, and ultimately 48 when it comes time for kickoff.

Ranking AFC North rosters before the regular season: The Defenses

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 09/13/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

How do your favorite Steelers compare to the rest of the division?

The NFL regular season is just around the corner!

In this upcoming 2020 season, one of the biggest factors in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ success will be how they perform in the AFC North. So, as teams put the finishing touches on their final 53-man rosters and practice squads, I’ve attempted to objectively rank and compare each AFC North teams’ positional groups to the others.

Let’s take a look:

Interior Defensive Line
  1. Steelers (Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley)
  2. Ravens (Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madibuike)
  3. Bengals (Geno Atkins, D.J. Reader, Mike Daniels)
  4. Browns (Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi, Vincent Taylor, Jordan Elliot)

The Steelers take the top spot in an insanely talented group of AFC North defensive linemen thanks to the duo of Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. It’s tough to choose between the Ravens and Bengals for the second spot, but the star power of Calais Campbell pushes him and Brandon Williams over the impressive combination of Geno Atkins and D.J. Reader in Cincinnati. The Browns come in last, but are still solid up front with Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

The AFC North is full of talented interior linemen, and anyone in the top three has a good chance at emerging as the top unit in the AFC North this season. However, if Cam Heyward continues his dominant run and Stephon Tuitt can remain healthy, it will be hard for the Ravens and Bengals to secure the #1 spot on this list. The Browns aren’t bad, but simply aren’t on the same level as their rivals.

EDGE/Outside Linebackers
  1. Steelers (T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Alex Highsmith)
  2. Browns (Myles Garrett, Oliver Vernon, Adrian Clayborn)
  3. Ravens (Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser, Jaylon Ferguson)
  4. Bengals (Carlos Dunlap, Sam Hubbard, Carl Lawson)

Another talented group, but T.J. Watt and the Steelers take the top spot. Former #1 overall pick Myles Garrett and Oliver Vernon form and excellent duo, while Matthew Judon and the Ravens make it just ahead of Carlos Dunlap and the Bengals on the bottom half.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

T.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the AFC North, and paired with Bud Dupree, the Steelers are unquestionably number one. Behind them, the Browns could possibly push for the top spot if Myles Garrett can turn in an elite season, but will probably stay put at second place. The Ravens and Bengals are neck-and-neck with solid pass-rushing units.

Linebackers
  1. Steelers (Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Ulysees Gilbert III)
  2. Ravens (Patrick Queen, L.J. Fort, Malik Harrison, Chris Board)
  3. Browns (Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki, B.J. Goodson)
  4. Bengals (Germaine Pratt, Josh Bynes, Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither)

For the Steelers, Devin Bush looks to turn things up a notch in his second season, while Vince Williams remains a solid veteran run stopper. With some promising camp reports about exciting backup Ulysees Gilbert, the Steelers look rock solid at the position despite some doubts earlier this year. Without a preseason to gain their sea legs, the Ravens’ pair of rookie linebackers in Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison will be in for a tough start to their NFL careers, but excellent reports about Queen put him and the Ravens in second place. The Browns and Bengals come in at third and fourth, respectively. The Browns are led by the young, athletic Mack Wilson, while the Bengals look to bolster their depth with two new rookie additions in Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

The AFC North has a very young and athletic collection of inside linebackers, meaning these rankings could change a lot as they develop and make plays throughout their careers. Still, the Steelers have the top spot solidified as of right now, but the Ravens, Browns, and Bengals are all closely matched.

Cornerbacks
  1. Ravens (Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young)
  2. Steelers (Joe Haden, Steve Nelson, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton)
  3. Browns (Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, Terrance Mitchell, Kevin Johnson)
  4. Bengals (William Jackson III, Mackensie Alexander, Darius Phillips, LeShaun Sims)

Last time I did this ranking, I let my fandom control me and picked the Steelers as the top cornerback room in the AFC North. Reality finally hit, though, and the Ravens’ pair of All Pros and excellent depth wins them the first spot. The Steelers take second, led by veteran Pro Bowler Joe Haden, the underrated Steve Nelson, and some great depth. The Browns have a nice group of corners as well in Ward and Williams, while the Bengals are serviceable but definitely last.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

The Ravens lost Earl Thomas this season, while the Steelers have Minkah Fitzpatrick returning (we’ll get to that in a second), meaning that Pittsburgh’s corners will have a better supporting cast. Because of that, the Steelers have a chance at winning the first spot — but let’s face it — the Ravens are absolutely stacked. At the bottom of the rankings, it looks as if the Browns could also have a chance at moving up, but the Bengals are stuck in last place.

Safeties
  1. Steelers (Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Sean Davis)
  2. Bengals (Jessie Bates III, Vonn Bell, Shawn Williams)
  3. Browns (Karl Joseph, Andrew Sendejo, Ronnie Harrison Jr.)
  4. Ravens (Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Geno Stone)

The Steelers have the best safeties in the division by a wide margin thanks to the star power of Minkah Fitzpatrick, the solid play of Terrell Edmunds, and the great depth Sean Davis provides. Behind them, the Bengals take second place with the tandem of Bates and Bell, while the Browns field a solid group that would be ranked higher if not for rookie Grant Delpit’s season ending injury. The Ravens, now without Earl Thomas, sink to last place.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

It doesn't look as if the Steelers will be moving from their spot in the rankings in 2020. Behind them, the Bengals, Browns, and Ravens are all closely matched. Their play this season will determine who takes spots two, three, and four.

The Steelers’ defense is insanely talented, landing first or second in every ranking. They should be fun to watch this year, but there is still lots of talent in other places in the AFC North.

Does this article seem familiar? An edition was published after the 2020 NFL draft, which you can view here to see how AFC North rosters have changed since April.

Stay tuned to BTSC for more Steelers coverage, including part 1 of this series covering the offense, which you can view HERE.

Steelers Fact or Fiction: Monday Night Machismo edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 09/13/2020 - 8:30am
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

BTSC takes five burning questions regarding the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers and labels them as fact or fiction.

With the Steelers finally staring opening night in New Jersey in the face, the story lines are all ready to be answered. With all of the preparation, reloading and anticipation, how will everything shake up when the Steelers enter the field of battle?

With that offered up, BTSC tries to answer some of the poignant wonderings ahead of time. Take a gander at some bold statements on this and more as we label them as fact or fiction.

Are we on point? Only time will tell...

The Steelers will blow out the New York Football Giants Fiction

While I think that the Steelers will win, there’s no way that they won’t have rust to brush off. Ben Roethlisberger has not taken a snap in nearly 365 days. Plus, the Saquon Barkley factor makes the offense for the home team dangerous. For those thinking that the Steelers are the better team, I would concur. But for the optimists that are predicting a massacre of a lesser team, I don’t see it.

Ben Roethlisberger’s most important stat line could be James Conner going for 100 yards Fact

All eyes are going to be on the Steelers veteran in his return to the gridiron. Will he throe pain-free? Possibly? Will there be an interception? Possibly. Does he need to air it out all night for over 300 yard? He might not have to. If James Conner could get 24-plus carries and go over 100 yards, it takes the bullseye off of Ben and opens up his targets more.

Having no fans in the stands is not a disadvantage for either team Fiction

Travel is the only part of this equation that affects the Steelers. With no fans in the stands, home dogs are not going to get that lift that their home crowd brings. The Giants are at a disadvantage with no blue-clad New Yorkers or Jersey-ites cheering them on.

The defense will sack Daniel Jones six times Fiction

I hope that I’m mistaken on this one, but I can see the Steelers getting three sacks, possibly four. True that the Giants for Joe Judge’s Giants play more like Joe Judge’s Judys, but Saquon Barkley is a good pass blocking back and Daniel Jones is mobile. I think that T.J. Watt can get two take-downs, but I am not envisioning complete domination.

Eric Ebron scores a touchdown in his Steelers debut Fact

For the record, I was not one of the many screaming for Kevin Colbert and company to bring in the former Colt and Lion. I think I might have been off on that one. After dring the Kool-aid, I am really excited about No. 85. He is going to shine and it starts with a huge debut that everybody will be singing about on Tuesday Morning.

Are these statements valid? We will soon see. I, personally, am not endorsing all five of these scenarios, but it’s what my gut tells me will occur. What matters most are your opinions on the matter. Please state them in the comments below

Current and future salary cap implications of Cam Heyward’s new contract

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 09/13/2020 - 7:00am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With concerns over the 2021 salary cap, the Steelers managed to work Heyward’s deal in a way they could manage the situation.

This past week, Steelers’ defensive captain Cameron Heyward received a four year extension keeping him tied to Pittsburgh through the 2024 season. Reported as $75.1 million over the next five years, the breakdown of the contract will be key in determining the various salary cap implications for the next five seasons.

Now, thanks to the experts at overthecap.com, we have a complete breakdown of Heyward’s new contract. So let’s dive in and see what the salary cap implementations are for each season.

2020: $9,301,250

By signing Heyward to his four year extension, he ended up saving the Steelers just shy of $4 million toward the 2020 salary cap. Heyward had $3,751,250 in dead money from his previous contract that has to be applied to his 2020 salary cap number regardless. But Heyward is only receiving a $1.5 million base salary for the season because he is receiving a $17.5 million signing bonus as well as a $2.75 million roster bonus. These two numbers roll into the prorated bonus number which is divided out by five years. Therefore, Heyward will be carrying $4.05 million as a prorated bonus towards his salary cap number in 2021 through 2024. Add on what would have been the dead money amount from his last contract along with his base salary, and this is how the new salary cap number of over $9 million is reached.

2021: $14,550,000

Although this number looks large, it’s nowhere close to the last two years of the contract based on how it is structured. The Steelers specifically tried to keep down Heyward’s 2021 cap number as much as possible with the uncertainties in the NFL going forward. His salary cap number for this year breaks down as a $4.5 million base salary and a $6 million roster bonus added to the aforementioned $4.05 million prorated bonus.

Another option the Steelers will have next season will be a restructure of Heyward’s salary in order to push more money beyond 2021. If they use a similar structure to 2020 and a $1.5 million base salary, Heyward could be given a $9 million signing bonus which would then be split up to an additional $2.25 million in a prorated bonus over the remaining contract. This would push the prorated bonus to $6.3 million for the last four years of the contract which will get tricky towards the end as you will see. But if the Steelers do so, they could reduce Heyward’s 2021 salary cap number by $6.75 million which would make it a much more manageable $7.8 million in 2021.

2022: $15.05 million

Heyward is scheduled to see somewhat of a flip-flop between his base salary and roster bonus for the 2022 season. He will be issued $6.5 million in base salary and $4.5 million as a roster bonus, his last year of receiving a roster bonus in this deal, for the 2022 season. If the Steelers choose to restructure Heyward in 2021, his new salary cap number for 2022 would be $17.3 million

2023: $19.9 million

Here is where the jump begins. The Steelers structured Heywards deal in such a way that his base salary for 2023 is $15.85 million making his salary cap number just shy of $20 million. If the Steelers do the 2021 restructure for Heyward it would push his salary cap number up to $22.15 million.

If by 2023 there is an issue with keeping Heyward on the team, he could be released with $8.1 million in dead money. But if the Steelers did a restructure in 2021, that dead money amount would go up to $12.6 million as a pre-June 1 cut. If a post June 1 designation was given, the amount would be split in half and spread over the next two seasons.

2024: $20.05 million

The final year of Cam Heyward’s four-year extension pays a base salary of $16 million. Of course, if the Steelers do a restructure next season his cap number would go up to $22.3 million. The Steelers could save $16 million in cap space if Heyward would be released at that time with a dead money charge of either $4.05 million if he had not been restructured at all or $6.3 million if the Steelers did a 2021 restructure .

So there are the salary cap numbers for Cam Heyward with his new deal. As much as a fan as I am of Heyward, I hate to even entertain the notion of him being released in 2023 or 2024. But when it comes to the numbers, I thought it was best to report it and put my own emotions aside. The most important thing with this contract is the Steelers will not lose their defensive captain for the next five seasons as long as they want him as a part of the team or he does not choose to walk away from the game.

Five years is a long time. So now that we know what the numbers will look like down the road, let’s just focus on Heyward and the Steelers’ play on the field in 2020.

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