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Report: Steelers done with contracts until after 2020 regular season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/12/2020 - 4:44pm
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

After a report earlier in the week the Steelers would sign another player who will be a free agent following the season, it now appears the signing period is over.

A number of Steelers fans (yes, I’m talking to you Michael Beck) have been anxiously awaiting the Steelers signing another one of their players to a contract extension prior to the start of the 2020 season. It was reported by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette following Cameron Heyward‘s extension that the Steelers were not necessarily done and were hoping to sign another player prior to their self-imposed deadline on Monday. But with the deadline quickly approaching, Dulac is now reporting the Steelers will not be signing any additional contracts this year.

Steelers will not sign any more of their players to contract extensions before Monday night's season opener, per source.

— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) September 12, 2020

There was a lot of speculation among Steelers’ Nation as to which player could be receiving the deal. Whether it was a member of the 2017 draft class who is entering the final year of their contract (other than T.J. Watt who will have a fifth year option available), or another veteran who is only under contract for the season, there were a number of possibilities. But it appears now the players who were slated to be free agents to begin the 2021 league year will hit the open market unless the Steelers work out a new deal following the season or use a version of the franchise tag.

Regardless of which player or players the Steelers were negotiating with, it’s difficult to say how far any negotiations went. Did the Steelers simply decide they better wait and see what the salary cap will look like in 2021? Did the team try to negotiate a new deal with a player and have things fall through? Right now the details are sketchy. But it appears no new contracts are coming in the next 48 hours.

The Steelers have a policy to not negotiate contracts during the season. When one player gets a new deal when another doesn’t, it can effect the locker room chemistry as well as on-field performance. Rather than have these issues clouding the team as they are preparing to face their opponents each week, the Steelers have just made this a general policy.

Although this was reported, there could always be a change. In fact, Cam Heyward thought his deal was falling through just whenever things were worked out. So perhaps whoever the Steelers were negotiating with (if they were negotiating at all) ends up coming to an agreement just in time.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Instead, the Steelers are preparing to face the New York Giants on Monday Night Football, and this appears to be the focus for the organization at this time.

Stay tuned to BTSC for all your Steelers’ news as we countdown to kickoff of the Steelers 2020 season.

Steelers Injury Report: David DeCastro officially ruled out for Week 1

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/12/2020 - 2:18pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

It was reported earlier in the week DeCastro was not expected to play, but now it’s official.

The Pittsburgh Steelers held their final practice before their first game of the 2020 season. On Saturday, the Steelers have one last chance to prepare for the matchup, and one last chance for players to get on the field who were dealing with injury. In good news, wide receiver Diontae Johnson had his second day in a row of a full practice. On the negative side, David DeCastro still was not able to take the field. In the final injury report of the week courtesy of the Steelers PR Department, David DeCastro has been ruled out with a knee injury while Johnson carries no injury designation.

With DeCastro unable to play, the only player on the Steelers’ offensive line who started in the same position in Week 17 last year is left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Maurkice Pouncey started 13 of the 16 games for the Steelers at center and will be back in his familiar role, but he did miss the final game of last season due to injury. Matt Feiler moved from where he started 15 games in 2019 at right tackle over to the left guard position where he did start the Steelers Week 10 contest. Zach Banner will be getting his first NFL start at tackle although he is credited with one start in 2019 as the jumbo tight end.

Although it will be his first game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Stefen Wisniewski is expected to make his 104th career regular season start in the NFL. With an extensive NFL resume and starting for the winning team in two of the last three Super Bowls, Wisniewski was specifically signed by the Steelers for a circumstance such as this.

With Diontae Johnson not even having an injury status for the game, the Steelers will have their full arsenal of weapons at Ben Roethlisberger’s disposal to begin the season. Even more important, the Steelers defense who hopes to improve on their fantastic 2019 season has all hands on deck for Week 1.

As for the Giants’ status report, it can be seen here courtesy of Giants.com.

NEW YORK GIANTS

Game Status

Questionable

LB Tae Crowder (Hamstring)

WR Golden Tate (Hamstring)

TE Levine Toilolo (Hamstring)

Saturday (9/12)

Limited Participation in Practice

LB Tae Crowder (Hamstring)

WR Golden Tate (Hamstring)

TE Levine Toilolo (Hamstring)

Full Participation in Practice

DB Adrian Colbert (Illness)

LB Markus Golden (Illness)

The latest BTSC podcast on the Steelers’ status report can be heard below:

A retrospective look at Ryan Shazier's career with the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/12/2020 - 12:34pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The former star middle linebacker announced his retirement today, ending what was a truly incredible career.

Wednesday morning, Ryan Shazier officially announced his retirement from the NFL. Once the heart of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, Shazier was forced to step away from football after a devastating spinal injury back in 2017. But, even in his time away from the sport, the linebacker remained optimistic that one day he might return to the field. Unfortunately, it seems as though Shazier has gotten to a point in his life when football is no longer in the cards. Steeler Nation can only hope that he will remain with the team in some capacity, but while we wait for news on what his future will hold, let's take a look back at his career, and the truly incredible journey that got him to this point.

May 8th, 2014 - Draft Night

Shazier entered the 2014 NFL Draft as one of the top prospects on the board after compiling over 100 tackles in each of his final two seasons at Ohio State. He was originally projected as a late first or early second round pick, due to the fact that he wasn't as big or strong as some of the other defenders available. But, what he lacked in strength, he made up for in speed, as evidenced by his impressive 4.36 40-yard dash at his pro day.

Once the Steelers were on the clock they decided they couldn't let his talent slip through their fingers, so they selected him 15th overall. Years later, Shazier revealed that the Cowboys actually had plans to take him with the 16th pick before the Steelers stepped in at the last minute. It came as a surprise to many who thought the Steelers would instead take a cornerback since they lacked depth at the position. Still, the move was graded fairly well by most analysts, although some wondered why the Steelers chose Shazier over then Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. Both players have had a lot of success in the league, but it's hard to compare their careers given that Ryan's was cut so short.

September 7, 2014 - First Game

Shazier made a solid impression during the 2014 training camp and preseason, earning a starting spot at left inside linebacker alongside Lawrence Timmons. His first start came against the woeful Cleveland Browns. While he didn't put up any eye popping numbers, his 6 total tackles and 1 pass deflection were an indication of great things to come for the young defender. The following week, Shazier put his abilities on full display, collecting 11 combined tackles in a loss to the Ravens.

Unfortunately, the rest of his rookie year was plagued by injuries, causing him to only play in 9 games all season. His final stat line included 36 tackles and two tackles for a loss, decent numbers considering how much time he missed.

January 9, 2016 - Shazier Saves the Season

Similar to his first season in the league, Shazier’s sophomore campaign saw him sit out a number of games due to recurring injuries. However, he certainly made the most of his time on the field, posting 87 tackles and 3.5 sacks in just 12 games. In doing so, Shazier helped the Steelers earn a trip to Cincinnati to face the Bengals in the wildcard round of the playoffs. It was during this game that Shazier made one of the defining plays of his career. Late in the 4th quarter, the Steelers fell behind 16-15, and after backup quarterback Landry Jones threw an interception deep in Steelers territory, all hope seemed lost. With 1:36 left on the clock, Shazier ripped the ball out of Bengals running back Jeremy Hill’s hands. The fumble was recovered by Ross Cockrell, and ultimately set up Chris Boswell’s game-winning field goal, sending the Steelers into the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

January 29, 2017 - First Pro Bowl Appearance

The 2016 NFL season saw Ryan Shazier morph into one of the best inside linebackers in the league. Despite only playing in 12 games, Shazier posted 87 tackles and 3.5 sacks, the exact same numbers he posted the year before. He was also a takeaway machine, leading the team with 3 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions. This impressive resume was enough to earn the Steelers linebacker a Pro Bowl nod. Though he certainly would’ve preferred to be playing in the Super Bowl, the Steelers loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship guaranteed that Shazier would be taking the trip to Orlando. He made two tackles in the game in limited playing time, proudly representing the city of Pittsburgh.

December 4, 2017 - Career-Threatening Injury

The Steelers enjoyed an incredible start to 2017 season, boasting a 9-2 record 11 weeks into the season. However, disaster struck in the first quarter of a Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals. On a 2nd and 5 just three minutes into the game, Andy Dalton completed a short crossing route to rookie Josh Malone, and Shazier came up to make the tackle. Shazier stopped the receiver short of the first down marker, but couldn't get up, instead staying on his back. As the medical team rushed to his aid, a hush fell over Paul Brown Stadium. Shazier was carted off the field minutes later, leaving the Steelers without the leader of their defense. It was clear, though, that this injury was much bigger than football. The next morning, the news that Shazier had suffered a spinal contusion took the sports world by storm as people began reaching out to send their best wishes his way. There was no question the young linebacker was done for the year; he was about to face the most challenging battle of his life.

April 26, 2018 - Shazier Returns to the NFL Draft Stage

The months following Shazier’s injury were filled with much uncertainty as Steeler nation waited anxiously to hear news on their star linebacker. Without his presence, the team struggled in the divisional round of the playoffs, giving up 45 points to Blake Bortles and the Jaguars in a devastating loss. But, as much as fans wanted Shazier back on the field as soon as possible, the focus was on his health, and making sure the injury did not leave him permanently scarred. In late February, GM Kevin Colbert announced that the heart of the Steelers defense would remain with the team but would not be able to participate in the 2018 NFL Season. This was not satisfying news for fans, who wanted some reassurance that Shazier would be okay. They got it two months later, when Shazier and his girlfriend walked onto the stage together to announce the Steelers first round pick. It was a truly heart-warming moment, and one that brought tears to the eyes of viewers everywhere.

One of the greatest NFL Draft moments of all time:

Ryan Shazier walks out to announce the @steelers pick in the 2018 Draft, just months after suffering a severe spinal injury. pic.twitter.com/vqcQvR1cR0

— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) April 23, 2020

Ryan Shazier has made an incredible amount of progress since he stepped onto that stage over two years ago and he continues to inspire people across the globe with his courage and resilience. Even though his career may have been cut short, he will go down as one of the best Steelers players of the decade, and will remain in the hearts of Steeler Nation forever. Kevin Colbert said it better than anyone when he told Shazier, “I just want you to know, you can retire from the game of football, but you’re never going to retire from being a Pittsburgh Steeler.”

Steelers NFL Draft and College Game Day Open Thread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/12/2020 - 11:00am
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Football is back, let’s take a look at some possible draft prospects for the Black and Gold

There’s a who’s-who of prospects that has opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prospects such as Micah Parsons, my personal favorite, Caleb Farley, Ja’Marr Chase, Rashod Bateman and Gregg Rousseau all possible first round draft selections have chosen to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

I’m not going say it’s right or wrong, it’s not our choice, but the college football season will be different. There will be opportunities for the guys staying and playing, and I will be watching.

Speaking of college football, it’s back! Well, for some, and how long it lasts is anyone’s guess, but in the meantime kick back and watch with us. Each week I will try and highlight the best games and pick out some draft eligible players that may pop on the radar for the the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This weeks highlighted game(s)

Duke at #10 Notre Dame 2;30 pm ET on NBC

This weeks highlighted player(s)

Chris Rumph ll Edge #96 Duke 6’4” 235 lbs

To say I’m intrigued is an understatement, the problem is how he would fit into the Steelers’ scheme. Duke allows the young man to bounce all along the front seven. Seemingly picking his spot to wreck the ball carrier. He has a relentless approach and looks to finish with violence. I’ve seen some hand usage and some designed crosses that allowed him to run free. Watching him play, you can see why he was a focal point of Duke’s scheme. See the ball, get the ball! Looking at the 2020 season and a match up against a Top 10 opponent, it will be interesting to see what he offers up.

Join in the conversation, let us know what game you are watching and who you have your eye on. Go Steelers!!

The NFL returned on Thursday night and it felt pretty normal

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/12/2020 - 10:15am
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The NFL kicked off its 2020 regular season on Thursday night as the Chiefs knocked off the Texans, 34-20. As for yours truly, football felt about as normal as it ever did.

After the longest offseason in the history of the league, or so it seemed, the NFL opened its 2020 campaign on Thursday night with the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs knocking off the Texans, 34-20, before 16,000 really loud fans at Arrowhead Stadium.

As a big-time football enthusiast, I wondered long and hard about how things would “feel” with the NFL kicking off its season amid so much drama—so darn much—including widespread social unrest and the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic that’s been with us since about a month after the last NFL season ended.

I gotta tell ya’, it felt pretty darn normal. Maybe it had something to do with several thousand fans being allowed to attend the game and making about as much noise as one could expect. Don’t get me wrong, the atmosphere did seem slightly underwhelming, but only in a “Pitt taking on Austin Peay at Heinz Field” kind of way (I’m a die-hard Pitt fan, so I’m allowed to make that joke).

It still felt like NFL football to me.

I made snarky remarks on Twitter while I watched. I marveled at Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs Superman quarterback, and his ability to both scramble and throw frighteningly-accurate weird-angled passes a la Magic Johnson, circa 1986. I trembled in fear at the thought of the Steelers, their elite defense be damned, having to face Kansas City and its myriad of weapons in a postseason match-up in January. I realized that the Texans will again be just good enough to come up short of reaching their goals. Sorry, Houston.

I soaked up every last second that I could. It had been a while. I wondered if there would even be that first game on Thursday night, the traditional kickoff special between the Super Bowl champion and a team that’s eager to help it remember that NFL stands for Not For Long when you’re the champion of it.

Had I been living in a cave since March (not a bad idea, actually), I may have been shocked at the sight of Andy Reid, the Chiefs’ head coach, and his visor that was constantly getting fogged up. I may have also wondered about the other coaches, trainers and even some players and their decision to wear surgical masks throughout the night. But I haven’t been living in a cave since March (unfortunately), and seeing folks wearing masks is the new normal for me.

As for the other drama that had to do with the social unrest? That was addressed with commercials, inscriptions in each end zone, the Texans’ decision to stay in the locker room during the playing of the National Anthem, one Chiefs’ player kneeling during it, and both teams coming together in a show of unity after the anthem.

Was that enough to turn some folks off and have them turn off their televisions? Sure, but that was to be expected. The Kickoff drew 20.3 million viewers for NBC, or just under two million less than last year’s Kickoff between the Packers and Bears. However, over a million more people watched on Thursday than they did in 2018 following an entire regular season and offseason filled with cries from disgruntled fans saying they’d never watch again because of anthem protests.

What’s that all mean? Ratings are fluid. It also appears that the NFL’s viewership is still quite healthy despite the objections. Don’t get me wrong, even as a card-carrying member of the bleeding heart club, I don’t want to see every NFL game turn into a showcase for racial equality—there is an element of sports escapism that even I subscribe to—but given the demographics of its players, I can certainly see why the NFL would want to address the issue during the Kickoff, its Week 1 slate of games and even through the early portion of the 2020 season.

But even if the social issues remain a strong theme all throughout the regular season, I won’t care. I’m a big picture kind of guy. I realize this is a blip in time, a moment, history in the making. When the dust finally settles years from now, the NFL will still be around, and kids will be reading about this time in their history books.

Moving right along.

I’m looking forward to Sunday and watching football all day long. The Buccaneers vs. the Saints? Tom Brady’s new team vs. Drew Brees’ current one? I don’t have to check my local listings as I know that one will be on Fox.

Howie and Terry messing around during the highlights? Coach Cowher, and everyone else on the CBS The NFL Today crew, pretending to tolerate Boomer Esiason? The smell of the crisp almost fall air? I can’t wait.

Oh yeah, and the Steelers will be on Monday Night Football. Will that feel normal? Will I be all nervous and jumpy as I watch that game? Do you even have to ask?

The NFL will still be around long after we all leave this life. And being the big picture guy that I am, I plan on enjoying every last second of it, no matter what’s going on in the world.

Go football!

Ranking AFC North rosters before the regular season: The Offenses

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/12/2020 - 8:45am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

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

The NFL regular season is finally here!

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:

Quarterbacks
  1. Baltimore Ravens (Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley)
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs)
  3. Cleveland Browns (Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum)
  4. Cincinnati Bengals (Joe Burrow, Ryan Finley)

I hate giving Lamar Jackson and the Ravens the top spot in the quarterbak rankings, but Baltimore’s dual-threat phenomenon won league MVP last year while we haven't even seen Ben Roethlisberger play since his elbow injury. Still, Roethlisberger gets the second spot above Baker Mayfield, who had a disappointing 2019, and Joe Burrow, who is in last place by nature of being a rookie quarterback on a bad team.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

Joe Burrow is very good, but playing for the Bengals might stunt his development. Still, I see him as leap-frogging Baker Mayfield at some point this season. Lamar Jackson is due for a bit of a down year after setting the bar so high in 2019, but it remains to be seen if Ben Roethlisberger can take the top spot once again in the AFC North.

Running Backs
  1. Ravens (Mark Ingram, Justice Hill, Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins)
  2. Browns (Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D’Ernest Johnson)
  3. Bengals (Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams, Samaje Perine)
  4. Steelers (James Conner, Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland Jr., Jaylen Samuels)

The Ravens get the top spot with an insanely deep running back room full of different running styles and loads of talent, led by veteran Mark Ingram. The Browns have another strong group with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, while Cincinnati has one of the league’s most underrated backs in Joe Mixon on their roster. Pittsburgh’s diversity and depth at the running back position rivals Baltimore, but they lack the star power of their divisional foes.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

If the Browns can maximize the talent of Chubb and Hunt, there's a chance they could take the top spot from Baltimore. Behind them, Joe Mixon has a chance at having a big season as the bell cow back for Cincinnati. If James Conner can stay healthy and the young depth behind him impress, there’s a chance the Steelers could climb up the rankings as well. There is a lot of potential among the AFC North’s deep running back group entering this season.

Wide Receivers
  1. Browns (Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, KhaDarel Hodge)
  2. Steelers (Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Chase Claypool, Ray-Ray McCloud)
  3. Bengals (A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, Auden Tate, John Ross)
  4. Ravens (Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Devin Duvenray)

It’s surprisingly hard to rank the AFC North receiver room. The Browns’ Pro Bowl duo of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry end up taking the top spot, but the Steelers young, talented core of wideouts takes second only due to their inexperience. Behind the top two, the Bengals have put together a solid group, but the status of A.J. Green remains an unknown. The Ravens’ wideouts have potential, but don’t look quite as good on paper as everyone else.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

There's a good chance the Steelers take the top spot at some point this season, even though the Browns have the most proven talent as of right now. If A.J. Green can return to old form the Bengals and Joe Burrow could field a dangerous offense. The Ravens’ run-first attack could hurt Marquise Brown and co.’s chance at moving up in the rankings.

Tight Ends
  1. Ravens (Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle)
  2. Steelers (Eric Ebron, Vance McDonald, Zach Gentry)
  3. Browns (Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant, David Njoku, Stephen Carlson)
  4. Bengals (C.J. Uzomah, Cethan Carter, Drew Sample)

The Ravens have the best starting tight end in the AFC North in Mark Andrews, putting them at the top. Pittsburgh has a two-headed monster in Ebron and McDonald, both talented yet inconsistent receiving threats. Cleveland is deep at the position, while Cincinnati is solid but nothing to write home about.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

It’s plausible that the Steelers could overtake the Ravens at some point, and the Browns’ tight end room could surprise as well. Overall it’s a tight race for the top spot.

Offensive Tackles
  1. Ravens (Orlando Brown Jr., Ronnie Stanley, Tyre Phillips)
  2. Browns (Jack Conklin, Jedrick Wills Jr., Chris Hubbard)
  3. Steelers (Alejandro Villanueva, Zach Banner, Chukwuma Okorafor
  4. Bengals (Jonah Williams, Bobby Hart, Fred Johnson)

The Ravens might have the best tackle combination in the entire league. Behind them, the Browns invested a lot in big free-agent Jack Conklin and first round pick Jedrick Wills. Alejandro Villenueva of the Steelers is a Pro Bowl talent, but has struggled in recent years, while it looks like late bloomer Zach Banner will be holding down the other side of the line. Jonah Williams is a promising tackle who didn't play last year due to injury, but the rest of the Bengals’ offensive line is a massive concern.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

There’s a chance the Browns’ big gamble on tackles won't pay off, meaning the Steelers have a chance at overtaking them in the rankings. At the top and bottom, the Ravens and Bengals look cemented in their spots entering this season.

Interior Offensive Line
  1. Steelers (Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Matt Feiler, Stefen Wisniewski)
  2. Ravens (Matt Skura, Bradley Bozeman, D.J. Fluker, Ben Powers, Patrick Mekari)
  3. Browns (J.C. Tretter, Joe Bitonio, Wyatt Teller, Nick Harris)
  4. Bengals (Michael Jordan, Billy Price, Trey Hopkins, Hakeem Adeniji)

The Steelers take the top spot with two Pro Bowlers in Pouncey and DeCastro, along with the underrated Matt Feiler and some excellent depth in Stefen Wisniewski. Despite losing Marshal Yanda to retirement, the Ravens still have an above-average interior line, with the Browns not far behind. The Bengals offensive line continues to be weakness for the team.

Will this ranking change anytime soon?

The Steelers’ interior line isn’t getting any younger, and the younger Ravens could overtake them this season. The Browns’ could be a contender as well. Once again, the top three is rather close, while the Bengals are on the outside looking in.

The Steelers come out of the rankings with the top interior offensive line in the division by a small margin, and in a respectable spot nearly everywhere else.

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 2 of this series.

T.J. Watt discusses the Steelers’ success on Monday Night Football

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/12/2020 - 7:15am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Some teams crumble under the bright lights on Monday nights. The Steelers are not one of them.

Steelers’ fans are finally just days away from their team taking the field for the first time in the 2020 season. Unfortunately, the wait has been extended an additional 30 hours as instead of opening with a simple 1 PM Sunday start, the Steelers will be the first game in a Monday Night Football doubleheader with a 7:10 PM kickoff.

When it comes to the Steelers playing on Monday night, their success has been well documented. In fact, since the year 2000 (which happens to be the first year of general manager Kevin Colbert), the Steelers are 21-6 when playing on Monday night. If going strictly in the era since 2007 when Mike Tomlin was named the head coach, the Steelers record is an impressive 18-2 with victories in their last nine contests.

So what is the key to the Steelers success when it comes to Monday Night Football? Is it the matchups? Is it being under the primetime lights?

According to defensive captain and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year finalist T.J. Watt, the biggest advantage of playing on Monday night is the extra day of preparation. Watt explained this on Friday in a virtual interview with Pittsburgh media when he was asked to speculate as to why the Steelers and Coach Tomlin have so much success in Monday games.

“I think the thing about Monday night is you get a bonus day of preparation,” Watt explained. “I think coach Tomlin, the whole coaching staff, and the players do a great job of utilizing that extra day—that bonus day—to kind of hammer out any final details, to go over the game plan, to make sure that we’re very detailed oriented, especially when it’s the first game of the season. To have that extra day is going to help us hopefully be a lot more effective and be able to play a lot faster come Monday night.”

For the unusual 2020 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are probably dealing with more than just one bonus day of preparation. With no preseason games, the Steelers have been able to singularly focus their strategies on the New York Giants. Granted the most important thing the Steelers needed to handle in training camp was their own preparation. But part of playing football is knowing your opponent, and the Steelers have known their next opponent for quite some time.

For many teams in the NFL, splitting up the season helps in managing preparation. Not only do the Steelers cut their season into quarters consisting of four games each when it comes to managing their overall success, there is a routine involved with each week in the preparation for their next opponent. When the next game falls on a Monday, that week of preparation involves one additional day as part of the new routine. And according to Watt, taking advantage of that day has been what Coach Tomlin has done to be successful.

So how much does the extra day of preparation come into play when it is a teams first game of the season? It’s difficult to say. Since Coach Tom and took over the Steelers in 2007, this will only be the second Monday night game the Steelers have played in Week 1 with the previous contest being in 2016 when they defeated the Redskins in Washington 38-16.

One thing we all must remember is 2020 is a new season with new players and new goals. How the Steelers have performed in the past is irrelevant. What truly matters is how the team plays when they step on the field Monday night in the Meadowlands.

As for T.J. Watt, he has his own opinion as to how the Steelers will be able to handle their first contest of 2020.

“I have no doubt we’ll be ready come Monday Night.”

Which Steelers wide receiver will have a big game vs. the Giants?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/12/2020 - 6:00am
Mitchell Layton-USA TODAY Sports

All the signs point to a big day for somebody.

On our BTSC radio show Know your Enemy this week, Michael Beck and I hosted Joe DeLeone from Big Blue View, the SBnation site for the New York Giants. One detail from that show really stuck with me. When asked if Diontae Johnson could have a big game DeLeone answered that it is very possible, because the Giants have two cornerbacks in James Bradbury and newcomer Logan Ryan that are experienced and effective. Behind that? The Giants depth chart has Corey Ballentine as a starting cornerback.

In 2019 Ballentine was 5th among Giants cornerbacks in defensive snaps, and 8th among all Giants defensive backs. Sports info Solutions shows Ballentine was in coverage for 171 snaps in 2019, was targeted 35 times for 351 yards and 4 touchdowns, with one pass defended. That’s just over 2 yards per coverage snap allowed. Mike HIlton led the 2019 Steelers with 1.16 yards per cover snap, Artie Burns worst season was 1.38 yards per cover snap. Ballentine is going to be on the field for the Giants because the team lost Deandre Baker and Julian Love is being forced to play free safety due to the injury to rookie Xavier McKinney. New cornerback Logan Ryan is listed as the backup free safety on the team’s depth chart, but he is likely to be the primary slot defender, and I assume he will start opposite James Bradbury, if not. . . ouch.

When the Steelers put 3 wide receivers on the field, one of them is going to be facing Corey Ballentine, and Ballentine is going to be supported by a second year cornerback turned free safety. The Giants are being forced to play that against Ben Roethlisberger and a deep receiving corps. Roethlisberger is fantastic at manipulating safeties, moving them with his eyes, as well as shoulder and pump fakes. He beats great safeties that way, and the Giants have a young cornerback playing safety out of necessity.

The big question is, which receiver is going to benefit the most?

The answer to that gets a bit complex. First off, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ben Roethlisberger have chemistry and Smith-Schuster is a really good slot receiver. the Giants are expected to use Logan Ryan on Smith-Schuster, Ryan is a big physical corner who was also one of the better slot defenders in the NFL in 2019. That matchup makes a lot of sense, Logan Ryan, on film and paper seems like the logical player to match up with Smith-Schuster to try and take away Roethlisberger’s most comfortable target. I expect Smith-Schuster to have a good game, as Roethlisberger will target him, but not a huge game.

Diontae Johnson was the player named in our show, and Diontae Johnson could very well be the player who benefits the most, Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t thrown to Diontae Johnson much at all in actual games, and that matters with Roethlisberger, but if Johnson has a favorable matchup and is getting separation, it could be a great time to build that chemistry with a flurry of targets to force the Giants defense to over-defend the weak side of the offense, where Johnson likely will be lining up.

The key is where James Bradbury lines up. If the Giants play him on the defensive left, where he played the most in Carolina, then he’ll face the side of the field the Steelers use Smith-Schuster the most, and in three wide receiver sets, that would put him outside Logan Ryan, defending the position where we are most likely to see Chase Claypool. As Joe DeLeone pointed out in our show, Bradbury is the Giants best counter to Chase Claypool, as he is used to playing against Mike Evans, Julio Jones and Michael Thomas from his 4 seasons in the NFC South, he won’t be facing anything he hasn’t seen before in that situation.

But Bradbury and Logan on one side of the field also means you have Corey Ballentine on the other side of the field by himself. If they move Bradbury to the weak side, putting Ballentine on the strong side of the formation where it is easier to provide help, you get a potentially explosive match up for Chase Claypool. or James Washington.

The Stelers depth chart lists James Washington as Diontae Johnson’s backup, but he is the most veteran WR outside of JuJu Smith Schuster, and is likely to e on the field before Claypool. James Washington isn’t a player that gains a lot of separation, and that hurts his production with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, but if Washington gets a matchup with the Giants worst corner, look for slants and 1v1 balls to be headed his way. We all remember what Washington did to Cleveland and Denzel Ward in those situations with Devlin Hodges at quarterback, the situation would be much more favorable for James Washington this time.

I am leaning toward Chase Claypool over James Washington having the bigger impact here. The Steelers like Diontae Johnson is space, and James Washington has only really produced when JuJu Smith-Schuster is hurt. With the Giants free safety situation, I expect the Steelers to test their cornerbacks deep, and Chase Claypool is a more dynamic deep threat than James Washington. I expect Ben Roethlisberger to take a few deep shots to Claypool, and I think Claypool catches more than one of them. I’m thinking 80+ yards and a touchdown is feasible. If he catches an early one, expect more to follow. Roethlisberger loves tall fast receivers, I mean, he targeted Donte Moncrief 10 times in week 1 of 2019, without any real return on investment. If the Steelers are able to get Chase Claypool covered by Corey Ballentine, expect to see them to feed the young man.

I know Claypool has been getting a lot of hype on this site, but Randy Fichtner recently stated that Claypool will be getting snaps early in the season, and Dejan Kovacevic kept just inside the lines (link may be pay-walled) of what they are allowed to talk about from practice Monday to let fans know that the rookie receiver was making impressive plays with Ben Roethlisberger in the Steelers first practice focusing on the week 1 gameplan, and looks like an impact player

What do you think, Steeler fans?

Podcast: A week of revisits, resignings, retirements and returning to football

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/12/2020 - 5:30am

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

G’Day Mates! The Aussie blokes are back and ready to talk some Steelers football from an Australian state of mind. While it’s easy to be a Steelers fan in the United States, imagine finding the black-and-gold on the other side of the world. Join Matty Peverell and Mark Davison from Steelers Nation Australia (and the future) as they bring an international perspective to the upcoming Steelers/Giants matchup, the resigning of Cam Heyward, Ryan Shazier’s retirement and much, much more. In fact, they’d still be talking if we’d let them. This is what will be discussed on the Touchdown Under, the newest sensation from the BTSC family of podcasts.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Steelers Touchdown Under: A week of revisits, resignings, retirements and returning to action
  • Slingin’ the slang
  • Sadly, the Jordan Berry stat of the week has been canceled
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Black and Gold Links: The 2017 draft class was special, and their time together is coming to a close

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 09/12/2020 - 5:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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

It has been a one-of-a-kind offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. With training camp now behind us, it looks like we’ll have to wait until opening weekend to see the Steelers take the field. It is on to the regular season!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how the Steelers’ 2017 NFL Draft class was special, but their time together looks to be coming to a close.

Let’s get to the news:

  • That 2017 draft class was something else, and looks like they are going to be headed elsewhere after 2020.

2017 draft class was a winner for Steelers, but time together might be running out

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

They grow up so fast.

It wasn’t long ago players such as JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner and T.J. Watt were seen as the future of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now, it appears two of them are mere months from becoming part of the organization’s past.

That’s not assured, of course, but with Smith-Schuster and Conner entering the final year of their rookie contracts, odds point to them becoming unrestricted free agents in the spring.

So, Monday’s game against the New York Giants might be the final opener as teammates for members of their 2017 draft class, which is looking like one of the Steelers’ best in recent years. After three seasons, first-rounder Watt, second-rounder Smith-Schuster and third-rounder Conner each have been named to at least one Pro Bowl.

Unlike the draft class that preceded them — seven 2016 picks combined for zero Pro Bowl berths, and none remained with the team until Sean Davis was brought back via waivers Sunday — the Steelers’ rookie class from 3½ years ago is leaving its mark on the organization.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • What will it take for the Steelers to be considered a contender, and not a pretender?

Mark Madden: To reach experts’ expectation, Steelers must win 1st 2 games, sweep Ravens

By: Mark Madden, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

In Pittsburgh, sports fans and the attendant media aren’t brilliant at much. But overrating and overestimating have proven to be specialties.

The Penguins had a “great” pre-playoffs camp, whatever that means. They were “flying out there,” especially Evgeni Malkin. That provided pretext for a long playoff run. Actual evidence like losing eight of 11 before the covid break and being swept by the New York Islanders in last year’s first round were ignored. So the Penguins fell victim to their own hubris, as well as ours, not to mention No. 24 seed Montreal. Malkin shot 0 for 21 from the field.

Next season will see us continue to slam the window shut on our own fingers.

The Pirates lost 93 games last year and slashed payroll to the bone. Yet many slobbered optimism at the random nature of a 60-game season and cited great young players such as Bryan Reynolds, who is hitting .181. The Pirates stink. That was always going to happen.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The Steelers’ defense is all about speed.

Week 1 Blog: Watt: ‘The key word is speed’

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

The key word is speed: The Steelers will have to wait an extra day to kick off the 2020 season, playing Monday night against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.

The wait has been worth it for the Steelers under Coach Mike Tomlin, as the team has a 15-2 record on Monday Night Football under him.

“The thing about Monday night is you get the bonus day of preparation,” said T.J. Watt. “Coach Tomlin, the whole coaching staff and the players do a great job of utilizing that extra day to hammer out any final details. To go over the game plan and make sure that we’re very detail oriented, especially when it’s the first game of the season. To have that extra day is going to help us be a lot more effective and play a lot faster come Monday night.

“It’s important to be one game at a time, one practice at a time, and that’s what I love about this defense. We’re flying around, making plays every single day out here on the practice field. We’re, more than anything, excited to be able to go up against a different team and it so happens to be the New York Giants. They have a lot of great weapons, but we feel we have a lot of great players on our team as well. Schematically we feel very confident going into this matchup.”

One of the many things the Steelers defense has going for them is the ability to play fast. It’s part of their calling card and something that has Watt excited.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

Welp, so much for that Watt Family Reunion

Are these the best Steelers CBs since Rod Woodson played?

Keith Butler sees a dominant Stephon Tuitt returning in 2020

See who the experts like in Steelers vs. Giants

Two Steelers ready for the prime time and postseason awards

How Sean Davis can help the Steelers’ defense in 2020

Randy Fichtner thinks Chase Claypool can step in and play from Day 1

  • Social Media Madness

7️⃣ is the next step. #HereWeGo #ItTakesAllOfUs

: #PITvsNYG - Monday at 7:10 pm on ESPN pic.twitter.com/RhPcloNHSd

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 11, 2020

Only 3️⃣ days away @_TJWatt | #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/8Cav0vpbbx

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 12, 2020

.@missi_matthews details Friday's practice report and talks about Zach Banner being named the starter for the RT position, James Conner's thoughts on being called the 'bell cow' by Coach Tomlin & more. pic.twitter.com/iMyNBKgWvV

— Steelers Live (@SteelersLive) September 11, 2020

3 days... can’t wait!! #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/RKuSspCp0w

— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) September 11, 2020

Friday Night Six Pack of questions and open thread: Week 1 Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/11/2020 - 5:45pm
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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

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

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

The rules are still the same...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

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

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

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

1. The 2020 NFL regular season is now officially underway! Did you watch any of last night’s game between the Texans and Chiefs? Was the lack of a preseason apparent in the product on the field?

2. Last night there were a limited number of fans in the stadium. Do you think having any fans, even if it is a small number, will help players feel that it is more like a game? (In other words, how import is it for players to be “playing for the crowd”?)

3. How do you feel about having to wait the extra day to see the Steelers play in Week 1? Are you glad it’s a national game, or will having to wait through all the other games on Sunday get to you specifically because it’s the first week?

4. Last season Vince Williams played a much more limited number of snaps because he was not on the field for a lot of obvious passing situations. Do you think the Steelers do it again this year? Although he’s unlikely to be on the field when the Steelers are in dime, do you think they replace him in their nickle packages?

5. What are your expectations for Ben Roethlisberger in his first game back? (Projected stats are encouraged, but not necessary)

6. Where are you watching Monday’s game, and who are you watching with?

Stay safe out there!

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

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

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

Steelers Injury Report: Diontae Johnson returns to practice Friday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/11/2020 - 2:51pm
Photo by Rob Leiter via Getty Images

Steelers’ Nation breathes a sign of releif as the second-year wide receiver returns as a full participant on Friday.

Sometimes a game on Monday Night Football can play tricks on fans. When the injury reports get shifted to be one day later can sometimes make a player missing practice a bigger reason for concern than it may be. Add in the fact it is the first week of the season, and Diontae Johnson missing practice on Thursday had Steelers’ fans worried. But have no fear as Johnson returned to practice on Friday as a full participant. In the second injury report of the week courtesy of the Steelers PR Department, Johnson returned to the field while David DeCastro was still not able to return from his knee injury.

Much like Thursday, the report of David DeCastro not practicing was expected. As the Steelers are expecting DeCastro to miss Week 1, a return to action would be a very welcomed site. As DeCastro is out, veteran Stefen Wisniewski continues to get in work and is expected to get the start in place of DeCastro is he is indeed unable to go.

The return of Diontae Johnson should hopefully reduce any shifting within the wide receiver’s room. The Steelers chose to only keep five wide receivers on their 53-man roster to start in 2020, so should one be unavailable for the game look for a practice squad player to be brought up as part of the new rules which allow up to two practice squad players to be added without making a corresponding move. Currently, Deon Cain and Amara Darboh are the two receivers available on the practice squad.

One thing which is not always appreciated as much as it should be is the fact no names were added to the list on Friday.

As for the Giants’ injury report, it can be seen here courtesy of Giants.com.

NEW YORK GIANTS

Friday (9/11)

Limited Participation in Practice

LB Tae Crowder (Hamstring)

WR Golden Tate (Hamstring)

TE Levine Toilolo (Hamstring)

Full Participation in Practice

DB Adrian Colbert (Illness)

LB Markus Golden (Illness)

BTSC’s latest podcast recapping the injury report for the day can be heard here when available.

Cam Heyward’s extension likely ends the Watt family reunion pipe dream

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/11/2020 - 1:45pm

As much as some Steelers’ fans like myself want to see it, J.J. Watt will probably never line up beside his brothers on an NFL team

If you ever caught yourself daydreaming about T.J. Watt and J.J. Watt dominating offensive lines side by side, you're probably not going to get anything more than a Pro Bowl game. We will likely see Derek Watt and J.J. Watt meet at the point of contact in 2020 but we probably won't see J.J. lining up as a tight end beside him either. As soon as Derek Watt joined his little brother T.J. in Pittsburgh a vocal group of the fan base bombarded J.J. with tweets and messages begging the three time defensive player of the year to join his brothers in Pittsburgh.

You’d look better in Black & Gold... like your brothers.

— Christopher Robin (@CRHBunchaNumber) September 9, 2020

To their credit, there was a hypothetical situation where it possibly could have happened. J.J.’s six year $100 million dollar contract expires at the end of the 2021 season and the Houston Texans have been hemorrhaging talent ever since Bill O’Brien took over as general manager. This scenario would have hinged on the Steelers inability to sign Cameron Heyward, and J.J. Watt signing a team friendly deal for a chase to play with his brothers.

With Cam Heyward signing his four-year extension tying him to Pittsburgh until at least 2024, it seems increasingly unlikely that we ever get a Watt brothers family reunion. I don't think Steelers fans will mind however, as they have one of the best defensive players in his own right back on this team for another five seasons.

Steelers, DT Cam Heyward agree to four-year extension. (via @RapSheet) pic.twitter.com/23Ul95XuHh

— NFL (@NFL) September 7, 2020

But who knows? Maybe J.J. is that desperate to play with Derek and T.J. and becomes the leagues most talented rotational piece. Stranger things have happened!

What do you think? Has the pipe dream of reuniting the three Watt brothers officially come to a close? Let us know down in the comments below!

Steelers Roster Outlook: Do the 2020 Steelers have their best cornerback room since Rod Woodson?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/11/2020 - 12:30pm
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the Steeler cornerbacks heading into the 2020 season.

Joe Haden accomplished something in 2019 no Steeler has accomplished since 1997. He went to the Pro Bowl as a cornerback. In 1997 Carnell Lake made the Pro Bowl as a cornerback in a season he played both safety and cornerback. The last time a Steeler made the Pro Bowl after playing cornerback full time was Rod Woodson’s last season as a Steeler, in 1996.

That leads to the question asked in the title, is this the best cornerback room the Steelers have had since Rod Woodson left? Let’s take a look.

The outside corners

Joe Haden gave the Steelers their first Pro Bowl corner since the 1990’s, and their first 5 interception season by a cornerback since the 2000 season. Haden joined the Steelers in 2017 as a free agent. Haden had been asked by the Browns to take a pay cut after a series of injuries, and Haden responded by asking to be released. When the Browns granted his request, the Steelers swooped in, signing his to a 3 year deal only hours after his release.

Joe Haden’s arrival in Pittsburgh helped lock down a position of weakness, and helped propel the Steelers pass defense from below average from 2014-2016 to ranking 5th in passing yards allowed in 2017, and the defense to their first top ten ranking in both points and yards allowed since 2012. In 2019 teh addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick helped shore up the deep help behind Joe Haden, and when teams started avoiding Minkah Fitzpatrick and the middle of the field, Joe Haden started attacking routes more aggressively and ended up with 5 interceptions and 17 passes defended, the most interceptions since his rookie season in 2010, and the most passes defended since 2014, the last year he made the Pro Bowl.

Joe Haden isn’t the athlete he was in his first 5 seasons, age and injuries have slowed him a bit, but he makes up for it with technique, intelligence, experience and a defense that allows him to play to his strengths. With Terrell Edmunds playing safety behind Haden, Haden took a good amount of gambles to make plays, and Terrell Edmunds was up to the task of limiting the damage when the gambles didn’t work out, at least most of the time.

In 2020 expect the Steelers to continue to play Joe Haden to his strengths. He isn’t a corner you want covering a receiver on an island anymore. If you can limit his responsibility to either deep or shallow areas, he is incredibly good. The Steelers should continue to use him as a deep zone defender in cover-3 and quarters, and in some of their more creative coverages, while making sure he has help behind him when they ask him to cover in man, so he can aggressively attack shorter routes. While it’s fruitless to try and guess stats for corners when the better they play, the less opportunity they have to make plays, I wxpect a good year for Joe Haden in 2020, he is still an incredible player when he is used to his strengths, and the Steelers have shown they can do that.

Steven Nelson joined the Steelers in 2019 after his rookie contract with the Chiefs ended. Nelson was a questionable signing, as he led the NFL in receiving yards allowed in 2018. Nelson, in an interview after signing with the Steelers, accepted the results, but put a lot of blame on a defensive scheme that asked corners to take a lot of man coverage responsibility without much help, and in predictable fashion.

“You’re a target to other teams, referees, fans. It’s just not a good thing,” Nelson said. “You have to switch it up. It’s the National Football League. These offenses are smart. If you switch it up like these other offenses are doing, you can make plays.”

Steven Nelson left the Chiefs for the Steelers, and the Chiefs replaced their defensive coordinator and brought in safety Tyrann Mathieu to help the cornerbacks. The results support Steven Nelson’s take, as the Chiefs defense went from 31st to 8th in passing yards allowed and won the Super Bowl, while Steven Nelson went from giving up the most yards to a season to a season where he posted the 5th lowest QB rating against of any player targeted at least 70 times.

While Joe Haden showcased his strength attacking short routes in 2019, Steven Nelson was the corner that didn’t give up many deep plays. He’s a good man corner, and a great fit for the Steelers pattern matching coverages where he is responsible for the deepest routes. 2020 will be an interesting one for Steven Nelson, because while Joe Haden has three years on the Steelers, Nelson will be entering his second season on the team, and it will be interesting to see how his role and performance evolve. Nelson also worked mostly on the same side of he defense as Minkah Fitzpatrick, and how they play together after an offseason on the same team will be a key part of the growth of the defense.

The Steelers cornerback position is deep.

Mike Hilton is the Steelers nickle back, a position that is very different from a normal cornerback job. Mike Hilton plays a major role in run defense and situational pass rushing. While outside corners are often tasked with helping stop outside runs, Mike Hilton takes on blockers, including tight ends and offensive lineman regularly. He is very good at that part of his job, with only 3 defensive backs recording more sacks, and 1 defensive back with more tackles for a loss in the last 3 seasons. The only defensive back to beat him in both categories is Jamal Adams, an all-pro strong safety who is nearly the size of an inside linebacker.

Mike Hilton gets a bad rap for being a poor cover corner, and while he isn’t a lock down cover corner while also being one of the best blitzing cornerbacks in the NFL, his cover skills are underrated. He was targeted a lot in 2019, posting the second highest targets per cover snap on the team, second only to Joe Haden. With 28 completions on 47 targets and 10 breakups, Haden led Steeler cornerbacks in the percentage of targets that resulted in a pass defense and the ratio of completions to breakups.
Mike Hilton was the second more frequently targeted Steeler in coverage snaps, but he broke up over 20% of those passes, and gave up less than 3 catches per breakup, both stats led Steeler cornerbacks. Hilton does have his weaknesses though, he isn’t great in deep coverage, which led to him leading Steeler cornerbacks in yards per catch allowed and the entire team in yards per cover snap allowed.

Mike Hilton in 2019 was targeted a lot, and while there is a good argument for him being the weakest link in coverage, he also was the best defender not named Minkah Fitzpatrick at breaking up pass attempts coming his way. In my opinion, the fact that he is the Steelers slot corner, and slot targets have become the most effective targets in the NFL drive both his target rate and yards per cover snaps allowed, and the pass breakup rate is more revealing of his true value in coverage. The bottom line is Mike Hilton is a really good slot defender, a position which has become one of the toughest to play.

Cameron Sutton is the Steelers dime back, and he brings a very different skill set to the Steelers. While Mike Hilton is locked in as the nickle slot defender, Sutton plays all over the field, taking on everything from linebacker responsibilities when teams motion receivers into the backfield, slot corner, outside corner and deep zone responsibilities. There’s no coverage role he can’t hold down at an acceptable level.

Cameron Sutton allowed the fewest yards per cover snap of any Steeler defensive back other than Minkah Fitzpatrick, while ranking third in targets per cover snap by also allowing the lowest yards per catch on any Steeler defensive back. There has to be a caveat applied to all of Cameron Sutton’s per cover snap stats, because he is the dime back, and saw the lowest percentage of rushing plays of any Steeler. He played a lot when opponents were in obvious pass situations, and with the Steelers being the best deep ball defense in the league, he saw a lot of underneath throws, because teams couldn’t find success throwing deep when the Steelers were expecting it. But it also needs to be stated that Cameron Sutton played a part in that, because when the deep middle wasn’t being defended by Minkah Fitzpatrick, it was Sutton himself back there more often than not.

It is clear that Cameron Sutton is an excellent player in coverage, but he has never been a player you want on the field against the run, and he doesn’t win when blocked by receivers, let alone backs or tight ends. A lot of times fans and even analysts will look at Sutton and Hilton as if they are playing the same position, but that couldn’t be more untrue. Mike Hilton fits the linebacker/cornerback role that is the Steelers slot defender, while Cameron Sutton can play any defensive back position but that one at a pretty high level.

The Steelers have 4 really good cornerbacks, with 4 different skill sets. In 2019 they were able to use all of them in complimentary ways and the defense excelled.

Developmental players

Justin Layne was the Steelers second third round pick in 2019, a raw but talented prospect with good size (6’2”) and athleticism (87th percentile SPARQ score). as a rookie Layne was inactive for six of the first ten games, before finishing the season on the active roster. The last six games, Layne was a staple special teams player, taking over Artie Burns’ gunner role.

Heading into the 2020 season there doesn’t seem to be much opportunity for Layne to get snaps on defense without injuries forcing the Steelers to play him. Layne will likely be a core special teams player, as the team has only two players with NFL experience as a gunner on the active roster (Ray-Ray McCloud the other). That will earn him a spot on the active roster, and that means you will end up on defense at some point. The Steelers were able to give Justin Layne a redshirt season to get in NFL shape and learn the defense, and it looks likely they will be able to limit his play time in year two, hopefully he can make the most of that time and look good in the snaps he does get, because it sure would be nice to finally see the Steelers draft and develop a starting cornerback again.

James Pierre was unknown to most Steelers fans, and even though there was buzz about him coming out of training camp, it was unlikely the Steelers would keep him over Justin Layne, and six cornerbacks is more than they usually carry on the roster. Pierre, like Layne is 6’2”, and he is a physical cornerback who reminds me a bit of Joe Haden with his physical defense and strengths in short coverage. That comparison is to Joe Haden today, not to Joe Haden when he was younger and a truly elite shut down corner you could put on an island.

James Pierre also played safety in college, and he looks good in zone defense, but he is also a solid tackler and can blitz, so he could develop into an outside corner, slot defender or a jack-of-all-trades role. The Steelers liked him enough to put him on the 53 man roster, and while that could change, right now it looks like he is a player they view as one worth investing in. With both Sutton and Hilton finishing their contracts in 2020, there will be room for someone to step up, and Pierre has a shot to be that guy.

In my opinion this group is as good or better than other cornerback rooms the Steelers have had since the late 1990’s. The chief competition coming from the 2000 season when Chad Scott, DeWayne Washington and DeShea Townsend were a very good trio and the 2008 Super Bowl unit of Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, Townsend and William Gay.

I would take the current cornerback room over both, the 2000 group was good but I wouldn’t take Chad Scott (as good as he was for a few seasons) and DeWayne Washington over Haden and Nelson and while Ike Taylor is the best corner in this post-Woodson discussion, the 2008 team didn’t have as good of a number 2 corner as the Steelers have now. Hopefully the 2020 Steelers cornerbacks can make me look good by ending the season with a Super Bowl win.

Film Review

Here’s some film rooms that deal with the Steelers cornerbacks, if you want to look deeper.

K.T. Smith’s look at how Butler uses defensive backs in his blitzes.

The evolution of the Steelers secondary over the 2019 season

The personnel puzzle (compares the 4 cornerback’s styles)

The stars emerge (talks about Joe Haden)

Cleveland finds the holes in the Steelers defense (covers several cornerback weaknesses)

Closing out 2019 (Hilton, Sutton and Nelson get a lot of attention)

Other Position Breakdowns:

Offensive Line

Quarterback

Running Back

Tight End

Wide Receiver

Defensive Line

Linebackers

Keith Butler sees the same Stephon Tuitt who dominated before his injury

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/11/2020 - 11:15am
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Stephon Tuitt was on his way to a stellar season before 2019 was derailed by injury. Keith Butler sees him picking up where he left off.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense doesn’t need another weapon to their arsenal, but they will be getting one with the return of Stephon Tuitt to the lineup.

After suffering a torn pectoral muscle in the Steelers’ Sunday Night Football win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 6 of last season, Pittsburgh’s defense had to go without their most dominant player throughout the early stages of last season.

In the 6 games Tuitt participated in last year, his stat line was as follows:

3.5 Sacks
22 Total Tackles
6 Tackles For Loss (TFL)
7 Quarterback Hits

If you have to, like I did, take a look at those numbers one more time. These numbers were just from six games of the 2019 season. Tuitt was more than halfway to his career high in sacks (6.5) before heading to the injured reserve list.

It was a tough blow for the defense, but one which was absorbed by having a versatile defender like Javon Hargrave in to help ease the burden along the defensive front. However, with Hargrave now with the Philadelphia Eagles, getting Tuitt back, and looking like he did before his injury in 2019, is paramount.

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler spoke with media on Thursday, via Zoom, and he gave an update on how Tuitt has looked through Training Camp and leading into Week 1 of the 2020 regular season.

“He [Tuitt] looks good. He looks like he did before he got hurt.” Butler added. “Hopefully, he plays as well as he did last year before he got hurt. I think he will. I think there is some discipline stuff that he needs to adhere to in terms of playing within the scheme of our defense. I think he will do that. Sometimes when he doesn’t play within the scheme, he makes big plays and that lends itself to want to keep doing it.

“But if you keep doing it, then it’s going to hurt your teammates. I think Tuitt is going to be a big asset for us. Of course, Cam Heyward has always been, but I think Tuitt will add to our defense.”

Adding to the defense might be an understatement considering how dominant both Tuitt and Heyward can be up front. Throw in the fact they will be going up against a New York Giants offensive line which is less than stellar, and you have a recipe for success.

However, Butler isn’t completely sold on the Giants’ offensive line being sub-par.

“I think I would like to be an offensive lineman on that team with that running back [Saquon Barkley] behind me.” Butler said. “That guy doesn’t need a big hole. He can get through some very slim holes, so it will be a challenge for us to try to stop him with their offensive line.

“Their offensive line is probably better run blockers than they are pass blockers at this point and time. If I’m them, I’m going to try to keep the game in front of them. What I mean by that is I think they are going to try and stay away from third and long and stuff like that and keep it third and medium throughout the game so that they can dictate what they want to do and we can’t get them in situations where we want to pressure the quarterback. I think they are going to try to stay away from those situations as much as they can. It is going to be our job to stop Saquon in the running game and then get after the quarterback in the passing game.”

Tuitt, along with the rest of the front seven, will have a large role in stopping, or slowing down, Barkley and making the Giants put Daniel Jones in obvious down and distance situations. But in this regard, the Steelers’ offense being able to take a lead will also dictate what the Giants want to do offensively.

Regardless of what the Giants want to do, having Tuitt back, and healthy, is a huge boost for the team after losing Hargrave via free agency. How good can the 2020 Steelers defense be? With Tuitt back for the full season, they can be downright dominant.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the Giants in Week 1 on Monday Night Football at MetLife Stadium.

Podcast: Fans are ready, but are the Steelers and Giants?

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

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

NFL fans are so excited for the start of the 2020 season. In Pittsburgh everything is at a fever pitch and Steeler Nation can hardly contain their joy. But this is a whole new football environment that the players find themselves in during a pandemic. Are the Steelers and Giants ready for this alternate universe? This is the subject that will be discussed and speculated on in the latest edition in the flagship show of the BTSC family of podcasts.

As always, it sure is a good time to get on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-Gold and there you have the topic for the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview with Jeff Hartman, Dave Schofield and Bryan Anthony Davis. Join the triumphant trio as they combine the down all things Steelers and with shenanigans galore.

Check out the rundown of the show:

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

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

Expert Picks: The Steelers get off to a fast start vs. the Giants

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/11/2020 - 9:45am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the New York Giants on Monday Night Football, and it is time to see what some of the so-called NFL experts expect to happen. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants are slated to go head-to-head in Week 1 of the NFL season as the first of two Monday Night Football games on ESPN. While fans of both organizations will have to wait an extra day to watch their favorite teams play, sometimes it is worth the wait.

Who will win this inter-conference matchup between two classic franchises? That is anyone’s guess, especially in 2020, but it is time to check in on the NFL Experts who put in weekly picks to see who they think will start the season 1-0, and who will be eliminated from going undefeated right out of the gate.

At ESPN, by far the largest expert pool who makes picks, it is a flood of hypocycloids with all experts taking the Steelers to beat the Giants at MetLife Stadium. The same can be said for the panel at Bleacher Report.

But that doesn’t mean everyone thinks the Steelers are going to win. In fact, at CBS Sports, writer Will Brinson has picked the Giants to upset the Steelers in prime time in Week 1. He gives reasoning behind his decision. See what he has to say:

Everything hinges on Ben Roethlisberger here. If he’s healthy, Pittsburgh could be great. If he’s not the Steelers could be terrible. But I’ll tell you one thing: we do not know. And when I don’t know something, you know what I do? First I yell at my son to come help me figure it out. Then I bet on the underdog. And it never fails. Daniel Jones definitely can’t score against that Steelers defense. Saquon Barkley will be toast here! Take the points and watch the Giants win.

The Pick: Giants 14, Steelers 10

Some might scoff at Brinson’s pick, or the fact these people consider themselves experts, but the fact remains these sites are not the only ones who actually put forth predictions on a weekly basis.

But how can someone keep tabs on every site who submits weekly NFL picks? That is where our friends at NFL Pick Watch come in. NFL Pick Watch is a website which compiles all NFL expert picks, for all games, and puts them into an easy-to-read graph to let fans know which way the experts are leaning.

While Brinson showed some are picking the Giants, they are certainly in the minority. According to NFL Pick Watch a whopping 94% of experts are taking the Steelers to leave MetLife Stadium with their first win of the season, and to immediately get off to a better start than they did in 2019 when the fell to the New England Patriots in embarrassing fashion in Week 1.

Will the experts be correct? Or will the Giants prove them wrong? Only time will tell, but be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the fast-approaching 2020 regular season.

Want to know who we, the staff, here at BTSC have picked for ALL of the Week 1 games? You can check our picks right HERE!

Two Steelers are favorites to win player of the year awards this season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/11/2020 - 8:30am
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Ben Roethlisberger and T.J. Watt are considered preseason candidates for player of the year awards, but neither man has a easy path to that recognition.

The start of the 2020 NFL season is finally upon us. With the NFL season opener Thursday night, the ever elusive sense of normalcy that up to this point has seemed so far out of reach feels like it is right around the corner.

It seems like more than a few of the national pundits are starting to recognize the extremely talented roster that Kevin Colbert and the Steelers have assembled, and they are slowly ascending up the power ranking boards. A couple of Steelers standouts are considered betting favorites for prestigious player of the year awards.

Ben Roethlisberger has been given favorable odds to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award for the 2020 season, and TJ Watt is considered a strong candidate to win Defensive Player of the Year Award after the season. While the recognition for both men is understandable and warranted, some of the unseen obstacles that stand in their way seem to have been overlooked.

One would think the runway for Ben Roethlisberger's comeback success story should be cleared for takeoff. After missing practically all of last season due to season ending elbow surgery, Ben has shown admirable determination to rehab post surgery and work his way back to his own personal standards and expectations. He has revealed his motivations to continue his football career in his entertaining four part YouTube series.

His motivation to have his three young children up on the podium with him as the Steelers accept the trophy is understandable. Ben was still a bachelor the last time he appeared in a Super Bowl. Those are precious memories that any father could easily relate to. Ben wants to use the platform given him to represent the Steelers franchise, positively impact his community, and share his faith. Ben also wants to build on his already impressive Hall of Fame resume.

You would think he would be the perfect candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, but think again. Roethlisberger is still haunted by the sins of his youth in the eyes of many members of the national sports media. The reputation of being an entitled, arrogant jerk during his early years still follow him to this day. That is probably the reason why the transformation in his personal and professional life has been severely under reported.

Ben returns to a loaded roster, on both sides of the football. The Steelers added practically every item that could possibly have been on his wishlist. Not only did they add size, speed, and length across the receiving core, the Steelers now possess a Super Bowl caliber defense. This is important to Ben's chances to win the award because it usually goes to a player from a playoff contender. Team success often equates individual recognition, they seem to go hand in hand. But first Ben must overcome the negative stigma that follows him.

T.J. Watt obviously faces some stiff competition for Defensive Player of the Year recognition, but some of that competition comes from some of the individuals closest to him. To win the award, Watt most first overcome the challenge from two of his own teammates, and live up to the giant shadow of expectations cast by his own legendary big brother.

T.J. Watt must first prove he is the best outside linebacker on the Steelers roster, especially if Bud Dupree is able to build on last season's breakout success. Watt will need to stuff the stat sheet with huge numbers and his highlight reel with splash plays to influence the voters, but Dupree will undoubtedly cut into his opportunities. Competition brings out the best in true competitors, and this year is shaping up to be something special for the best outside linebacker duo in the league.

Watt also has another potential challenger for the award in teammate Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick enjoyed almost instant success once he joined the Steelers after escaping the Miami Dolphins shipwreck of a season. It was more than apparent that Fitzpatrick was the key component that the Steelers defense had been missing. He made the AFC Pro Bowl team and was named first team All Pro after the season. What will he do for an oncore?

Now that Fitzpatrick has an entire off season and training camp with the Steelers, his career trajectory arrow is trending way up. Fitzpatrick has a flair for the dramatic it seems, with a tendency for splash plays that capture voter's attention. If he plays the free safety position at an elite level for a dominant Steelers defense as expected, Fitzpatrick's legend will only grow and he will pose an even bigger threat to draw attention away from the TJ Watt DPOY candidacy tour.

Watt's greatest challenge in winning the award may very well be the inevitable comparisons to his big brother, three times DPOY winner J.J. Watt. J.J. didn't do T.J. any favors last week at the Houston Texans training camp. During a press conference last Monday, J.J. was asked about when he would consider T.J. a peer instead of just his little brother.

“Once he has three Defensive Player of the Year awards, I’ll see him as a peer,” joked Watt. The Watt brothers enjoy a little friendly competition, as brothers are apt to do. But J.J.'s impressive NFL success only adds to the immense pressure that T.J. must be feeling to live up to the standard set by his big brother. The weight of expectations can be crippling.

The size of the obstacles each player must overcome to meet expectations only makes the journey that much sweeter in the end. Awards and accolades are nice, but winning the Super Bowl is the ultimate goal. I am certain both gentleman would agree.

Film Room: What Sean Davis brings back to the Steelers defense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/11/2020 - 7:15am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers secondary isn’t the same one Sean Davis last played in, what will his role be in this defense?

Sean Davis left the Steelers in free agency after the 2019 season because he wanted the chance to be a starter, something he wouldn’t get on a Steelers team with Terrell Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick entrenched as starters. That ultimately didn’t work out for him as the starting job on the Washington Football Team was won by Penn State alum Troy Apke and rookie Kamren Curl won the top backup job after a great camp.

When asked about Davis’ return Head Coach Mike Tomlin talked about his experience and ability on special teams, and stated that Davis brought “starter capable depth” to the defense.

But how does Sean Davis fit in the Steelers defense?

Deep zone coverage

Sean Davis recorded a lot of tackles as the Steelers free safety, and one of the main reasons was the speed and play recognition he brought as a deep zone defender.

2017 week 14, 1st quarter, 10:38. Sean Davis is the deep safety to the bottom of the screen.

Watch Joe Flacco on this play, he looks Davis off the middle of the field, but not enough. An underthrown ball ends up coming back the other way. You can see Davis’s natural center fielding skills here. This play is from 2017, when Sean Davis was the strong safety and Mike Mitchel was the free safety. You can see why the Steelers were comfortable replacing Mike Mitchell with a rookie strong safety in 2018, Sean Davis can play free safety.

2018 week 16, 2nd quarter, 12:06. Sean Davis is the deep safety.

Sean Davis isn’t just free safety capable, he is a solid single high safety. Michael Thomas isn’t slow, and Drew Brees is still a good quarterback, but Davis is able to get from the middle of the field to the sideline in time to break up this pass. That’s not shabby.

2019 week 2, 2nd quarter, 1:55. Sean Davis (#21) is the deep safety, bottom of the screen.

In week 2 of 2019, the Steelers gave up 7 points in the first 7 drives of the game. The big difference between that defense and the mess we saw in week one and the rest of week 2 was Sean Davis being hurt. On this play the defense in front of him gets beat, but Davis is there to limit the damage. What stands out on this play is Davis slowing down as he approached the sideline. He doesn’t over pursue and get set up for a cutback, and is still able to accelerate to the sideline to finish the play.

Sean Davis wasn’t a big play maker for the Steelers, but in his time as the teams free safety, he kept the miscues and blown assignments from turning into the touchdown fest that the Steelers gave up in his absence.

Attacking forward

One of the things the Steelers liked about Sean Davis was his forward attacking style of play. Davis was an asset when he could see the play in front of him and attack, in both pass and run defense.

2017 week 14, 4th quarter, 9:06. Sean Davis is on the line of scrimmage, farthest to the top of the screen.

Sean Davis is covering the flat. He pays smart zone defense, and then commits a really bad penalty, slamming his opponent when the pass was incomplete. In deep zone, or shallow ones, Sean Davis has always been a quality zone defender.

2018 week 16, 3rd quarter, 0:24. Sean Davis is the deep safety in the middle of the field.

Davis reads the route and crashes the play, eliminating any yards after the catch. Minkah Fitzpatrick is even better in these situations, but Sean Davis is more than capable.

2018 week 16, 4th quarter, 0941. Sean Davis (#21) moves to the middle of the field before the snap.

You can see why Davis was a strong safety. He reads the play, gets into the hole and secures the tackle on Alvin Kamara for a 2 yard gain.

Sean Davis is a versatile zone defender, capable almost anywhere on the field. If he is able to watch the play he is a solid defender. He has always struggled once he turns his back to the ball, the main reason he didn’t work out as a cornerback and also a reason he played really deep as a free safety. He isn’t going to play closer to the line where he may have to turn and run with a deep route like Minkah Fitzpatrick can, Davis needs to stay deeper so he can see the play when he’s the last line of defense. He’s almost a polar opposite of Terrell Edmunds in deep coverage, where Edmunds is much better trailing a receiver and struggles reading the ball in the air.

As long as Davis isn’t asked to turn and run with receivers, he can back up both safety positions, as Tomlin stated, starter quality depth at both positions.

Having three starting safeties in the AFC North is a big deal.

The Steelers will play the Baltimore Ravens at least twice this season, and if the situations fall right, we could see another three rivalry game season. That makes having three good safeties a real advantage, because one of the better strategies to defending Lamar Jackson involves using extra safeties.

The Chargers showed the strategy in the 2018 playoffs when they used four safeties and at the most one linebacker the entire game and beat the Ravens. In 2019 the Tennessee Titans beat the Ravens in the playoffs using a similar strategy.

2019 Divisional round, 1st quarter, 2:06.

One of the ways teams have success against the Ravens offense is matching up safeties with tight ends, on this play strong safety Kenny Vaccaro (#24) is matched up with Nick Boyle, but when they bring Boyle in motion Vaccaro gets outside to force Lamar Jackson into the middle of the defense. Instead of having linebackers trying to outrun Lamar Jackson to the sideline, they get a safety outside to steer Jackson back into the linebackers.

2019 Divisional round, 1st quarter, 11:42. Kenny Vaccaro starts the play partly off screen in the top right corner

Vaccaro does a great job here keeping integrity to the outside while also taking away the route to the tight end. Lamar Jackson ends up reversing course and while he is able to gain yards, it isn’t much.

2019 Divisional round, 2nd quarter, 13:45.

The Titans blitz two defensive backs, Logan Ryan and Kenny Vaccaro rush from outside the tackles and stay wide, where they can make a play if Jackson tries to escape the pocket.

By using defensive backs as the outside defenders defenses can keep Lamar Jackson more confined to the pocket and limit his ability to break big plays, and that’s a key step in beating the Baltimore Ravens.

But it isn’t like the Steelers don’t know this.

Week 5 4th quarter, 2:37.

The Steelers roll their rush to the offense’s left, and bring Mike Hilton up to contain Lamar Jackson. Mike Hilton is a physical defensive back and a good tackler, but he can’t match Jackson’s athleticism. Hilton still limits Jackson to a 2 yard gain on this play, and the Steelers held Jackson to one of his worst games in week 5. But imagine the difference if the Steelers can put Minkah Fitzpatrick where Mike Hilton is on this play. Minkah Fitzpatrick’s athleticism and knack for making big plays would be dynamic, and there’s no way Jackson is getting outside Fitzpatrick like he does to Mike Hilton, Hilton is a good slot corner, Minkah Fitzpatrick is a different animal altogether.

The Ravens had their best success against the Steelers when they got the Steelers into their base 3-4 defense, and even more when the Steelers went heavy and used 3 defensive lineman and 5 linebackers, and took Terrell Edmunds off the field. The teams that have beaten the Ravens in the playoffs have done so by matching safeties with the Ravens tight ends, and that means playing more than two safeties, something the Steelers roster wasn’t built for in 2019.

With Sean Davis on the roster, and 6 weeks for he and Minkah Fitzpatrick to get accustomed to each other before the Steelers head to Baltimore in week 7, I think we could see the Steelers use Davis as the deep safety and bring both Terrell Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick closer to the line as flat defenders/Lamar Jackson spies, and that could be a difference maker for the Steelers quest to retake the division.

Randy Fichtner sees Chase Claypool getting significant snaps early in 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 09/11/2020 - 6:00am
handout photo

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive coordinator isn’t going to shy away from playing his rookie wide receiver.

People the size of Chase Claypool are not supposed to be that athletic.

That fast.

That agile.

Claypool stands at 6-feet 4-inches tall, and weighs 238 pounds, but he ran the 40-yard dash in a whopping 4.43 seconds.

To put it another way, Claypool is like a tight end who can run a 4.4 forty. That type of athleticism doesn’t come along every day. Throw in the fact Claypool is intelligent, team-first oriented and willing to do anything, including run block and play special teams, to help his team win and you have yourself a player.

Claypool wasn’t selected in the 2020 NFL Draft until the second round, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first pick of the selection process, but he may be making teams who took wide receivers before him have some serious regrets.

To be fair, the 2020 wide receiver draft class was one of the deepest in recent memory, but it has been Claypool who has dominated headlines over some of the pass catchers who were selected before him.

Why? Because he has been standing out in a big way during the Steelers’ 2020 Training Camp at Heinz Field.

To date, it has been Claypool who has turned heads, and that includes coaches like offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner. On Thursday, when meeting with media via Zoom, Fichtner spoke about Claypool’s progression, and why he thinks he will see significant reps early in the season.

“Chase [Claypool] is unique physically for the position.” Fichtner said. “I think to his credit, he did the necessary things in the offseason regardless of what. But he didn’t get the chance to do it with us. We didn’t get the chance to work him in the weight room and work him on the grass and do all those type of things, but he learned to be a professional prior to getting here. He came in awesome shape. His body hasn’t failed, and his mind hasn’t failed him because of conditioning.

“He’s got a lot of reps. I think he’s put himself into that talk of being able to be useful early in the season and a lot earlier than you probably would expect based on no offseason for a rookie.”

If fans remember, most rookie receivers in Steelers history didn’t necessarily burst onto the scene. Outside of Mike Wallace and JuJu Smith-Schuster, most take several games, if not years, before they start to contribute to the offense. A large reason why some receivers struggle out of the gate is their relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Trust is huge with the future Hall of Famer, but it seems as if Claypool is cracking that code as well.

“I think the unique thing is, as you said, developing rapport. Sometimes, that’s hard to do even when you have an offseason, you know with young players. I think the thing that’s made this exciting this early would be the fact of Chase [Claypool]’s availability. He hasn’t missed a snap. He’s willing, he’s conditioned, he’s physical. He is intelligent. It gives him a chance to get more action, more opportunities.” Fichtner said last week.

“I think that relationship is starting to grow. That’s exciting because that isn’t an easy thing to do early for a young wide receiver. We’ve had many really, really good wide receivers come through here. He’s right in that same mold of work, work, work, shut up. Basically, that’s how he attacks his day, and that’s so neat.”

What should fans expect of Claypool on Monday Night Football in New Jersey? With no preseason to glean information from, that is anyone’s guess. But if Diontae Johnson, who showed up on the team’s injury report Thursday, misses the game it will be a lot easier for Claypool to find the field.

Players like Claypool aren’t supposed to be that big and move that well. Then again, Steelers rookie wide receivers aren’t supposed to make an immediate impact either. Maybe Claypool is destined to break several molds in 2020.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the New York Giants in Week 1 of the regular season.

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