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Podcast: Potential free agents the Steelers could target at key positions

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/30/2020 - 5:30am

In the latest episode of “The Standard is the Standard” show, we break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-Gold from the week that was.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is over, and although there are no more games, the news is still ongoing. With a surge of Steelers news, it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC flagship podcast The Standard is the Standard. On this show Jeff Hartman and special co-host Lance Williams break down all things Steelers!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Potential free agents the Steelers could target at key positions.
  • Diagnosing the issues with the Steelers using statistics
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, and Lance Williams walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold.

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.

Black and Gold Links: Alan Faneca has become jaded with the Hall of Fame, and rightfully so

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/30/2020 - 4:24am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially over. After finishing the year 8-8, the Steelers, and their vast fan base, has another long offseason awaiting them. Just because the games are done doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take at how Alan Faneca, who has been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame fore years now, has become wary and jaded with the entire process.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Imagine being a Hall of Fame talent, and having to wait, and wait, and wait, and wait to get the call to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But it never comes. It can wear you down...

Tim Benz: Steelers’ Alan Faneca has grown ‘wary’ of Hall of Fame process. Me too.

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

If former Steelers All-Pro Alan Faneca is feeling good about his chances of election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend, he’s hiding it.

“I feel about it like I do every time,” Faneca told me Monday on 105.9 the X .“You are excited. You never know which way the voters are going to go. I gave up a long time ago predicting. Just go with the flow. Enjoy the process. And see where we go.”

Resigned detachment.

That’s probably the best way to describe Faneca’s tone when discussing the voting process that has kept him out despite being a finalist each of the last four years.

The former Pro Bowl guard definitely wants the honor, but he sounds like a guy who can’t let himself get emotionally involved in the outcome anymore.

“Every guy in my situation would want it,” Faneca continued.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • A single stat makes the easy case for Troy Polamalu to be in the Hall of Fame this year.

One stat makes a strong Hall of Fame case for Steve Atwater, Troy Polamalu

By: Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk

The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee will meet on the day before the Super Bowl to choose a maximum of five new Hall of Famers among the 15 modern-era players on the list of finalists. As is usually the case, there are more than five worthy candidates, and there will be disagreements about the strongest arguments for which five belong in the Hall of Fame Class of 2020.

But here’s one good argument, coming from Broncos spokesman Patrick Smyth, for former Broncos safety Steve Atwater and former Steelers safety Troy Polamalu to be two of the five selected on Saturday: In NFL history, only 24 players have started three Super Bowls and been selected to eight Pro Bowls. Of those 24, 20 are already in the Hall of Fame and two are surefire first-ballot Hall of Famers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

The other two are Atwater and Polamalu.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

JuJu Smith-Schuster to compete with Fortnite pros in ‘Streamer Bowl’

By: Jacob Tierny, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster may not have made it to the Super Bowl, but he’s set his sights on winning Fortnite at the Streamer Bowl.

The charity video game tournament will be held Thursday in Miami, the host city of the Super Bowl. It’s organized by the NFL Player’s Association and popular video game streaming platform Twitch.

The event will pair 16 NFL players with 16 Fornite pros. The teams will face off in the wildly popular shooter game, with a $500,000 prize going to a charity of the winning team’s choice.

Smith-Schuster will have some formidable firepower on his side. His teammate is Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, 17, of Pottsgrove, who took home $3 million last year as the winner of the first Fortnite World Cup.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

Our defense found the end zone 3️⃣times in 2019. pic.twitter.com/iqAvk1QOfJ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 29, 2020

#PFHOF20 Finalist @tpolamalu was an absolute game changer. pic.twitter.com/3OkZtFoKEg

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 29, 2020

Don't throw when you see Joe.@joehaden23 | #ProBowl pic.twitter.com/RPNmJNQRTR

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 29, 2020

"Every time he stepped on the field, he was great."@RayLewis explains why #PFHOF20 Finalist @afan66 deserves to be in Canton. pic.twitter.com/PJFKwxjtKV

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 28, 2020

BTSC Bookie: Betting the winner of Super Bowl LIV

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/29/2020 - 2:59pm
Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for the BTSC community to show they could cash in betting on NFL football games, this time on the Super Bowl

It is time for the Super Bowl LIV installment of BTSC Bookie! This is a chance for the BTSC community to collectively choose where to place an imaginary wager of “BTSC Bucks.” I will remind everyone of the rules one last time before voting on specific bets.

Before I get into the procedure of things, I want to remind everyone that gambling addiction is a serous problem numerous people face. Like many things in life, gambling can be a fun and safe exercise if done in moderation, while obsessive gambling can have destructive and life-altering consequences. If you or anyone you know is suffering from a gambling addiction, help is available HERE.

The Process
  • We will start with $500 in BTSC Bucks for the season. If we bust, we may borrow from the BTSC Bookie, but will have to pay 20% interest each week it isn’t paid. It’s a steep price, but there are consequences to failure. For the entire 2019 season, we never came close to busting!
  • Bets this week will be on either against the spread or moneyline options for the Super Bowl as well as the over/under.
  • There will be all the betting options for users to place a vote on the moneyline or against the spread and a separate option for the over/under. The values are as of Tuesday evening and they are locked in throughout the voting. The polls will run until Sunday at 6:15 PM. The top result for each bet will have a $100 wager placed.
Last Week’s Wager

Since there was no bet placed this past weekend, we will review the results of the Divisional round where we went 3-0 with our choices! We started off strong picking the Chiefs to beat the Titans by at least 7.5 points. With the commission of -105, we earned $47.62 above the original bet. For the other game, the vote was for the 49ers defeating the Packers by at least 7.5 points. With the commission of -110, we earned $45.45 of this wager. The final wager was an over/under and the choice was for the Titans and Chiefs to go over 52.5 points. This successful wager also brought in another $45.45. In all, we gained $138.52 for the week.

Week 18 Balance: $1,223.00 Week 19 Net Gain/Loss: +$138.52 Week 19 Total: $1361.52 Super Bowl LIV Options

When is comes betting on a narrow point margin, the payout is the main item to consider. With the point spread being only one point, there isn’t a scenario where your bet can win if the team does not (it can only push in a one-point game). With this in mind, it is clearly the best option to place a bet with the most favorable payout. I will not take the option away because otherwise we will never learn. So if you want to bet on the Chiefs, betting against the spread gains a larger payout (-115 vs -120) while a bet on the 49ers is better to bet on the straight-up win (+100 vs -105).

For this week, payouts are listed in parenthesis. We will place a $100 on the top vote getter for picking the game and $100 on the over/under for a total of $200. If you wish to vote more than once, clear your “cookies” on your browser and vote again. If you wish to vote on last week’s prop bets for the Super Bowl, the polls are still open.

Steelers Super Bowl Flashback: Super Bowl XIV vs. Rams

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/29/2020 - 1:49pm

Go back into time with BTSC's resident mad man as he relives the Steelers fourth Super Bowl win in unconventional fashion.

The Delorean says that it's January 20, 1980 and Escape (Piña Colada) is number one on the charts, Gary Coleman is captivating audiences on Diff'rent Strokes and Jimmy Carter just announced the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Olympics. But first, let's go back eight days prior and put yourself in my Buster Brown's.

Imagine you are me.

You are barely eight-years old, and your parents call you into the room with smiles from ear-to-ear. "If the Steelers beat the Oilers tomorrow, we're going to the Super Bowl!" You go into a happy dance that would make Snoopy, or that chick from the Liberty Mutual commercial that can't keep a boyfriend to save her life to the extent that she has to name her car Brad, jealous.

Then reality calls.

And you realize that "we" is they without you, and you cry and hysterically flee the kitchen. So the only time in my forty-one years as a Pittsburgh fan, I (kind-of) rooted against the Steelers. That is until the Mike Renfro-thing happened and I found my soul saved from the dark side.

So my parents went to sunny Pasadena, the home of Van Halen. They actually didn't go to Eddie and Alex' house. They wouldn't know Van Halen from Van Huesen. I, in turn, got to stay home in snow-infested Johnstown with Grandma (God bless her, she was a good woman) who didn't drive, yelled a lot and didn't fall for any shenanigans. I decided to be happy for my parents, plus I knew they would come home with tons of Steeler merchandise for me out of love, and a lot of guilt. I still have my Jack Ham jersey, and the Steeler/Ram visor they brought home. Actually, I know the visor was legit, but I'm pretty sure No. 59 came from Hills Department Store (home of the greatest snack bar ever).

Anyhow, mom and dad went to the high-priced game ("I can't believe we paid $30 for a ticket.") and I watched intently on the television. Looking back, I can't believe that the Steelers were playing and I was rooting against the future star of NBC's Hunter (Fred Dwyer), soon-to-be legend of Pro wrestling Vader (Leon White), Daylon McCutcheon's dad (Lawrence) and a guy playing with a FREAKING BROKEN LEG (Jack Youngblood)!

The game didn't even start yet and I remember getting scared because I learned Jack Ham and Mike Wagner were injured. Then, I flew into mid-game rage when All in the Family's Carroll O'Connor proclaimed on his own network (CBS) that the hometown Rams, at 9-7, were going to beat the Steelers. I lost a little something for the loveable bigot (oxymoron if there ever was one) that day, and started to empathize with Meathead and wish Edith to have a torrid affair with both Irene and Frank Lorenzo next door (Total exaggeration, I was eight. But in fairness, I would wish that now, and it's funny to picture). Actually, I was thinking....I wonder if mom and dad are sitting next to Archie Bunker.

The game began with Cheryl Tiegs singing the national anthem and Art Rooney in a vintage car from 1933 entered the playing field for the coin toss. Then there was much rejoicing as the favored Steelers took an early 3-0 lead courtesy of a Matt Bahr field goal, and the legendary Mean Joe Greene Coke commercial debuted. But fortunes quickly took a turn when Vince Ferragamo and Wendell Tyler led the Rams on a sustained drive that culminated in a Cullen Bryant touchdown and a 7-3 L.A. lead to complete the first quarter.

But the Steelers stormed back quickly, when Larry Anderson took the ensuing kickoff 45-yards. Anderson was incredible on the day with five returns for 162-yards. Led by Rocky Bleier, Franco Harris ran wide-right into the end zone from a yard out to regain the lead for the Steelers at 10-7, with Bahr's kick-after.

The young Ferragamo, subbing for an injured Pat Haden, was accurate and consistent as the Rams controlled the ball for the remainder of the first half. Two of No. 15's potential TD passes bounced off of Ram receivers, Billy Waddy and Ron Smith. But two Frank Corrall field goals saved points on those drives. The worst team ever (at that point) to play in a Super Bowl was leading the ten-point favorite Steelers 13-10 at the half.

As the famed "Up With People" were performing their salute to big band music and my dad rolling his eyes listening to my mom complaining about no actual bathrooms at the famed Rose Bowl as they waited in line at the port-a-potties, Steeler Nation stuffed themselves with pierogies and kielbasa in absolute disbelief.

Larry Anderson ignited Steeler Nation's flame of excitement once again as he went on a 37-yard kickoff jaunt to start the second half. Terry Bradshaw went deep to a leaping Lynn Swann over two defenders for a 47-yard score to take a 17-13 lead. But Ferragamo went deep to Waddy for 50-yards and then McCutcheon found Smith on some trickery with a 24-yard hookup and their third lead of the game. Corrall missed the extra point and the score was 19-17 Rams.

Los Angeles tightened up the running lanes giving Franco and Rocky nowhere to run, while Rod Perry knocked Swann out of the game with a jarring hit. Bradshaw threw two of his three picks in the third quarter and a fourth Super Bowl title looked bleak.

In the fourth quarter, the Steelers woke up. Bradshaw went deep again to John Stallworth for a 73-yard score when No. 82 outreached and burned Rod Perry with a gorgeous touchdown and a 24-19 lead. But the Ray Malavasi's Rams weren't done.

Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Ferragamo went deep to Drew Hill and Bryant ran all over the vaunted Steel Curtain defense. But despite a J.T. Thomas sack, the Rams kept driving and looked like they were going to get the job done. But then Ferragamo made his only mistake. Like another Steeler linebacker from Kent state nearly 30 years later, Jack Lambert dropped into coverage and halted the Rams scoring drive with an interception of Ferragamo at the Pittsburgh 15 with 5:24 to go. Ferragamo didn't notice a wide-open Waddy in the post.

With the lead, Bradshaw went deep again to Stallworth for another beauty that netted 44-yards. Five plays later, Franco scored his second one-yard TD and the Steelers iced the game 31-19.

Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images

The Steelers closed out the 70s with their fourth title in six years, No. 12 was named MVP, there was much rejoicing once again and Grandma yelled at me for being out of bed.

Jerome Bettis on Bill Cowher: “He’s the reason I am in the Hall of Fame”

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/29/2020 - 12:29pm
Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be welcoming a new face into the hallowed hall of the Pro Football Hall of Fame when Bill Cowher gets inducted this summer. Jerome Bettis talked about his old coach recently, and told some great stories.

There are few players in Pittsburgh Steelers lore who have endeared themselves to the fan base as much as Jerome Bettis did during his time with the black-and-gold. Bettis, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has been a visible face throughout his retirement, and during the week leading up to the Super Bowl was on several shows talking about everything from the upcoming game between the Chiefs and 49ers, as well as some of his Steelers memories.

While joining the Rich Eisen show, he was asked about his old coach, Bill Cowher, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of the 2020 Centennial Class. Bettis didn’t just tell the same old stories of Cowher yelling and spitting, but went to tell how if it weren’t for Cowher, he wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame.

Check out the video:

"He's the reason I'm in the @ProFootballHOF." -@JeromeBettis36 had the highest praise for his former @Steelers head coach @CowherCBS: pic.twitter.com/alb1TboiXZ

— Rich Eisen Show (@RichEisenShow) January 28, 2020

What might surprise many, and it certainly surprised me, was hearing Bettis talk about how there were some members of the coaching staff who wanted Bettis gone in the waning years of his career.

It was Cowher who spoke up and not only said Bettis was staying, but the team was going to continue giving him the ball. And we all know how that played out.

What most people might assume, but maybe didn’t know, was how Bettis got the nickname, the bus. Everyone always made the assumption Bettis was given that nickname when he came to Pittsburgh and donned the black-and-gold, resembling a bus.

Come to find out, as Bettis told Dan Patrick, on the Dan Patrick Show, just how he got that nickname while he was at Notre Dame.

Check out the video:

HOF running back @JeromeBettis36 tells us how he became "The Bus" pic.twitter.com/BRnQ29YILI

— Dan Patrick Show (@dpshow) January 28, 2020

Some great stories by Bettis about his time in Pittsburgh, but the hope is the organization and fan base have a couple new names added to an already growing list of people who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer. Both Troy Polamalu and Alan Faneca are vying for induction and will find out their fate later this week.

In the meantime, stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they embark on another long offseason.

I think I’m getting “greatness fatigue” throughout this NFL season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/29/2020 - 11:03am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Can we please stop saying that everything happening this second is the greatest ever?

If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.
— General George S. Patton

I want to start this essay off by saying, clearly and definitively, that Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (who will start his first Super Bowl this weekend) is a hell of an athlete and quarterback. He’s clearly one of the most dangerous players in football, and one of the most talented passers to come along in a while. He also seems like a decent guy (which matters to me more than it does to some). I generally like the kid, and I think about him (and will largely be talking about him) in positive, sometimes glowing terms – but not white-hot flame-scalding terms. And because of that, some reading this article might think I’m taking shots at him. Please don’t mistake moderation for hate.

And that disclaimer is the exact point of this essay.

I read an article on a national sports website this past week that opened by asserting that Mahomes (who has currently started less than two full professional seasons) is “already considered one of the best quarterbacks to have ever graced the NFL.”

Hmm, “ever”? The phrases “recency bias” and “grade inflation” (or in this case “greatness inflation”) immediately came to mind. Mahomes is good, I thought, but isn’t this is a little much for a 24 year old? I could have shrugged my shoulders and chalked it up to an exaggerated flourish, except that the writer wasn’t done.

The piece went on to claim that, barring a catastrophic injury (or yet another New England Patriots scandal that further mars Tom Brady’s reputation) it is “inevitable” that in 20 years people will be arguing about which of these two was the greatest to ever play the position.

Opinions stated as facts by professionals (who should know better) always irritate me. But this sequence seemed to especially grind my joints. Most of that annoyance, I realize now, rises from the insane superlatives that this writer (and too many others, lately) can’t stop using. You know what I’m talking about, I’m sure: “Greatest ever.” “All time.” “GOAT.” And now, apparently, “inevitable.” Gag.

This kind of language ought to be at least a little familiar when directed at Mahomes; scores of sportswriters and talking heads applied these kinds monikers to him last year, before he’d even completed his first season as a starter. That said, you could be forgiven for forgetting the Chiefs quarterback was the “greatest ever” this season because we haven’t heard that much about him in a while. For most of 2019, the commentating world spent all its energy insisting that Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson was going to “change the game forever” (a claim we’ve been hearing about athletic quarterbacks since at least Randall Cunningham’s days in Philadelphia). Jackson was different than Cunningham, though, it was said (or Michael Vick, or RG3, or Colin Kaepernick, all of whom got the same treatment during their respective ascents). Jackson was a cross between Barry Sanders and Joe Montana, we were told; he was utterly unstoppable.

Until, of course, he was stopped in a 1-and-done playoff wheeze against the 9-7 Tennessee Titans. And while it makes sense that no one’s talking about Jackson today, with a Super Bowl to play and his team eliminated, it does seem strange to suddenly write as though Mahomes has really been everyone’s hero all along. Odd, for example, to know that it’s “inevitable” that Mahomes and Brady will be the standards for greatness in 20 years, if Jackson is the one who will “change the game forever.” How’s that going to work, exactly?

Anyone noticing a trend?

Another recent article stated offhandedly (as fact) that Mahomes had “the greatest second season” that an NFL player ever had. Really? The greatest? Greater than Eric Dickerson’s second season, where he rushed for 2105 yards (a record now 36 years old and counting)? Better than Peyton Manning’s second season, in which his Colts improved by ten wins, from 3-13 to 13-3, and Manning rewrote the passing records for a franchise that used to employ Johnny Unitas? People knock Lynn Swann for his numbers sometimes, but his second season was punctuated by several of the most iconic plays in NFL history and a Super Bowl MVP award (the first ever given to a wide receiver). Was Mahomes’ season definitively better than those?

Just strictly looking at regular season numbers, Mahomes’ second season was arguably not even the most impressive sophomore year for a quarterback. In Dan Marino’s second year he broke practically every single-season passing mark in the NFL, becoming the first quarterback to throw for 5000 yards (a standard he alone could boast for almost 30 years), and shattering the passing touchdowns mark by an absurd 33%. Marino’s 48 TD passes (obliterating Y.A. Tittle’s record of 36) would be like someone throwing for 73 scores next season, or rushing for 2806 yards – just unthinkable numbers. And he did so at a time when braining defenseless receivers over the middle was part of a safety’s job description, and where quarterbacks could be hit high or low (and with the defender’s “full body weight”) all game long. By contrast, Mahomes’ 2018 numbers (under very different rules) did exceed Marino’s 1984 totals by a small margin, but he didn’t even lead the league in passing yards. Is that really a more impressive year?

That said, it’s true that Mahomes had outstanding numbers last year. He’s a hell of a player, and this is not a knock against him. But you know who else has had outstanding numbers over the last couple of decades? Every single quarterback who’s played for Andy Reid. Brett Favre’s best seasons (arguably), including both of his Super Bowl berths and all three of his MVP seasons, happened while Reid was a Packers assistant. Donovan McNabb became the first quarterback to throw over 30 TDs and fewer than 10 INTs in a season with Reid’s Philly offense. As soon as he signed with Reid’s Eagles, Michael Vick transformed from a faster and stronger-armed Kordell Stewart, with a career best passer rating of 81.6, into an efficient west coast surgeon with a rating of 100.2. Journeyman backups like Kevin Kolb and Matt Moore or respectable but uninspiring starters like Jeff Garcia or Alex Smith – they all seemed to look their best in Eagle green or Chief red. Just like Pat Mahomes does.

Again, this is not to take away from Mahomes’ talent. He earned his MVP award last year, and may emerge with a Super Bowl ring this weekend. Mahomes is a cool head and a gifted athlete with great vision and a short-stop’s arm. That’s an extraordinary combination. But is there any chance he’d have thrown 50 touchdowns in his sophomore season if he’d have been drafted by Cincinnati? It says here no way.

And speaking of Andy Reid, another article recently asked where he belongs in the pantheon of Super Bowl coaches. I’m obviously an admirer of Reid’s, and I think taking two different teams to the finals is an underrated achievement, so I really don’t want to knock him either. But this essay made a similar (if much less egregious) move to the ones above. In comparing the coaches who’d been to the big game more than once, the writer noted that the Steelers’ own Mike Tomlin has a higher regular season winning percentage, and a higher postseason winning percentage, as well as more Super Bowl wins (currently) than Reid… then dismissed all of it, placing Reid higher on the list because he’s been doing it for “eight more years.” I can agree that longevity is a legitimate factor in determining greatness; sustaining competitiveness is almost certainly harder than it looks. But is it decisively more important than success itself? What a strange logic. There are arguments for Reid (like the one I made two paragraphs ago), but this writer wasn’t making them. This essay was interested in wins and losses, then scrapped that criteria when it placed Reid below Tomlin, replacing it with “a few more years at the helm.” It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone making an argument this way except at a time like this, when all eyes are on Reid and the Chiefs.

Now, again, I like Andy Reid – I don’t want to disparage him, nor do I want to claim that Mike Tomlin is a better coach in any obvious, inarguable, cut-and-dry sense. The truth is, they’re both highly successful, and belong in the same conversation. Just like Mahomes ought to be discussed alongside Marino or Manning or Dickerson (etc.) in that conversation. I’m less blown away by Lamar Jackson than the sports world wants me to be, but there’s no denying he had a monster year this year too, and his 2019 campaign ought to be talked about among the great (and unique) seasons for a quarterback as well. Sure.

And that ought to be good enough.

The need to declare, “Andy Reid is clearly superior,” or “Pat Mahomes had the greatest season of all time,” or “Lamar Jackson is going to change the game forever” – just because this is the guy we’re looking at RIGHT NOW – is lazy and unintelligent. And it sure seems like it’s gotten a lot more common in the last few years.

Worse (for people like me, who love the history of the sport) is that this kind of thinking creates a false consensus through the old game of “say something enough times and people believe it’s true.” The best illustration of this is the other half of the Mahomes equation from above: Tom Brady. (I’m aware I’m about to lose a significant portion of the readers here. I don’t have anything to tell you guys. Sorry.)

Brady, like Mahomes and Reid, is superb at what he does. He has had a sterling career, and surely belongs in Canton one day. But the overwhelming consensus among sports wonks, that he is inarguably THE greatest of all time, has always mystified me.

Does he belong in the conversation? Of course. He didn’t win all of those titles or put up those numbers by mistake. But he also didn’t do any of that in a vacuum. Without Adam Vinatieri, Walt Coleman, and whoever used to record opponents’ signals and pre-game walkthroughs, would Brady have won the three razor-thin titles that built his legend from 2001-04? Without a stable and singular vision from a ruthless savant like Bill Belichick, could Brady have kept competing for rings in the first place (the way his arch rival, Peyton Manning, did, somehow taking four(!) different coaches to the Super Bowl)? What about if Oakland had refused to trade Randy Moss in 2007, or if someone else had drafted Rob Gronkowski three years later – could Brady’s numbers ever have reached their sky-high levels during the second half of his career?

There are clues to the latter question: just look at the numbers through his first six seasons as a starter, 2001-06 (that is, before Moss came to town). With a completion percentage of 61.9%, Brady averaged just over 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions per year, only surpassing 4000 yards once. His career passer rating before Moss came to Foxboro was 88.5 – numbers very comparable to his post-Gronk 2019 season, which was treated all year as a baffling and frustrating fluke.

Commentators spent half this past fall insisting that Brady’s ineffectiveness this year wasn’t a reflection of his age but rather a sign he didn’t have any weapons for once. Okay; I’ll buy that. But does that mean that this what Tom Brady looks like when he doesn’t have at least one freakish Hall of Famer catching passes and drawing double-teams downfield? That’s not a great look. And really, isn’t “the greatest quarterback of all time” supposed to raise the level of those around him, instead of sinking to their mediocrity or pointing fingers at their struggle? Should we maybe be evaluating his career through these lenses as well?

Again, I’m sure this section reads like a hit-job on Brady, just like some probably thought the first half of the piece was a hit-job on Mahomes or Reid. But it’s not. The notion that Brady is the best quarterback of his era, or one of the best to play the game, is defensible, but it is also eminently debatable. And that’s the thing I wish we saw more of. The debate about greatness is always interesting and worth having. It’s one of the best things about sports. And there are so few debates of this kind that have clear, definitive, inarguable answers. I wish the sports-wonk world would quit pretending that they all did.

And I get it. These sites are selling a product, and that product isn’t the game itself, but the current season’s broadcast (or in this case, the Super Bowl show). They need as many people watching as possible at all times, so they’re going to tell fans, “what you’re seeing right this second will make your brain fall out of your skull!” That’s their job, and they do it loudly. But it’s obnoxious. And it’s lazy. And I wish there was less of it around. I’m old enough to know that this is a wish I’m never going to be granted. But that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach.

Cam Heyward is in elite company when it comes to success over the last three seasons

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/29/2020 - 9:29am
Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Being selected for to both the Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro in multiple seasons puts Heyward on a short and impressive list

When people are asked about the Pittsburgh Steelers defense and their resurgence in the 2019 season, several players come to mind. T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Devin Bush seem to be the future of the Steelers defense. But one player who has been holding things down for a while, sometimes to minimal fanfare, is captain Cameron Heyward.

Heyward has somewhat quietly become a premier defender in the NFL and fits into some elite and rare company over the last three seasons. When it comes to the defensive side of the ball, it is a very elite group of players who have earned both Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors since 2017. Here is the breakdown of players who Cam Heyward fits into similar categories:

3 straight Pro Bowl selections

Since the 2017 season, there have been 14 defensive players who have made the Pro Bowl each of the last three years. Along with Heyward, the players who were among the elite group are Geno Atkins, Calais Campbell, Jurrell Casey, Fletcher Cox, Aaron Donald, Cameron Jordan, Luke Kuechly, Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Jalen Ramsey, Darius Slay, Harrison Smith, and Bobby Wagner. From the group, Luke Kuechly has the most consecutive Pro Bowl selections with seven but has announced his retirement recently. Geno Atkins, Von Miller, and Bobby Wagner have six consecutive Pro Bowls while Jurrell Casey, Fletcher Cox, Khalil Mack, and Harrison Smith now have five straight Pro Bowl selections.

When it comes to Cam Heyward, he may have had even more Pro Bowls had he been classified as a defensive tackle prior to 2018. Earlier in his career, Heyward was listed as a defensive end and therefore compared to players who were edge rushers in a 4-3 defense. Although he may have been selected more, Heyward would have most likely not had a longer current streak because in 2016 he only played in seven games due to injury.

Regardless, Heyward is part of a club of Pro Bowl players on defense who are represented by less than half of the NFL teams.

2 First Team All-Pro Selections in the last 3 seasons

An even smaller and more elite class would be the number of players who have had multiple AP First Team All-Pro selections over the last three seasons. On defense, there has only been six players who fit into this category. Aaron Donald and Bobby Wagner have both been All-Pro all three of the last NFL seasons. Cam Heyward is joined by Stephon Gilmore, Chandler Jones, and Luke Kuechly as the players who have made AP First Team All-Pro twice the last three years. With Gilmore and Jones not being on the list of three straight Pro Bowl appearances, only four players are members of both groups.

Whether it is due to injury or a dip in production, it is difficult for players to continue to earn Pro Bowl and, especially, All-Pro honors. Cameron Heyward has shown he is not just a leader in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ locker room, but also is well-respected around the league and has been earning the honors he rightfully deserves. If Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the standard for greatness at the position, Cam Hayward is closer than anyone else in the NFL. With Hayward going into the last year of his contract in 2020, look for the Steelers to do all that they can to keep their defensive captain long term.

Analyzing JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 2019 season, Part 1: The Stats

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/29/2020 - 7:47am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

A deeper look at JuJu Smith-Schsuter’s 2019 production, or lack thereof.

The last year and a half of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s football life has been a crazy ride, from the drama with Antonio Brown toward the end of last season often involving him as his production closed in on Brown’s, to the exit of Antonio Brown leaving Smith-Schuster the task of filling the shoes of one of the most productive WRs of all time, to the death of his position coach Darryl Drake, a man he was very close to, culminating with the saga of 2019, an injured Ben Roethlisberger, ineffective #2 and #3 WRs who would both end up cut in the season, two inexperienced starting QBs, and a series of injuries that would cost him a quarter of his season and leave him ineffective for a decent chunk of the time he was active.

When the season ended with the Steelers #1 WR unable to lead the Steeler offense enough to stop a 3 game slide out of the playoffs, JuJu Smith Schuster found himself 3rd on the team in receiving yards with the worst stats of his career in every category.

But that’s not the whole story, so let’s look a little deeper at JuJu Smith-Schuster’s stats, and the different factors involved in his season.

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger took almost half a season to warm up to JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2017, when through 7 games JuJu had only 26 targets despite producing 231 yards and 3 TDs on those targets. Only twice in his first 7 games was JuJu targeted at least 5 times. After his 97 yard TD against Detroit in week 8, things changed for the young WR, in the next 7 games Roethlisberger would target JuJu 53 times for 686 yards and 4 TDs. In 2018 that would continue into 2018 and into the start of 2019, with Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster hooking up for 78 yards on 8 targets in a terrible loss to the Patriots and a few catches the nest week against the Seahawks before Ben would leave the game, and the season to rehab his ailing elbow.

If we look at Ben Roethlisberger’s passes to each of his WRs for 2019 we can see how JuJu’s start to the season with Ben at QB looked good.

In 2018 Ben Roethlisberger had a 94.9 QB rating when passing to JuJu Smith-Schuster. If you take JuJu’s yards per Ben Roethlisberger pass attempt and extend it to the NFL average team pass attempts for 2019 (558) you get 945 yards. In six quarters with his normal QB, JuJu Smith-Schuster was on pace for a 945 yard season.

That’s a small sample size, but a decent tool for looking at the early trajectory of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s season. One of the major things that has to be factored into that small sample size is that Ben played his only full game against the Patriots, who ended the season with the best pass defense in the NFL. Not just the best in 2019 either, the best team QB rating against in the NFL since 2009, with a lower passer rating against than both the 2008 Steelers and the 2013 Seahawks great defenses.

If we look at games against the Patriots, JuJu Smith Schuster had the 5th highest receiving yards (78) against the Patriots in 2019 of any WR, and the second highest before week 12, when teams had started to figure out the Patriots defense a little better. After the Patriots had largely shut him down in 2018, Smith-Schuster bounced back with a very solid game against one of the most successful passing defenses of this millennium with an injured Ben Roethlisberger.

Rudolph, Injuries and Hodges

After Roethlisberger was shut down for the season JuJu Smith-Schuster would do just fine with Mason Rudolph recording 50 yards in the second half of the Seahawks game and 81 yards and a TD against the 49ers in week 3. The 49ers were the #1 pass defense by yards per game of 2019, and ranked 7th in QB rating against, while the Seahawks finished 9th in QB rating against despite allowing a lot of yards. At that point in the season JuJu Smith-Schuster had played 2 of the top pass defenses in the NFL and one defense that wasn’t very good, but wasn’t awful either. With a banged up Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu put up the 5th most receiving yards the Patriots would allow and with Mason Rudolph in his first start, JuJu Smith-Schuster had the 8th most receiving yards the 49ers would allow.

At that point of the Season, Smith Schuster was averaging 81 yards a game, a pace that would end up at 1296 yards if he could have maintained it for the season. Sadly after a quiet week in the RB led win over the Bengals we would find out that Smith-Schuster had a toe injury. After a week without practicing Smith-Schuster had a good game against Baltimore, with 75 yards and a big TD, but that would be overshadowed by a costly fumble in overtime that handed the Ravens the ball in Justin Tucker’s range.

JuJu Smith-Schuster would have his best game of the season against the Dolphins after a week of rest in the bye week, but nagging injury, increased defensive focus, declining QB play and some costly drops would lead to only 81 yards on 14 targets in weeks 9-11, which ended with a knee injury and concussion against the Browns. Smith-Schuster would return in week 16 with the Steelers offense badly in need of a spark, but JuJu Smith-Schuster and Devlin Hodges were never able to produce much together, with a total of 35 yards on 13 targets in Hodges 3 starts with JuJu playing. That part makes sense as in camp and the preseason Hodges had worked with Diontae Johnson and James Washington, who were the 4th and 5th WRs at the time, but had almost no time practicing with JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Conclusion

Looking beyond the total stats, JuJu Smith-Schuster’s disappointing 2019 is more of a story of a season that went wrong than a player that couldn’t handle being a #1 WR. In part 2 we’ll look at film to try and draw a more detailed picture of what happened to JuJu, looking at both his route running and his timing with the Qbs he had throughout the season.

If the Steelers were to bring in only one Free Agent, who would you want it to be?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/29/2020 - 6:30am
Joe Thuney is one of the Prized Line Free Agents in 2020 | Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Whether it be a fit or want, who do you want in Black and Gold in 2020?

Heading into the 2020 offseasonthe Pittsburgh Steelers are tight against the cap, but a few roster moves could open up the possibility of bringing in an outside Free Agent. With Ben Roethlisberger in the twilight of his career, and a defense on the rise, the team may be looking at one more run at a title with Roethlisberger at the helm. The fastest way to upgrade the roster would be to bring in a veteran player. Affording any offseason move will be challenging, but with a couple cuts and a restructured contract or two the team could bring in one more piece.

But who could that player be?

The biggest hole in the roster would suggest that tight end is the biggest need, but this offense historically struggles to get that position the ball with any consistency. Would it make any sense to bid on an Eric Ebron or Hunter Henry knowing they may only see 50 targets next season? Maybe a TE would be better off addressed in the NFL Draft.

The offensive line also has the potential to be drastically different if the likes of Ramon Foster, B.J. Finney, and Matt Feiler aren't retained. While it’s not an earth-shattering move, bringing in someone to protect Roethlisberger and the future QB’s of the organization wouldn't be such a bad idea. Joe Thuney and Brandon Scherff will command big money, but could stabilize the position for years to come. Tackles Jack Conklin or even a vet like Bryan Bulaga could help stretch out the final years of the Big Ben era.

Or, finally, what about adding someone to the running back room. James Conner has been fighting through injuries most of his young career, Jaylen Samuels seems to have regressed from his rookie season, and the jury is still out on Benny Snell Jr. Derrick Henry would change the entire identity of the offense and force opposing coaches to add more defensive players in the box, freeing up wideouts for more one on ones. Melvin Gordon is still a big play back, and what about re-aquiring Le’Veon Bell? The Jets seem destined on moving out the former Steelers pivot and Pittsburgh allegedly had interest in the move back at the trade deadline. However, all of these backs, including Bell, would cost a pretty penny for the Steelers to acquire.

Personally, I think injecting some new life into the offensive line would be a smart move. It would cost significantly less than adding another skill player and drafting one may take a year of development. While it wouldn't be easy, bringing in 2nd-team All-Pro Guard Joe Thuney would bolster the offense and would greatly help in the Steelers push to its 7th Super Bowl title.

So who do you want the Steelers to bring in? Let us know in the comments!

Podcast: The Steelers’ rush defense was actually a bright spot in 2019

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/29/2020 - 5:30am

In the latest BTSC podcast, our Steelers ‘Stat Geek’ breaks down the numbers surrounding the black-and-gold.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially over, and the news is still ongoing. With a surge of Steelers news, it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Stat Geek. On this show deputy editor Dave Schofield breaks down all things Steelers stats, and also answers questions from fans!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Stats, stats and more stats
  • Close look at the Steelers’ rush defense in 2019
  • Steelers Q&A

Dave walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold.

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.

Black and Gold Links: It’s official, there are no better sports fans in the NFL than in Pittsburgh

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 01/29/2020 - 4:36am
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially over. After finishing the year 8-8, the Steelers, and their vast fan base, has another long offseason awaiting them. Just because the games are done doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take at how a survey showed the Steelers fans in Pittsburgh are the best in the NFL...as if we didn’t already know it.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Who has the best fans in the entire NFL? Pittsburgh Steelers fans, obviously.

Pittsburgh ranks as top city for football fans

By: Chris Pastrick, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

It’s at least one thing Pittsburghers can hold over New England: Our football fans are the best.

In WalletHub’s 2020 edition of its annual survey of Best & Worst Cities for Football Fans, the home of the Black and Gold is unmatched.

Out of 245 U.S. cities, Pittsburgh — with a score of 63.11 — topped all others. Boston came in second with a score of 56.16.

The top 10 rounded out with Dallas, Green Bay, New York, New Orleans, Miami, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Oakland.

How did WalletHub come up with their scores? The personal finance website compared cities with least one college or professional football team across 21 key metrics. They considered things such as number of teams, average ticket prices and fan friendliness. Each entry was graded on a 100-point scale, with 100 being the most favorable conditions for football fans.

Pittsburgh was tops among NFL cities and No. 14 among college cities.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

Mark Madden: Steelers fans expecting Ben Roethlisberger to be 100% is wishful thinking

By: Mark Madden, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Much already is being assumed about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season.

The most obvious is the notion that Ben Roethlisberger, at 38, will return from extreme surgery to fix three tendons in his throwing elbow and function at something approximating 100% (or 90%, or 80%) of his prior capabilities. This, when others from Roethlisberger’s generation of quarterbacks are retiring or regressing without elbow surgery.

That assumption is wishful thinking and understandably so. The alternative is trusting Mason Rudolph to be a No. 1 quarterback.

Even more widely assumed is that the Steelers’ defense will play up to the same level displayed in 2019.

The components still will be there. But you’re betting that Bud Dupree (assuming he’s franchised) has a second straight good season. You’re hoping Stephon Tuitt doesn’t get injured (again). You’re trusting Cameron Heyward to be as good at 31 as he was at 30.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Emmanuel Sanders suggests his relationship with Ben Roethlisberger is a bridge which was burnt years ago.

Emmanuel Sanders on Ben Roethlisberger: “That bridge was burnt”

By: Charean Williams, ProFootballTalk

49ers receiver Emmanuel Sanders is scheduled to become a free agent in March. One thing seems certain about his uncertain future: There is zero chance he returns to Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger still the Steelers quarterback.

“I would love that, but me and Ben don’t have the best relationship. I believe that bridge is burnt,” Sanders told Ed Bouchette of TheAthletic.com.

Sanders spent his first four seasons with the Steelers after they made him a third-round choice in 2010, and he made 161 catches for 2,030 yards and 11 touchdowns. He earned his first Pro Bowl the following season, in his first season in Denver.

Sanders blew up the bridge with his former quarterback in his first training camp with the Broncos when he said Peyton Manning was a “far better leader” than Roethlisberger. That and Sanders’ additional statement that “this is the first time that I had a quarterback that stays every single day after practice” prompted even Antonio Brown to jump to Roethlisberger’s defense.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

A scoop.
A score.
A slide.@_TJWatt took it 82 yards to the house in the #ProBowl. pic.twitter.com/Qswj0JdPmi

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 27, 2020

#HereWeGo @steelers fans - let's make the Immaculate Reception the NFL 100 Greatest Moment. Voting is still open!https://t.co/7MFBhrAAkB pic.twitter.com/89davPyxIK

— Heinz History Center (@HistoryCenter) January 27, 2020

The Steelers’ defense goes out with a bang at the 2020 Pro Bowl

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/28/2020 - 2:13pm
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Steelers defensive representatives had a blast at the 2020 Pro Bowl.

No, I didn’t watch any of the 2020 Pro Bowl. And, yes, by all accounts, it sounds like the players were once again half-heartedly blocking and tackling during the AFC’s 38-33 victory over the NFC on Sunday afternoon in Orlando, Florida.

Having said all of that, however, it sure seemed like the Steelers had a blast. In fact, with the way the AFC clinched its win thanks to a 92-yard scoop and score by former college tight end and possible 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, it sounded like the four Pittsburgh defenders who participated—defensive end Cameron Heyward, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, cornerback Joe Haden and Watt—were fine with continuing the theme they started with the Steelers injury-riddled offense during the regular season: “We got this.”

How many times were games turned in 2019 due to takeaways, as well as touchdowns off of them?

Watt’s touchdown put the AFC up by 11 points, but on the NFC’s preceding offensive series, Haden recorded an interception at midfield, a present that the AFC re-gifted two plays later with an interception of its own....that sequence sure made it feel like the Steelers were playing on Sunday.

I realize I’m making it seem like the Steelers Pro Bowl defenders were playing as if they were members of the ‘70s legendary Steel Curtain squad. In reality, the official box score shows that Watt’s score was his only recorded statistic of the day. As for Fitzpatrick, he recorded one pass defensed, same as Heyward.

But I just think it’s cool that the Steelers defense was so heavily represented at the Pro Bowl.

It bodes well for 2020 and beyond. It bodes well for the Steelers as contenders next year, provided they have a healthy Ben Roethlisberger taking the snaps from center. I think it boosts the confidence of the organization as a whole. The front office has to know what it now has in its defense. It has to know that this unit must be kept together for as long as possible. If this means slapping the franchise tag on outside linebacker Bud Dupree at a cost of $16 million? So be it. If this means cutting some popular veterans from the roster in order to make room under the salary cap? That’s sometimes the price of business. If it means kicking the proverbial can down the road a bit more and dealing with the financial ramifications of that at a later time and offseason? Hey, if there’s one team that’s expert at doing that, it’s the Steelers.

With the way the Steelers defenders went about their business in Orlando—both before and during the game—it sure seemed like they wanted to keep the 2019 party going for as long as possible.

If they can carry that kind of attitude and intensity into the 2020 offseason, that can only mean good things for the 2020 regular season.

Mike Tomlin Tuesday: We’ve got to make plays

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/28/2020 - 12:35pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

With no more press conferences from Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin in the foreseeable future, we’ll look back at some of interesting quotes from the 2019 season

Once again, it doesn’t seem like a Tuesday unless we are graced with words from Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin from his weekly press conference. Since it is unlikely we will hear from coach Tomlin again until the draft, let’s take a look at some of the most interesting quotes Tomlin has given us this past season.

We’ve experienced several “Throwback Tomlin Tuesday” quotes so far this off-season. So far we have re-lived the following:

A nose guard is like Blockbuster video
We weren’t ready for prime time tonight
So that’s how you lay an egg

As we continue trough the 2019 season, let’s go back to the press conference following the Steelers’ home opener in Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks. In his opening statement, coach Tomlin discussed the numerous injuries from the game, but did not let it be an excuse for their performance.

“We lost a number of guys in this game,” Tomlin stated, “But that wasn’t the reason we didn’t win this game. We were fully capable with the guys that were on the field. We didn’t make enough plays to be quite honest with you. We didn’t play clean enough, particularly in some moments.”

Looking at the Week 2 loss in retrospect after the entire 2019 season, it was a very different game for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger does not return at halftime only for his season to be done without another play. Mason Rudolph comes out firing the ball right away only to have the ball go through the hands of Donte Moncrief for an interception. The Steelers hand around the entire game only for the defense to not get the stop needed at the end of the game. Some of these problems, especially the last one, don’t seem to fit into the narrative of the rest of the Steelers season.

“We’ve got to get better,” Tomlin continued. “We accept responsibility for it; we’re not looking to make excuses. There are certain things we did in the game that we cannot do. We got off the field and got a penalty on a field goal and allowed those guys to extend the drive and get a four-point swing. We got DPI down the field. We had opportunities down the field on the other side. A ball went through our hands for an interception.”

With the Steelers only falling by two points, there are so many things in this game which could have given the Steelers a much-needed victory for their 2019 playoff chances. In the second quarter, the Steelers had held the Seahawks to a 46-yard field goal only for there to be a 15-yard penalty assessed on Daniel McCullers for unnecessary roughness. Apparently McCullers made too much contact with the long snapper in his attempt to block the field-goal, a play which ultimately led to the Steelers surrendering a touchdown on the drive.

As for the defensive pass interference penalty which was not called but reversed on a challenge, it created a standard which affected the entire NFL for weeks. The overturn of the call was such a horrendous decision the NFL rarely deviated from a call on the field for the next 6 to 8 weeks. It was ultimately a game changing play which was decided in New York and not on Heinz Field.

Even if the call had gone the Steelers way, there were plenty of opportunities the Steelers had which they did not seize in order to pull out the victory.

“We’ve got to make plays,” Tomlin confessed. “The guys that represented us on the field are fully capable of that. We didn’t make enough of them; that’s why we lost the game. We had our chances, not because of the injuries.”

There were no excuses from Coach Tomlin after the Steelers dropped their home opener. The officiating, the injuries, or anything else which factored in to how the game played out was not going to give the Steelers a scapegoat. It came down to them making plays and executing on the field. And after falling to 0-2, the Steelers had their backs against the wall with concerns for their franchise quarterback‘s availability moving forward.

“We understand the position were in. We understand the negativity that comes with it. We better absorb it. We better get singularly focused for our next opportunity and control the things that we can control. But today it’s painful, as it should be.”

At the time Mike Tomlin stated these words, he may not have fully understood how different the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers would be throughout the season. When he spoke to the media two days later, Ben Roethlisberger was out for the season. But not all hope was lost as the Steelers added an All-Pro safety to help bring them back to be a dominating defense in the Steel City.

On defense, making plays was about to become the signature of the 2019 Steelers.

4 Steelers whose dead money outweighs their cap savings if released in 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/28/2020 - 10:59am
Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

While releasing these players could give the Steelers some salary cap space, the amount of “dead money” the Steelers would absorb makes it a foolish financial move

With the Pittsburgh Steelers up against the salary cap for the 2020 season, much discussion has been made about which players may become cap casualties this off-season. While there are several players who can save the Steelers a significant amount of space under the salary cap, I have already outlined the players on the team which would cost more against the cap than to keep them for the season. This time, let’s look at the players who could save the Steelers some cap space but the dead money hit would be a lot to overcome. Just to clarify, “dead money” is the amount money already paid to a player that has yet to be accounted for under the salary cap.

Here is a list of the four Steelers who have at least a $1 million higher dead money amount than cap savings if they were to be released for the 2020 season. Granted, most of these players the Steelers would not consider moving on from anytime soon based on their on-field production. But even though their departure would be highly unlikely even without their salary cap situation, it never hurts to know the numbers. All figures listed are courtesy of overthecap.com and reflect if the player was a pre-June 1 cut (the only type available the the final year of the Collective Bargaining Agreement).

Ben Roethlisberger Dead money: $25,000,000
Cap Savings: $8,500,000

The salary situation for Ben Roethlisberger is completely different than the rest of the players under contract with the Steelers. His dead money hit for 2020 is $10 million more than anybody else’s cap number on the team. While the Steelers could save $8.5 million if they moved on from Rothlisberger which is the second highest savings possible for a single player only behind Cameron Heyward, $25 million is a big number to swallow. Should the Steelers choose to cut ties with Rothlisberger after next season, his dead money hit is cut in half while the Steelers would save $19 million against the cap.

Joe Haden Dead money: $11,200,000
Cap Savings: $1,400,000

Other than the players who would cost the Steelers more dead money if they were released, Joe Haden has the most retainable contract out of any other Steelers’ player. With a dead money hit of over $11 million and only saving less than $1.5 million, cutting Joe Haden would make zero sense even if he wasn’t a Pro Bowl player. Making a habit of paying such a large amount with so little savings is something that can set a franchise back for years.

Maurkice Pouncey Dead money: $6,000,000
Cap Savings: $5,000,000

With only having a slightly larger dead money hit then caps savings, Maurkice Pouncey is the most interesting name on this list. While taking a dead money hit of $6 million is not favorable to say the least, a $5 million cap savings would also be beneficial to the Steelers. But with Pouncey being the only center on the Steelers roster who has taken a regular-season NFL snap, they would need to have a serious plan in place for the position should they decide to move on. All things considered, the only way the numbers make sense to move on from Pouncey would be if the Steelers could use the cap savings to sign B.J. Finney for a lesser amount in 2020.

Vince Williams Dead money: $6,063,334
Cap Savings: $968,332

If Joe Hayden‘s contract has him being a slam dunk for the Steelers to hold onto in 2020, Vince Williams is an uncontested layup. While he does not have as much of a dead money hit, there is no use to move on from a key player who’s cap savings is less than $1 million.

So these are the four players currently under contract with the Steelers who have a dead money hit which is more than $1 million than their salary cap savings. While it does not make it impossible to cut any of these players, the savings might not be worth how much they still continue to count towards the salary cap. Of course, this is strictly from a numbers perspective. When factoring on-the-field performance, it would be foolish for the Steelers to cut ties with most of these four players.

Brian Urlacher throws his support behind Alan Faneca to finally get his call to the Hall of Fame

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/28/2020 - 9:31am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame are doing their part to help players, sometimes rivals, get their due in Canton, OH.

It seems in 2020, more than in previous years, players are doing their best to help their NFL brethren get into the Hall of Fame. Maybe it is the power of social media, but players, not always former teammates, are doing what they can to draw positive attention to those vying for enshrinement.

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, we’ve already seen this as Tom Brady and Ray Lewis both gave verbal support for Troy Polamalu to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. As for Alan Faneca, who has been a finalist for the Hall of Fame for several years, he got a boost from an unlikely source in former Chicago Bears LB Brian Urlacher.

Check out what Urlacher had to say:

Former #Steelers G Alan Faneca has been a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist 5x while also being a 6-time First-Team All-Pro & 2-time Second-Team All-Pro. HOFer Brian Urlacher had this to say about Alan's football career: pic.twitter.com/Jscl7PusFz

— Burt Lauten (@SteelersPRBurt) January 27, 2020

Here is Urlacher’s full quote:

“Alan’s athletic ability and physicality at the guard position set the tone for their whole team. He played at such a high level for such a long time. You know who the good players are. To do it as long as he did it — and as good as his teams were all those years, I think success with a team has a lot to do with it as well and the way you win as a team. They won up front. They rant the ball. They protected their quarterback. Like I said, that started with him. He was the guy up front.”

The difference between Faneca and Polamalu is most everyone believes Polamalu will be wearing a gold jacket this summer in Canton, OH. However, the same hasn’t always been true for Faneca. As stated earlier, Faneca has now waited several years as a finalist, only to be passed up year after year. His career is Hall of Fame worthy, but the guard position on the offensive line isn’t as glorious as a center or tackle.

Will Urlacher’s praise and support put Faneca over the top? It certainly can’t hurt, and is largely why these players are voicing their opinion to possibly sway the committee who votes on every class which enters the Hall of Fame.

Both Faneca and Polamalu will learn their fate this week leading up to the Super Bowl, and Steelers fans can only hope for both to get in, joining Bill Cowher and Donnie Shell as inductees of the 2020 Hall of Fame class.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the 2020 regular season.

The success of the Chiefs and 49ers underscore the Steelers’ need to emphasize the tight end position

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/28/2020 - 7:45am
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t had a dynamic tight end in years. Maybe now is the time to find one...

There’s been a lot of talk this off-season concerning the state of the tight end position in Pittsburgh. The Steelers struggled to get their tight ends involved in the offense in 2019 and debate has centered on whether they should move forward with their current crop or look to upgrade through free agency or the draft. This article examines the growing importance of the tight end position around the league and why, whether it be a personnel move or a scheme change, the Steelers would be wise to place a greater emphasis on the position.

As a kid I grew up watching three of the greatest tight ends in football history: Dave Casper, Kellen Winslow and Ozzie Newsome. I loved how they were jacks-of-all-trades, mixing it up with the big guys inside while being able to catch and run, too. Winslow’s epic performance in a 41-38 playoff win at Miami in 1982, where he caught 13 passes for 166 yards while battling dehydration, a pinched nerve and severe cramps, stands as one of the great individual performances in league history. Casper, aka “The Ghost to the Post,” was a nemesis in the Steelers’ furious rivalry with the Raiders during that era.

But Casper, Winslow and Newsome (and later, guys like Shannon Sharpe and Tony Gonzalez) were outliers. Most tight ends in football history were smaller, more athletic linemen whose primary responsibility was to block. They were often regarded as secondary targets in the passing game, best used off of play-action or in the red zone when defenses were keying the run. They were rarely seen as vertical threats or primary receivers. Tight ends were foundational, like bass players in rock bands, overshadowed by their flashier, seemingly more valuable counterparts at running back, quarterback and wide receiver.

In the early 2000s, however, colleges began introducing spread formations that put extra receivers on the field in place of traditional fullbacks and tight ends. This allowed inferior teams like Kentucky (whose coach, Hal Mumme, is credited with popularizing the Air Raid philosophy) to compete with SEC giants like Auburn and Alabama by spreading the field and emphasizing quick passing concepts. Because the spread left just five primary run blockers up front, teams compensated by devising zone-read schemes that incorporated quarterbacks in the run game and allowed them to leave a box defender unblocked. An offensive revolution ensued.

The NFL never quite subscribed to the pure spread philosophy, however. Professional defensive backs were too fast to maximize some of the benefits the spread schemes offered and franchise quarterbacks, who were now routinely paid tens of millions of dollars per year, were too valuable to use as running backs.

But pro teams did phase out the fullback in favor of a third receiver to take advantage of changing rules that made throwing the football easier and more beneficial than ever before. Overwhelmingly, they began to base out of 11 personnel formations that provided the extra receiver while retaining a tight end who could serve as a sixth in-line blocker. This way they could continue to hand the ball to tailbacks and, in addition to inside and outside zone, run the gap, sweep and power schemes around which pro rushing attacks were constructed.

The switch from 21 to 11 as the NFL’s base personnel group increased the value and importance of the tight end position. More than ever, tight ends had to be solid blockers at the line of scrimmage (to compensate for the removal of the fullback) and vertical threats in the passing game (to accommodate the spread-based schemes that were trickling up from the college game). Because NFL defenses often responded to 11 personnel groupings by removing a lineman or linebacker in favor of a fifth defensive back, finding a tight end who was versatile enough to block a defensive end on one play and split out to exploit a coverage match-up against a strong safety or slot corner on the next became increasingly important.

Those who question the value of these hybrid-type tight ends in today’s NFL offenses would be wise to keep their eyes on #87 in red and #85 in white while watching this weekend’s Super Bowl. Travis Kelce of the Chiefs and George Kittle of the 49ers are two of the league’s premier tight ends, each capable of taking over a football game with their combination of size, speed and power. How premier are Kelce and Kittle? Sunday’s match-up will mark the first time in Super Bowl history that the league’s First and Second Team All-Pro selections at the position (Kittle and Kelce, respectively) will take the field together. The duo combined for 182 receptions and 10 touchdowns this season as feature pieces in two offenses that couldn’t be any different in style.

For all of the emphasis on passing in today’s NFL, the 49ers are the rare organization that remains married to a bygone era. They base out of 21 personnel and, to paraphrase the late, great Prince, run the ball like its 1999.

San Francisco finished second in the league in rushing yards per game this season and their ground game was unstoppable in playoff wins over the Vikings and Packers. The key to their success has been a Shanahan-influenced zone blocking system around which the 49ers have constructed their dominant attack.

When I say their run game is “Shanahan-influenced” I’m referring to Mike, the father, who won a pair of Super Bowls in the 1990s on the legs of Terrell Davis and who made 1,000 yard rushers out of guys named Olandis Gary and Rueben Droughns. Mike’s son Kyle is the current coach of the Niners but it’s his father’s old run scheme that makes the offense go (Mike Shanahan serves as a consultant to his son and has had a significant impact on the construction of the 49ers run game). Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszcyk are the type of smash-mouth guys who fit perfectly in Shanahan’s throwback scheme and allow it to flourish.

Conversely, Kansas City’s offense is as contemporary as it gets. It’s built around dynamic quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has wrestled the title of World’s Best Quarterback away from the Old Guard of Brady, Brees and Rodgers. It’s also an Andy Reid offense, which means it’s heavy on shifts, motions and formations while featuring a good amount of misdirection and West Coast-style throws. The thing that makes it so modern is how much it borrows from college influences. The Chiefs feature myriad tempos, read options, quarterback movements, funky formations and creative gadgets. Whereas the 49ers look to bludgeon opponents with a power run game, the Chiefs confuse them with an array of looks and concepts designed to create mismatches and get their athletes in space.

While Shanahan’s blocking scheme sets the tone in San Francisco and Mahomes is the magic man in Kansas City, neither offense could do what they do without their prolific tight ends. Kelce was tremendous in Kansas City’s 51-31 win over Houston in the AFC Divisional Round, catching 10 passes for 134 yards and three touchdowns. Kittle’s physical presence on the edge helped San Francisco rush for an astounding 471 yards in their two playoff wins. The two players impact the game differently but with equal effectiveness by offering versatility at the position that is unmatched by their peers. This versatility is essential in today’s 11 personnel-driven league.

Here’s some of Kittle at his best. Because San Francisco is so run-heavy, defenses load the box to take away their rushing attack. According to NextGen stats, the 49ers faced more eight-man boxes than any offense in pro football this season. The fact they ran the ball so successfully despite these looks is a tribute to their offensive line. As we can see in the GIF below, the eighth defender doesn’t matter much when the guys up front move people off the ball like this:

Kittle played a large role in the success of the run game, too. Here he is in the NFC Championship game opening a chasm in the C-gap by driving Green Bay’s edge defender five yards towards the sideline:

Those eight-man boxes also meant the Niners saw a lot of single-high coverage. Kittle was the biggest beneficiary of that, as San Francisco’s use of play-action often freed him from underneath defenders and provided him plenty of room to run once he caught the football. Kittle led all NFL tight ends in YAC (yards after the catch) this season with 641. He totaled 1,053 receiving yards for the season, meaning just over 60% of his yards came once the ball was in his hands. Routes like the one below, where the combination of play-action and Kittle’s athleticism allowed him to shake free of coverage then make things happen as a runner, were integral to San Francisco’s success.

In Kansas City, Kelce has been employed quite differently. Kelce is what teams call a “move” tight end, meaning he is motioned around a lot and used in a variety of roles. The Chiefs do use Kelce in a traditional sense with his hand in the ground but they are just as likely to put him in the backfield as an H-back or detach him as a receiver. Kelce led all tight ends in receptions this season while aligned as either a slot or split end, showing how much Kansas City values his ability to win in coverage against defensive backs. The creativity of Kansas City’s offense and their willingness to move Kelce around means he can run just about any route from any look one can imagine.

Below we see Kelce split wide at the bottom of the screen. The Chargers are in a cover-2 zone and Kelce runs a corner route, which is a traditional two-high beater. The thing that makes this route remarkable is how much separation Kelce gets from the safety who, as a half-field defender, is responsible for the deep corner. Kelce pushes the safety into a backpedal with his release and, although we can’t see it in the clip, creates separation with a precise break. If you didn’t know better you would have figured a speed receiver created that sort of separation against cover-two, not a 6’5-260 pound tight end.

Here’s Kelce in one of those creative KC formations at the back of a four-receiver bunch on the goal line. There’s nothing special going on here - Mahomes takes the snap and whips the ball to Kelce, who rumbles into the end zone - but having a player of Kelce’s size who can move like he does is special enough. There’s not much a defense can do once he catches the ball and squares up towards the goal line:

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how an individual like Kittle or Kelce could transform the Steelers offense. Kittle and Kelce are special, of course, as players with their blend of size, speed and power aren’t exactly a dime a dozen. Still, there are options out there who represent lesser versions of what these two elite players can do, beginning with Pittsburgh’s own Kittle-esque tight end, Vance McDonald. Ironically, Kittle’s emergence in San Francisco made McDonald available, and the Steelers landed him in a trade in 2017. McDonald is neither a blocker nor receiver on Kittle’s level but he is a similar style of tight end - physical at the point of attack and dangerous with the ball in his hands. No Steelers’ fan will ever forget this play from 2018 as evidence of what McDonald looks like at his best:

One way the Steelers could immediately upgrade the offense would be to pair McDonald with an athletic “move” tight end in Kelce’s mold. Several are available in free agency, including LA’s Hunter Henry and Indy’s Eric Ebron. The Chargers may wind up tagging Henry and even if they don’t he could command more on the open market than Pittsburgh can afford. Ebron, then, is an intriguing option.

Ebron’s size and physical stature may, for some, conjure uncomfortable memories of the failed Ladarius Green experiment. They indeed have similar frames and are both long-striders. Throw in the fact that Ebron’s 2019 season ended after just 11 games when he opted to have surgery to repair an ankle injury and the similarities may scare people away. However, prior to this year, Ebron missed just five games in five seasons. What the Steelers desired when they signed Green is what they would be getting in Ebron, only without the injury history. He is a big, fast tight end they can motion around the formation, use to stretch the field and create match-up problems for defenses.

The knock on Ebron is that he’s not an accomplished blocker. With McDonald prone to injury, bringing Ebron in as a replacement for current backup Nick Vannett would leave the Steelers without a run-blocking tight end should McDonald go down again. Vannett is a solid if unspectacular blocker capable of anchoring down those duties in McDonald’s absence. However, he is nowhere near the receiving threat Ebron represents. In a perfect world, a McDonald/Ebron pairing would give the Steelers a wealth of possibility with what they can do at the position and would make them difficult to defend from a variety of personnel groups.

If not Ebron, or one of the other available free agents at the position, there’s always the draft. Dave Schofield wrote recently about several tight ends the Steelers could target who participated in last weekend’s Senior Bowl. Given the lack of an immediate-impact tight end in the draft, I’d look to the free agent class for a player who can help the offense right away. But, if players like Henry, Ebron or Austin Hooper prove too expensive, the Steelers may have no choice but to draft one. Steelers’ fans can decide for themselves which option, and which player, they would prefer.

To maximize the effectiveness of whomever plays tight end for the Steelers in 2020, there is going to have to be more of a concerted effort to involve them in the offense. A couple of years ago, when the Steelers featured Antonio Brown as their #1 receiver with an emerging Juju Smith-Schuster as his sidekick, it was understandable that the tight ends were relegated to a secondary role. Brown is long gone, however, and Juju struggled to cement himself as a #1 receiver in Brown’s absence. With young receivers Diontae Johnson and James Washington still proving themselves at the pro level, and Ben Roethlisberger returning from injury, now is the perfect time to alleviate some of the pressure on the receivers by carving out a larger role for the tight ends.

Once the Steelers make their off-season moves and settle on their tight end personnel, we’ll examine what that larger role might look like. In the meantime, enjoy the Super Bowl on Sunday and try not to be too jealous when you see 87 in red and 85 in white putting on a show.

How bad was the Pittsburgh Steelers passing game in 2019?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/28/2020 - 6:30am
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Looking at the numbers behind one of the worst passing teams in franchise history.

The 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers were not a great passing offense by any stretch of the imagination. Today we’re going to look at just how bad the numbers were, inside of the season and in historical context for the Steelers.

First off, the team numbers.

I was somewhat surprised to find out that the Steelers didn’t rank last in any passing stat this season, but they did finish in the bottom 10 in every stat. No other team in the NFL finished in the bottom 10 in every stat listed above, and only the Carolina Panthers join the Steelers in ranking in the bottom 5 in Y/A, INT% and TD%.

The Panthers had Cam Newton playing poorly in 2 games before shutting him down for the season as his injured left foot just wasn’t healthy enough for him to keep playing. Kyle Allen came in and gave the Panthers a number of adequate games and a few real stinkers before the team replaced him with Will Grier. Grier was far worse, and Allen would replace him at the end of the season. Sound similar? In the Steelers case both Rudolph and Hodges were adequate for multiple games, but the numbers of adequate games to awful games are pretty close.

If you look at the percentage of league average, the Steelers were nearly league average in completion percentage, not terrible at yards per attempts, bad at getting the ball into the endzone and downright awful at throwing interceptions.

For my fellow stats nerds I included Z-scores. for a quick definition a Z-score compares a number to the average, but also to how far apart most teams are from the average to give a better idea of (in this case) whether the Steelers gap from the average is more normal or if it is really rare.

If you look at TD% and Passer Rating you can see the usefulness, as that 77.8% of the average TD percentage isn’t as far out of the expected range of variation as the 84.2% of average passer rating. In this case that’s because more teams had really high and low TD percentages, while with passer rating all the teams tended to be closer to the average. Both % of NFL average and Z-scores agree that the Steelers INT% was significantly higher than the average NFL team.

The combination of low yards and high interceptions is a real killer. In 1989 the Bubby Brister led Steelers ranked 28th out of 28 teams in passing yards but also threw the 3rd fewest Interceptions. That season the Steelers went to the playoffs and beat the Oilers in Houston. I think it isn’t far fetched to look at this past Steeler season and say that if the team could have avoided interceptions there were a number of games the team could have won to get into the playoffs, where as the last seed the Steelers would have faced the Patriots who were ripe for getting knocked off.

Without any silver lining at all the 2019 Steelers passing game instead compares more to the 1998 Steelers, who finished 29th out of 30 teams in passing yards, and also failed to have any passing stat rank outside of the bottom 10. That Kordell Stewart led offense had a solid but not great defense and a top 10 run game, and the Steelers were 7-4 after week 12 and well in the hunt for a Wild Card spot, but would only score 55 points while committing 15 turnovers over the last 5 games, to go out with a 7-9 record.

In 2019 the Steelers sat at 8-5 after week 14, in control of a Wild Card berth, yet would only score 30 points while committing 9 turnovers the last three weeks of the season to end 8-8. The silver lining to a season of epic futility in the passing game is the reminder that even if Ben isn’t his old self in 2020, if he can just be smart with the ball and be more effective at getting TDs while throwing fewer interceptions, this team can easily be a playoff contender. Ben has a reputation for scuttling a game or two with a flurry of picks, but his 2018 season, when he led the NFL in interceptions, he had a 2.5 INT%, when league average was 2.4%. If the Steelers had a 2.5% interception percentage in 2019 they very likely would have made the playoffs.

While so far we’ve largely looked at QB based stats, the wide receiver situation on the Steelers this season has to be accounted for as well. Look at the snap count for WRs in the first game of 2019, and the season totals for each:

Two of the WRs that were viewed as top 3 to start the season failed to even record 30 receiving yards in 2019, and while JuJu Smith-Schuster was the Steelers leading receiver before his injury, his final totals rank 3rd on the team. Of the 6 WRs to get snaps in week one, only three of them would gain more yards than Deon Cain and Tevin Jones. Donte Moncrief, Ryan Switzer and Johnny Holton would combine for 66 yards and 0 TDs on 41 targets, that’s 1.61 yards per target. That’s less per play than Mason Rudolph gained running the ball. Donte Moncrief wide open? Ryan Switzer is in the flat with no one around him? Just lower your head and plow into the line Mason, it’s the statistically better option.

Finally, James Washington’s team leading 753 yards is the lowest receiving yards leader for the Steelers since 1999 and 2000, the Kordell Stewart years before Hines Ward became a starter. Only 4 seasons since Bill Cowher took over the team have had a lower leading receiver total (1992, 1994, 1999, 2000), and the Steelers had 4 receivers gain more than 753 yards before the league lengthened the season to 14 games in 1961. Oh for the good old days of Elbie Nickel, Ray Matthews, Jimmy Orr and Buddy Dial. . .

If you want to have even more fun, Diontae Johnson led the Steelers with 5 receiving TDs, the last time the Steelers failed to have one receiver get more than 753 yards and at least 6 TDs was 2004 when Jerome Bettis scored all the TDs and only Hines Ward had over 753 yards. In 2009 Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller all had more than 753 yards and at least 5 receiving TDs.

Looking forward to 2020, the Steelers passing game can’t get any worse. I mean it technically could, but that would be really, really hard to pull off. Some stability at WR and a starting QB with some NFL experience would really help, and while the WR group for much of the season was a very different look from the start of the season, heading into next season with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and James Washington as the top 3 makes a solid group. With a little experience and success under Washington and Johnson’s belts, the WRs could be a unit of strength for this team in 2020.

Podcast: Why the Chiefs are the Steelers’ team to beat moving forward

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/28/2020 - 5:30am

Join Bryan and Tony after Steelers represented well in the Pro Bowl in the latest edition of the Steelers Hangover.

The Steelers 2019 season is over, but it’s not too early to think about 2020. With the Chiefs getting ready for the Super Bowl, could they replace the Patriots as the Steelers new out-of-division rival for AFC supremacy. Join Tony and Bryan as they discuss this and more.

In case you are new to the show, you can check out a complete rundown of the show below:

  • The Steelers impressive representation in the Pro Bowl.
  • Great Steelers Super Bowl Memories
  • The Chiefs. Are they the next Steelers’ rivals for the AF?
  • Live chat Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

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.

Black and Gold Links: T.J. Watt learned all he could from Von Miller at the Pro Bowl

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 01/28/2020 - 4:33am
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially over. After finishing the year 8-8, the Steelers, and their vast fan base, has another long offseason awaiting them. Just because the games are done doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take at how T.J. Watt took advantage of being around Von Miller at the Pro Bowl and picking his brain as a pass rusher.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Von Miller is one of the best in the business at rushing the passer, and he is a big fan of T.J. Watt. Watt used the time at the Pro Bowl to learn from Miller to help himself get better.

Steelers LB T.J. Watt has a huge fan in the BroncosVon Miller

By: Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

T.J. Watt doesn’t have to go very far to get tips on pass rushing. His brother, J.J., is a three-time NFL defensive player of the year and nearing 100 sacks in his career. J.J. lends plenty of advice to his younger sibling.

But J.J. isn’t the only NFL player T.J. goes to when it comes to honing his craft. He’s playing in his second consecutive Pro Bowl this week, and he’s trying to learn as much as he can from the league’s other top edge rushers.

And for a second consecutive year, Watt has been picking the brain of Von Miller, the eight-time Pro Bowler and 2016 Super Bowl MVP for the Denver Broncos. Miller, who has 106 career sacks, is a big fan of Watt’s game.

“He’s great,” Miller said Thursday afternoon at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World, where the AFC and NFC teams are practicing this week. “He has a high motor, and he’s talented. You just can’t coach effort, all the way to the whistle every single time, over and over, every single game. That just has to be you, or it’s not. And that’s definitely T.J.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Is it time we start to question the CTE research?

John Steigerwald: It might be time to show skepticism about CTE research

By: John Steigerwald, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Maybe Merrill Hoge was right.

Hoge, a running back who played eight seasons in the NFL — seven with the Steelers and one with the Bears — retired at 29 because of multiple concussions.

His book, “Brainwashed: The Bad Science Behind CTE And The Plot to Destroy Football,” co-authored with Dr. Peter Cummings, an assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology at Boston University School of Medicine, came out in 2018 to lots of bad reviews.

CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), with lots of help from a movie “Concussion” starring Will Smith, had been just about universally accepted as an injury caused by repeated blows to the head in contact sports, especially football.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Some Steelers have some crazy stories surrounding their Super Bowl rings.

53 SUPER BOWL RINGS, 53 STORIES

By: ESPN Staff Writers

SUPER BOWL IX

1974: PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Joe Greene, DT ”About four years ago, I was at the [Dallas-Fort Worth] airport, and on the driver side of the car, I opened the door and when I put my hand down to get out, the ring fell off. I saw a car coming slowly and it was too close for me to pick up the ring. And a car ran over the ring. It came back, I picked it up, the diamonds and stones were still there, but it changed the shape of my ring. It was an oval shape instead of round because the wheel went over the side of the ring instead of on top of it. I wore it a while but figured I better send it in to [a jeweler] and they repaired it for me. Looks great now.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

https://t.co/uqESZ4hJOT

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 27, 2020

pic.twitter.com/EkYV4WuxnP

— James Conner (@JamesConner_) January 26, 2020

I told Kobe I’m tryna be legendary like him he simply said, “just grind, just grind everyday.” Truly thankful I was able to hear that from him days before he passed. I gotta go harder. And if I tell you I love you I mean it...

— James Conner (@JamesConner_) January 26, 2020

How NFL teams can “tag” two players in 2020 if done correctly

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 01/27/2020 - 1:59pm
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is not reached before the new league year, NFL teams have the option to use both the franchise and transition tags this off-season

It’s a very strange off-season this year in the NFL. If the owners and the NFLPA do not come together on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, there are many different things which will be different in 2020 when it comes to player contracts and negotiating the salary cap. With the “30% rule” affecting contract extensions, renegotiation, and structures of new deals, the Steelers are already in a tough position to work their usual magic when it comes to finding money with the salary cap. But there are also other rules which can change how many NFL teams to business this off-season.

In a typical year, NFL teams have the option to use either the franchise tag (exclusive or non-exclusive) or the transition tag to try to retain a player who is set to become an unrestricted free agent. But for the final year of the current CBA, teams are allowed to use both.

As a quick reminder, the franchise tag can be used on a player to where they can only work out a deal exclusively with their current franchise. Teams can use the non-exclusive franchise tag where the player may negotiate a deal with another team but the original franchise has the option to match the offer or to let the player go with two first-round draft picks as compensation. The transition tag comes at a smaller value at each position, but differs in where the team would still have the right of first refusal but would not be compensated with draft picks if they do not match the offer.

In the final league year of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, it states teams can use the transition tag along with the franchise tag. It is listed in article 10 section 3.

Article 10
Section 3. Transition Player Designations:
(a) Each Club shall be permitted to designate one player who would otherwise be an Unrestricted Free Agent as a Transition Player in the Final League Year. In addition, in each League Year during the term of this Agreement, each Club shall be permitted to designate one player who would otherwise be an Unrestricted Free Agent or Restricted Free Agent as a Transition Player in lieu of designating a Franchise Player, if such Franchise Player designation is available to such Club, in addition to the Transition Player designation permitted by the immediately preceding sentence, during the same designation period as the Franchise Player designation period.

While this is a very interesting option for teams this off-season, the expense of using the tags is something many teams such as the Steelers are not realistically in the place to exercise this option. Using the Steelers as an example, if they decided they wanted to keep both Bud Dupree and Javon Hargrave for the 2020 season by utilizing both tags, it would cost over $28 million. If the Steelers were to franchise Dupree at just over an estimated $16 million and use the transition tag on Hargrave, it would run slightly over $12 million for a defensive tackle. If the Steelers would choose to go the other route, Dupree would cost $14 million under a transition tag while Hargrave would be $15.5 million using the franchise tag.

In all honesty, it would be a difficult scenario for the Steelers to use even one of the tags, let alone both. When teams use either of the tags, they must have the room under the salary cap at the moment the tag is issued. With the 30% rule inhibiting their ability to save space with restructuring contracts, the best way the Steelers can get any kind of cap relief is by cutting current players on their roster.

Teams have until March 10 at 4 PM ET to designate their tagged players. It would take an awful lot of work for the Steelers to use one tag, so don’t look for them to use a second one. But even though it might not affect the Steelers, if you see an NFL team using both the franchise and transition tag, hopefully now you understand why.

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