Already Think Steelers Coaches Are Dumb? Well, They’re About to Get Dumber…

The juxtaposition of most Steelers fans and their opinions on the team following a 42-21 loss to the Chiefs in a Wild Card game at Arrowhead Stadium last Sunday night was fascinating.

On one hand, the fans quickly made peace with the fact that Pittsburgh simply didn’t have the stars, the horses, to keep up with the two-time defending AFC Champions.

On the other hand, they pointed to poor coaching and quickly put together a wish list of those they felt should be held accountable. (And “held accountable” has always been code for “fired.”)

Steelers 2020 Assistant coaches, Mike Tomlin, Karl Dunbar, Jerry Olsavsky, Keith Butler

Mike Tomin stands between Karl Dunbar and Jerry Olsavsky during 2020. Photo Credit: Patrick Smith, Getty Images via BTSC

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is always at the top of that wish list; he’s always on the hot seat with the fans even if the organization itself appears to have no such furniture. Most fans know this on some level, which is why offensive coordinator Matt Canada and defensive coordinator Keith Butler are the sacrificial lambs they want to see up on the alter after last Sunday’s pathetic performance against a team that, to reiterate, was clearly better.

  • Let’s talk about Keith Butler.

It wasn’t long ago that the rumors began to circulate that he wasn’t even designing and calling the defenses any longer, that Tomlin had taken most of those responsibilities away from him. (Never mind that Butler could be seen holding a play sheet and, well calling plays during the heat of games.) I actually think a lot of people forgot about that rumor the previous two seasons when the defense performed at such a level that it could accurately be described as elite.

I suppose it makes sense that people would forget. After all, when something is working quite well, we don’t seem to care all that much about the behind-the-scenes stuff, about how the sausage is made. All we care about is that things are working.

With T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Joe Haden, Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu and a few other notables, the Steelers defense purred in 2019 and 2020. Unfortunately for Butler, Dupree left as a free agent last offseason. Mike Hilton, a top slot corner in the league for many years, also departed. Alualu departed as a free agent last March, quickly had a change of heart and came back before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 2 of the 2021 campaign.

  • As for Tuitt, he never played a down in 2021.

The speculation never waned as to why–was it the death of his brother or an injury?–but the bottom line was he wasn’t around. Devin Bush struggled coming back from a torn ACL the season before. Joe Schobert, a veteran inside linebacker who seemed to be a genius addition by general manager Kevin Colbert during the preseason, never quite lived up to the euphoria many felt when the trade was made in August.

Heck, even Watt, for as disruptive and destructive as he was in many games while tallying 22.5 sacks, that’s how quiet and ineffective he was while missing three games and parts of a few others with injuries.

  • The Steelers defense was not elite in 2021; it finished 24th in total yards allowed–including dead-last against the run.
Randy Fichtner, Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs 49ers

Randy Fichtner & Ben Roethlisberger prior to Steelers 2015 game vs 49ers. Photo Credit: AP Gene J.Puskar, via Yahoo.

Let’s move on to Canada. What a crappy offense that was in 2021, right? 23rd, overall, in total yards. It only scored 20.2 points per game. It sure seemed like Canada’s promotion, following the dismissal of Randy Fichtner, was a flop.

Was it a flop, or was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s floppy arm the real culprit? Perhaps it was that young and inexperienced and/or incapable offensive line.

I guess we’ll never know. All we do know is that Canada is the one who people want to see go–and not the washed-up 39-year old quarterback, who may or may not have been willing to buy into a new offensive philosophy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not throwing shade at Roethlisberger. I love the guy, but he wasn’t the same player in 2021 that he was in his prime. Even if he was, his strengths didn’t seem to align with Canada’s offensive philosophy.

Also, let’s not forget who was a part of the Steelers offense in 2021, and it certainly didn’t include Antonio Brown, David DeCastro, Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant or Maurkice Pouncey. In other words, the offense was a shell of its former self and actually has been since Brown burned every bridge out of town following the 2018 season.

Isn’t it funny how effective Randy Fichtner was as a coordinator in 2018 when Brown was still here and Roethlisberger was leading the league in passing yards? Fast-forward to 2019. Brown was gone and Roethlisberger missed most of the year. Suddenly, Fichtner was an idiot without a “plan.”

  • No, he was just an offensive coordinator without his two best offensive weapons.

Last season, the offense started strong before everyone figured its secret: Big Ben really didn’t have it anymore following reconstructive elbow surgery, and even if he still did have “it,” that once-great offensive line certainly did not.

  • Crowd the line of scrimmage and force Roethlisberger to beat you deep — he rarely could.

My point with all of this is this: Players make the coaches, and no matter how many times you say things like, “You have to adapt your game-plan to fit the strengths of your players,” it’s not going to matter if your players have few strengths.

Will Canada get fired? Maybe. Maybe not. Even if he does, will it matter in 2022 if Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins or (insert some rookie or veteran quarterback here) is horrible? Probably not.

Back to Butler. Now that he’s actually retired, will it even matter? Especially since Tomlin has been the one calling the shots on defense for years? Even if you want to place all the blame on Tomlin, can he ever devise a game-plan to make up for a reduction in star power? Even if the Rooneys insist that Tomlin hire a credible defensive coordinator and give him full autonomy, can he design a defense to make up for a lack of players like Stephon Tuitt and Bud Dupree?

I think you know the answers to these questions, which is why I liked you better when you admitted that the Chiefs were just a superior football team last Sunday night.

Epilogue – The Immortal Words of Dick LeBeau

In closing perhaps its best to remember the immortal words of Steelers legend Dick LeBeau. The scene was St. Vincents Latrobe and the time was the 1990’s and LeBeau was a coach on Bill Cowher staff. Carnell Lake had just reached an agreement to extend his contract and report to camp. When reporters asked Lebeau how the news made him feel, he quipped:

“I just became a better coach.” 

Remember those words for next season, as we discover whether Devin Bush’s 2021 struggles are due to lingering effects of his ACL injury or him just being a mammoth bust. If Bush’s back, Teryl Austin or whomever Mike Tomlin chooses as defensive coordinator has a chance to be pretty smart. Otherwise, he might end up being even dumber than Butler….

 

 

 

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It is Fitting that Big Ben Will Strike Midnight in the Playoffs

And you thought Week 17, following the Steelers 26-14 victory over the Browns at Heinz Field, was going to be the retirement party for long-time Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.

Sure, Pittsburgh still had one more game to play in order to complete its 2021/2022 campaign, but that would be at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium against the Ravens.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger final game M&T Bank Stadium

Ben Roethlisberger after throwing a go ahead touchdown Photo Credit: AP, Evan Vucci via WKBN.

The Steelers still had playoff hope as they prepared for Week 18, but it sure didn’t seem like things would fall into place in yet another win-and-get-help regular-season curtain jerker.

But they obviously did, and when Chris Boswell connected on a game-winning field goal in overtime, Roethlisberger walked across the field as if he already knew he still had more football left to play.

Roethlisberger may have had to say goodbye to Heinz Field, his work home, a place that included thousands of vocal and emotional “work” friends who were eager to express their love for him, but saying goodbye to Heinz didn’t mean saying “Hello” to his “Life’s Work.” At least not just yet.

Judging by his decline in abilities over the past few years, it’s obvious that it’s time for Roethlisberger, the old cowboy, to ride off into the sunset.

But I think it’s fitting that Ben Roethlisberger, a quarterback who has never truly gotten his just respect when compared to other all-time greats at his position, will end his illustrious 18-year career in the postseason. After all, that’s where the great ones usually shine, and while Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t always been perfect in the playoffs, he’s had more ups than downs — including three trips to the Super Bowl and two Lombardi trophies.

The odds are long that the Steelers’ and Roethlisberger’s postseason journey will extend beyond this coming Sunday evening and the wildcard date with the two-time AFC-champion Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City recently spent the allotted 60 minutes of regulation wiping the floor with the Steelers in a Week 16 matchup at the same venue, which may explain why the home team has already been established as a 13-point favorite.

  • That sounds about right to the logical, rational football fan in me.

But that die-hard fan in me, the same person who feels like he will cause the team to lose if he changes his routine even a little bit during “Playoff Week,” wonders if the Big Ben that we all remember has one final great game left in that aging right arm.

That would be glorious, wouldn’t it, Roethlisberger going toe-to-toe — and throw-for-throw — with Patrick Mahomes, the young gunslinger and, according to many, the very best in the game right now, for four full quarters?

A win would be ideal, but even in a loss, I think most Steelers fans would feel proud that Roethlisberger showed the football world one final time just how special he’s always been.

  • Then again, maybe Roethlisberger can help the Steelers shock the football world.

I think that would be a much better story.

Either way, Roethlisberger will end his career in the best possible place for him — the playoffs.

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Report Card For Steelers 36-10 Loss To The Chiefs

From the grade book of a part-time, substitute teacher who’d really prefer to have stuck with his day job, here is the Steelers Report Card for the loss to the Chiefs

Quarterbacks
It was another frustrating performance for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, as the 39-year old, who is presumably on his way out, completed 23 of 35 passes for 159 yards, an ugly interception early on that helped to kick off the Kansas City onslaught and a touchdown late in the game when the onslaught was official. Things were so bad for Roethlisberger that he actually gave way to backup Mason Rudolph following the aforementioned garbage-time touchdown, a 15-yard connection with receiver Diontae Johnson. Grade: DSteelers, Report Card, grades,

Running backs
The ground game was actually healthy enough for a win, as the team gained 130 yards on 25 carries, but one will never know if that was because the Chiefs were playing a softer defense thanks to jumping all over Pittsburgh or if it was legit. For what it’s worth, rookie Najee Harris ran hard as usual and gained 93 yards on 19 carries, while backup Benny Snell Jr. spelled Harris with 20 yards on five carries. Grade: C

Wide Receivers
It was another subpar day for the Steelers receivers. The beleaguered Chase Claypool did have a series in which he made some impressive combat catches, but he only tallied 41 yards on four receptions when all was said and done. As for Johnson, who was the team’s leading receiver on the day with six catches for 51 yards and a score, he pulled an Emmanuel Sanders by fumbling without being touched early in the third quarter. The only other receiver of note was Ray-Ray McCloud, who made people notice how ineffective he was while being targeted eight times. Grade: D+

Tight Ends
|Without Eric Ebron and Pat Freiermuth, this unit was about as effective as you’d expect with Zach Gentry catching four passes for 31 yards and Kevin Rader pulling in one pass for seven yards. Oh well, at least the running game was somewhat effective. I don’t know how helpful these guys were with that, but I’ll give them the benefit of doubt by not totally failing them. Grade: D

Offensive Line
Another rocky and inconsistent day for the unit, especially rookie center Kendrick Green, who was benched during the game for J.C. Hassenauer. Grade: D

Defensive Line
With Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu out for the year, it was another frustrating day for Cam Heyward and his understudies. The Chiefs rushed for 127 yards which wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. While Heyward did record one of the team’s two sacks, the pass rush was mostly ineffective. Heyward even made a mistake early on, when he jumped offsides on third and 11 and kept the Chiefs first touchdown drive alive. Grade: D

Linebackers
Alex Highsmith recorded the defense’s other sack on the day. As for inside linebacker Robert Spillane, he was the leading tackler in the game with 13. However, both Highsmith and Spillane set the tone early on (in a bad way) when they teamed up to stop Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire from the one-yard line, only for Edwards-Helaire to escape their clutches for the game’s first score. T.J. Watt was actually invisible in this game unless you count the times the camera spotted him on the sidelines nursing his injuries. Grade: D+

Secondary
Not much good you can say here, as Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes completed 23 of 30 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns. Nobody in the secondary really did anything of note, not Joe Haden, not Minkah Fitzpatrick. Grade: D

Special Teams
Kicker Chris Boswell was one for two on field goals on the day with his miss coming from 36-yards out in the first half when the Steelers were trailing, 17-0.

As for emergency punter Corliss Waitman, who was filling in for rookie Pressley Harvin III following the sad news that his father had passed away, he didn’t do too bad, averaging 60.5 yards on two punts.

McCloud averaged 20 yards on three kickoff returns and the same amount on his lone punt return. Grade: C+

Coaching
This was Pittsburgh’s second blowout loss in less than a month and the fourth time since November 19 that the team found itself down by three scores or more in a game. Just like with the 41-10 loss to the Bengals, the team looked uninspired and unprepared. I realize that the Steelers are mostly a young team, but good, young teams improve as the season goes along. This bunch looks like it’s waiting for the offseason to begin. One begins to wonder if head coach Mike Tomlin has finally lost the locker room. As for offensive coordinator Matt Canada? It was another fine mess. Grade: F

 

 

 

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Steelers Drop to 7-7-1 After 36-10 Shellacking by Chiefs At Arrowhead Stadium On Sunday

The highlight for the Steelers on Sunday occurred when they moved into the seventh seed in the AFC playoff race thanks to the Texans’ upset of the Chargers.

Unfortunately, that result went into the books before Pittsburgh took the field for a 4:25 kickoff against the juggernaut Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

So just how long did the Steelers hold onto that seventh and final postseason spot? Technically, they were in that slot for over three hours, but if we’re being real, Pittsburgh was toast the moment the Chiefs’ offense, led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, took its opening possession and marched 73 yards on 14 plays and grabbed a 7-0 lead after running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who was met rudely by both Alex Highsmith and Robert Spillane, shook off what should have been a tackle and scampered home for a touchdown on second and goal from the one.

One play later, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw an ugly interception on a flea-flicker attempt and, you guessed it, Kansas City quickly turned that into seven more points on a five-yard touchdown pass from Mahomes to receiver Byron Pringle.

From there, the rout was on.

The Chiefs added nine more points to close out the first half to take a 23-0 lead into the locker room. Pittsburgh’s only serious first-half scoring threat ended when kicker Chris Boswell missed a 36-yard field goal with the visitors trailing 17-0.

Not only was Pittsburgh shut out in the first half, but it was also the fifth-straight game that the offense failed to score a touchdown over the first 30 minutes.

The Chiefs were methodical with their execution in the second half, as they built a 36-3 lead.

Pittsburgh’s only touchdown came in garbage time when Roethlisberger connected with receiver Diontae Johnson for a 15-yard touchdown with 2:54 left in regulation.

Roethlisberger completed 23 of 35 passes for 159 yards, one touchdown and one interception exiting late in the game for backup Mason Rudolph.

The defense was just about as ineffective as the offense, as it failed to come up with any big plays and barely got any pressure on Mahomes.

The loss not only drops the Steelers back out of a playoff spot but also 1.5 games out of first place in the AFC North, thanks to the Bengals’ thorough beatdown of the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium.

Next up for the Steelers is a Monday night game against the Browns at Heinz Field, the last regular-season home matchup for 2021 and possibly Roethlisberger’s career.

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If This is “It” for Big Ben, at Least He’s Going Out in Front of Fans

Rumor has it, this is Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger‘s final season with the team and presumably in the National Football League.

That’s actually been the assumption since Roethlisberger agreed to take a pay cut last spring in order to stay with the team for the 2021 regular season.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs Ravens

Ben Roethlisberger celebrates. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

Many wanted Roethlisberger gone after the 2020 regular season. In fact, when he was seen crying at the end of that depressing 48-37 loss to the Browns in the AFC wildcard game at Heinz Field on January 10, the belief was that those were tears of finality, of closure, of the realization that the final seconds of Roethlisberger’s Hall of Fame career were ticking away.

Honestly, nobody can say what was going through Roethlisberger’s head at that moment. Perhaps he really did think that might have been it for him. Maybe he was crying over what he assumed would be the final game for his long-time center, the great Maurkice Pouncey, who was seen commiserating with Roethlisberger at the close of that postseason debacle.

Perhaps, like most Steelers fans everywhere, Roethlisberger was simply showing his disappointment over the finality of what once looked like a magical 2020 Steelers campaign, one that saw the team get out to a franchise-record 11-0 start. Of course, we all know how the 2020 regular season began to spiral out of control last December and didn’t stop spiraling until Pittsburgh was one and done in the playoffs.

Looking back on last year, it really was bizarre, wasn’t it?

Thanks to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of NFL stadiums were empty for actual games last year. It was such a sterile environment, one that most players, coaches and even the fans watching on television had little choice but to adapt to. But now that I’ve had a chance to revisit last year,

  • I can’t tell you how happy I am to see Heinz Field — and most other NFL stadiums — rocking once more.

And for that reason, I’m glad Roethlisberger decided to come back for this presumed final season as an NFL quarterback. It might seem corny, but he needed to feel the love of the fans one last time. He needed to hear the cheers and experience the tears, not just from himself but from the faithful that have watched him do his thing since the Steelers 2004 season.

There are fans in their 20s who have never known another Steelers quarterback other than Roethlisberger. They don’t remember all the mediocre ones that came along after Terry Bradshaw. Heck, they might not even know or care one bit about Bradshaw and his legacy.

  • For them, it’s all about Big Ben. He’s a god in football pads as far as they’re concerned.

He needed to say goodbye to them, to all of us, in person in 2021. And not just Steelers fans, Roethlisberger needed to say goodbye to the folks in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Baltimore. He needed to hear those barks from the Dawg Pound one more time and whatever it is they do in Cincinnati and Baltimore.

Most importantly, Roethlisberger needed to hear the roar of those folks as he ran out of the tunnel at Heinz Field. Can you imagine your last time out of your home tunnel being met with dead silence thanks to a pandemic? You talk about a truly surreal end to a career.

With four games left to go in the 2021 regular season, it remains to be seen how Ben Roethlisberger’s career will end with the Steelers.

But, at the very least, we’re going to have a chance to say goodbye. We needed to say goodbye to one another the right way.

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Super Bowl Legends Dissing Steelers Defense Isn’t New. But It Still Hurts

“There’s absolutely no physicality. There’s no energy defensively. There’s no tone-setters.”

“Pittsburgh football ain’t about having fun. Pittsburgh football is about dominating people on the field because of your physicality.”

“But that ain’t what y’all want. What y’all want to do is show up, and y’all want to live on the backs of legends. Don’t nobody care about that no more. Young people aren’t respectful to the past. In the past, Pittsburgh was something. This Pittsburgh defense ain’t jack.”

Those quotes, courtesy of Fox News, are all from the same person, former Steelers safety Ryan Clark, during a rant on Monday while making an appearance with his current employer, ESPN.

Ryan Clark, James Farrior, Troy Polamalu

Ryan Clark celebrates after an interception. Photo Credit: Getty Images, via Heavy.com

Clark, a member of the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII team, a championship team that was spurred on by one of the most dominant defenses in the history of the NFL (Dick LeBeau‘s unit finished number one in just about every important category in 2008), was upset about the performance of Keith Butler‘s 2021 version, a version that has allowed 586 rushing yards over the past three games (the Steelers have lost two of those games and had to settle for a tie against the pitiful Lions in the other).

Clark isn’t the only former Steelers defensive player to chime in on the struggles of the current defense. Former linebacker Arthur Moats has been very critically, especially of the effort put forth by linebacker Devin Bush: “Your tape is going to tell me everything I need to know so don’t tell me you want to make plays when I cut the tape on you, you’re not showing that effort.”

I realize that Bush has come under the microscope with the media and fans because of his lack of productivity this year, but Moats’ comments had to cut deep like a surgical procedure with no anesthesia.

It’s easy for us to just arbitrarily proclaim that a player isn’t putting forth the effort, but when a former player, an actual expert, accuses you of that, again, ouch!

Of course, former Steelers, especially former Super Bowl heroes like Ryan Clark, expressing strong opinions about the team’s defensive struggles is nothing new. In fact, I think the most famous quote from an old legend about such things came from Dwight White, a four-time Lombardi winner and member of the famed Steel Curtain defenses of the 1970s, once famously (or infamously) described Pittsburgh’s mediocre defense of the mid-’80s as “Soft and cheesy.

Guys like Clark, Moats and White know a thing or two because they’ve seen a thing or two, especially Clark and White who, again, played on some of the best defenses in the history of the NFL.

It can’t be easy for a former player to sit back and watch a unit that he once helped to make legendary, intimidating and dominant regress into something that wouldn’t put fear into a high school team’s offense.

It has to be especially frustrating to watch the 2021 unit because, despite the injuries, there should be more than enough star power to still be quite effective. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh’s unit, one that was hovering around the top 10 in total yards fairly recently, has dropped to 21st in that category.

  • As for the run defense, it’s near the bottom of the NFL, allowing 133.1 yards per game.

Pathetic.

Also, a defense that was one of the more opportunistic units in the NFL the past two seasons has just 10 takeaways in 11 games. Heck, even the pass rush, the hallmark of the defense–the entire team, really–since the second half of the 2016 campaign, is having a down year and is on pace for just 37 sacks–and that’s with an extra regular-season game.

What has happened to the Steelers defense in 2021? It can’t be just about the injuries; if it is, guys like Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu deserve a lot more money than what they’re currently earning. If it’s indeed about attitude, want to and being on the details, well, the unit better figure things out and quick.

Former players aren’t just watching, they care deeply. And when a legend like Ryan Clark, one of the most charismatic and vocal former NFL players currently working in television, puts you on blast, he isn’t going to turn the volume down until you get it right.

 

 

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Do You Doubt Chris Boswell Would Have Beaten the Lions in OT? I Don’t

Sports fans love to talk in absolutes. Sportswriters do as well.

  • Steelers fans and reporters are certainly no different.

For example, did you know the Steelers absolutely would have defeated the Oakland Raiders in the 1976 AFC title game if not for the injuries sustained by Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier? Also, Pittsburgh would have won many more Super Bowls in the 1980s and 1990s had the organization selected quarterback Dan Marino in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft.

Do you think either of the above scenarios would have actually taken place had history been different? We’ll never know, but a different history certainly wouldn’t have hurt the Steelers’ cause.

As it pertains to the Steelers of the present–or at least their most-immediately past–there is no doubt in my mind that they would have won Sunday’s game — a contest against the lowly Detroit Lions that ended in a 16-16 tie in overtime at Heinz Field – had their kicker, Chris Boswell, but given at least one chance to attempt a field goal from 50-plus yards away.

Chris Boswell, Steelers vs Lions

Chris Boswell would have made it in OT. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

It may have seemed risky to trot Boswell out there after a 39-yard hookup to Diontae Johnson on Pittsburgh’s first possession of overtime to attempt a 59-yard field goal, but it may not have been as risky as allowing the offense to attempt to get the job done. Unfortunately, Johnson fumbled on that play (see what I mean?) and denied the Steelers and their fans the opportunity to find out.

I absolutely would have sent Boswell out to attempt a 57-yard field goal the moment Johnson was tackled at the Detroit 39-yard line on Pittsburgh’s final possession of overtime. There were mere seconds left, the Steelers had no timeouts, and any pass that ended with a tackle in bounds would have made for a frantic attempt for Boswell.

The Steelers thought otherwise and, instead, attempted one final pass, which rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth pulled in for a one-yard gain before quickly fumbling the last shot at winning right down the tubes.

  • Such a shame. Boswell is at the height of his powers right now and has never looked better.

He’s starting to nail 50-plus yard field goals like one sinks two-foot putts–consistently if you’re a good golfer. In fact, he’s six-for-six from that range in 2021 and hit one from 51-yards away late in regulation on Sunday, in the rain, in the cold, at Heinz Field.

Just six days prior, in Pittsburgh’s come-from-behind win over the Bears on Monday Night Football, Boswell, who kicked the game-winner from 40 yards out, connected on field goals of 54 and 52 yards earlier in the night, becoming the first kicker to ever hit two from 50-plus yards in the same game at Heinz Field.

Other than T.J. Watt, Boswell might be the most reliable Steeler at this point, and when you really think about it, he’s been reliable his entire career. I don’t know what was going on with Boswell in 2018 when he missed seven of 20 field-goal tries while also missing five extra points, but even with those seven field-goal misses, Boswell has made 164 field goals in 185 tries during his Steelers career.

Amazing. Furthermore, Boswell is 15 of 18 from 50-plus yards out since signing with Pittsburgh early in the 2015 campaign.

Obviously, neither Johnson nor Freiermuth intended to fumble in overtime on Sunday, so it’s hard to blame effort or even strategy–even if I do think the final pass to Freiermuth was a poor call and/or poorly executed.

It’s just a shame that Boswell wasn’t given a chance to boot home the win.

I have no doubt that he would have.

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Still Fretting over Steelers Drafting Najee Harris & Pat Freiermuth? Please, Stop.

Since we’ve actually reached the month of November (so hard to believe), and the Steelers 2021 regular season is now seven games old, you’d think most folks would have long since forgotten about what took place during the 2021 NFL Draft last spring.

Najee Harris, Steelers vs Browns

Najee Harris goes Air Mail express into the endzone. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Wrong.

People are still fretting about how the Steelers should have drafted an offensive lineman in the first round and how running backs are a dime a dozen. And even if you’ve now grown to accept the fact that Pittsburgh decided to select Najee Harris, running back, Alabama, 24th, overall, damn it, why didn’t the team take center Creed Humphrey, center, Oklahoma, one round later when he was still ripe for the picking?

Did you see Sunday’s game, a 15-10 victory over the Browns at Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium? Did you witness the powerful runs by Harris and his Walter Payton-like leap into the end zone from about the four-yard line? Did you notice who scored the other touchdown? That’s right, it was Freiermuth. Did you appreciate the body control and the concentration, as he fought off the Browns’ defender, cradled the football and got both feet in bounds before falling to the turf?

A center couldn’t have scored either one of those touchdowns. You might argue that a running back and tight end drafted much lower still may have, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

  • Those two rookies are special. Those two youngsters are studs.

The Steelers were smart in selecting them, and I get the feeling it’s going to continue to pay off for them for quite some time.

As for the offensive line that was very much in need of an infusion of young talent, Kendrick Green, the center Pittsburgh selected out of Illinois in the third round, has been starting since Day 1. Dan Moore Jr., the left tackle drafted out of Texas A&M in the fourth round, surprised everyone with his development over the summer and has also been starting since Week 1.

  • Has Green been pushed around a bit over his first seven games?

Yes, he’s undersized. He’s also green (no pun intended). He barely played center in college. But what I like about Green is that he’s not afraid to push back. Same for Moore, who clearly had his hands full on Sunday while trying to block Myles Garrett (Moore probably wished he had another pair of hands in order to deal with Garrett). But Moore survived. If he can get through a game against perhaps the best edge rusher in the NFL, he can get through anything, right?

So, just to be clear, the Steelers went into the 2021 NFL Draft in need of a running back, a tight end and multiple offensive linemen. They addressed all four areas with their first four picks and all four selections have contributed heavily to the Steelers’ offense through seven games.

  • What more could you ask for?

If that’s not enough, Isaiahh Loudermilk, a defensive lineman who the Steelers traded a 2022 fourth-round pick to the Dolphins in order to draft in the fifth round, is starting to make strides and turn heads. Tre Norwood, a Swiss Army Knife of a defensive back who the Steelers drafted in the seventh round, has been more than a valuable member of the secondary so far in his rookie season. Oh yeah, and Pressley Harvin III, the punter out of Georgia Tech who Pittsburgh also selected in the seventh round, won the job over Jordan Berry in training camp.

Throw in Buddy Johnson, an inside linebacker from Texas A&M who made the team as a fourth-round pick, and that’s quite a successful 2021 draft class. To review: the Steelers 2021 draft class consisted of nine players. Eight made the team, five are already starting (a punter is considered a starter) and seven are contributing heavily.

  • Again, how can you ask for more than that?

It’s time to stop thinking about what the Steelers could and should have done in the 2021 NFL Draft and start talking about what the players they drafted are actually doing.

The end.

 

 

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At 3-3, the Steelers Are Right Where I Thought They’d Be AT This Point… Kind Of

If you would have asked me before the season where the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers, the team with the NFL’s toughest schedule on paper, the team with the 39-year old quarterback along, the team with a bunch of rookies and a new offensive coordinator, would be after six games and heading into their bye, I would have probably said around .500.

  • As it turns out, that’s where the Steelers sit as they sit around and watch most of the other teams play in Week 7.

So, I guess the Steelers are right where I thought they’d be, right? Yes and no. Don’t get me wrong, 3-3 seems right, but how the Steelers got to this point was a bit surprising.

T.J. Watt, Teddy Bridgewater, Steelers vs Broncos

T.J. Watt pressures Teddy Bridgewater. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla

For example, I did not expect the Steelers to go into Buffalo and knock off the Bills in Week 1; if you’ve seen how Buffalo has played since that 23-16 loss at the hands of the black and gold–the Bills may be the best team in the NFL right now–you can certainly understand my doubt.

Conversely, if you would have asked me after the first game where I thought the Steelers would be through three weeks, I would have said they’d still be undefeated; in fact, I remember exchanging text messages with friends and fellow writers and podcasters that reflected that belief. Why? The Raiders, a seemingly mediocre team from out west, and the Bengals, a team that is normally known as the Bungals, were coming to Heinz Field for match-ups in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively.

If the Steelers could knock off the Bills on the road, surely, Las Vegas and Cincinnati would be mere tune-ups along the way to proving all of the offseason doubters wrong, right?

Wrong.

Nope, instead of taking care of both the Raiders and Bengals, Pittsburgh was taken care of in back-to-back home losses. The offense was just as putrid in the two losses as it was in the victory over the Bills. The only difference was a less-potent and effective defense due to a series of injuries that saw both T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith sit out the same game.

After dropping a third-straight to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field, the Steelers closed out their pre-bye portion of the schedule with two-straight home victories. The win over the Broncos in Week 5 wasn’t much of a shocker — I think most folks felt good about Pittsburgh’s chances in that game. But what about the win over Russell Wilson and the Seahawks one week later on Sunday Night Football? That game was only considered a sure-thing after Wilson was lost for several weeks with a major finger injury. With Geno Smith starting that game at quarterback for Seattle, that would surely be a time for the Steelers to feast, right?

Wrong…kind of.

So, what’s the moral of the story? I guess it’s that you never quite know what terrain and obstacles a team will have to navigate around when playing out its annual regular-season schedule; some terrain is smoother than you originally anticipated, while some obstacles are damn-near impossible to get around.

Where will the Steelers’ regular-season road take them following their bye? I could predict a record, but don’t ask me to predict how they’ll achieve such a mark.

Your guess is as good as mine.

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Quiet Takeaway after 5 Games? Chris Boswell’s Steelers Career Keeps “Kicking Along” (pun intended)

The one thing that was annoying about the Steelers’ 27-19 victory over the Broncos at Heinz Field on Sunday was the vantage point during extra point and field goal attempts at one end of the stadium.

I don’t know if it was because the game was on Fox, which prevented me from enjoying an HD viewing experience, but whenever Chris Boswell lined up to attempt a kick and the kick was broadcast from a camera in the opposite end zone (or behind Boswell), I had a hard time finding the ball once it was launched toward the goalposts.

With each kick, I had to wait an extra second or two for the in-stadium crowd to react. If I heard cheers, I knew Boswell’s kick was true. If I heard nothing, I knew he had missed his mark.

Chris Boswell, Steelers vs Bengals,

Chris Boswell boots in a 29 yard field goal against the Bengals. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger

Fortunately for me, I had already assumed I would hear cheers as soon as Boswell connected with foot to ball. Why? The man’s been money for most of his career as the kicker for the Steelers, that’s why.

  • He certainly was on Sunday, as he connected on every single kick.

Chris Boswell may never be placed in the same category as Gary Anderson or Jeff Reed as an all-time great Steelers kicker, but he actually is the best to have ever done it in a Steelers career that began during the 2015 campaign, when he was a midseason replacement for the struggling Josh Scobee, who was a training camp replacement Garrett Hartley who was himself an injury replacement for the injured Shaun Suisham.

Boswell connected on 29 of 32 field-goal attempts during his inaugural season with the Steelers and even made the game-winning kick in the final seconds of the wild wild-card win over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

One year later, in the divisional round of the 2016 postseason, Boswell was the only scoring the Steelers could muster, as he kicked six field goals in an 18-16 win over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

  • The 2017 season may have been Boswell’s finest.

Even though receiver Antonio Brown won the award, you could make a case for Boswell as the Steelers MVP in 2017, as he connected on 35 of 38 field-goal attempts, including several game-winners down the stretch to help Pittsburgh win 13 games and the AFC North crown.

Boswell earned a trip to his first Pro Bowl following the 2017 campaign and a new, multi-year contract right before the 2018 regular season was about to kick off.

Unfortunately for Boswell, 2018 would be the worst year of his career; in fact, things immediately started to fall apart in Week 1 with a missed field goal in overtime in a game that ultimately ended in a 21-21 rain-soaked tie at Cleveland.

I don’t know if that missed kick against the Browns affected Boswell’s psyche, but he would go on to miss seven field goals and five extra points in 2018 and repeatedly failed to pull the Steelers out of the same close jams that he did one year earlier. Pittsburgh collapsed down the stretch and missed the postseason with a 9-6-1 record. Was Boswell dealing with some sort of injury all throughout the 2018 campaign? We do know he was placed on Injured Reserve prior to Week 17 after reportedly suffering a torn groin muscle in a game against the Saints.

After some talk of releasing Chris Boswell and his contract during the 2019 offseason, the now veteran thankfully returned to his old form and connected on 29 of 31 field-goal attempts during the regular season.

Boswell remained consistent in 2020, connecting on 19 of 20 field-goal attempts and even set a franchise mark with a 59-yard boot against the Cowboys in Dallas.

Speaking of records, Boswell kicked the longest field goal in Heinz Field history earlier this season when he made one from 56 yards in a Week 2 game against the Raiders on September 19.

  • That field goal was one of eight Boswell has made so far in 2021 with his only miss coming in Week 3.

Unlike in the days of Gary Anderson, it’s much harder for kickers to distinguish themselves these days, and most are expected to have an accuracy rate at or close to 90 percent.

Chris Boswell may not get talked about or celebrated in the same fashion as less-accurate Steelers kickers from the past, but he’s clearly the greatest one to ever boot balls for the organization.

That speaks volumes.

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