Steelers Report Card for Win over Cowboys – 8-0 ≠ Perfection Edition

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who hopes his class realizes that 8-0 does not equal perfection, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Eric Ebron, Saivion Smith, Steelers vs Cowboys

Eric Ebron leaps over Saivion Smith for six. Photo Credit: Ronald Martinez, Getty Images via Arizona Sports

Quarterbacks
Ben Roethlisberger struggled, again, for much of the first 30 minutes and was completely ineffective. Then he came alive to lead 3 touchdown drives all while protecting the ball. Roethlisberger remains unable to connect with receivers deep. Mason Rudolph came in at the end of the first half and looked like a QB doing mop up work when more was warranted. Grade: BSteelers, Report Card, grades,

Running Backs
James Conner, Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland all saw action. None of the men were particularly effective rushing the ball, and James Conner’s two catches lost yards. The running backs didn’t get much help rushing the ball, but you’d still like to see more. Grade: C-

Tight Ends
Eric Ebron only caught 3 passes for 22 yards but one of those was for the go ahead touchdown. Vance McDonald caught 1 pass for 2 yards. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
JuJu Smith-Schuster continues to prove his worth with 9 catches for 93 yards and a tough touchdown. James Washington hasn’t been asked to do much this year, but he’s delivered when called upon as he did when scoring the first touchdown. Diontae Johnson had 6 catches for 42 yards. Chase Claypool had 8 catches for 69 yards but slid with the Steelers needed a first down. Grade: B

Offensive Line
On the plus side, Ben Roethlisberger was not sacked and only hit twice, although he got injured on one of those hits. On the negative side, the Cowboys run defense completely smothered the Steelers rushing offense. That created long third downs and forced the Steelers to be one dimensional in the 2nd half. This must not continue. Grade: C-

Cameron Heyward, Cam Heyward, Garrett Gilbert, Steelers vs Cowbosy

Cam Heyward after sacking Garrett Gilbert. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

Defensive Line
Look at the stats and you’ll see that Cam Heyward only had a half sack and a tackle and a half for a loss. But that sack he split was a monster play that should have ended the game. Stephon Tuitt had four tackles and one for a loss. Isaiah Buggs and 3 tackles and Henry Mondeaux had one that went for a loss. Dallas didn’t run over the Steelers, but they did better than they should have. Grade: B

Linebackers
Robert Spillane had 8 tackles. T.J. Watt might have “only” split half a sack with Heyward, but he had 3 QB hits and batted 3 passes down. Bud Dupree had a tackle and a QB hit. Alex Highsmith continues to see his playing time increase and had 3 tackles and a sack. Dallas had more success converting third downs than they should have. Grade: B

Secondary
The Cowboys made some long completions, but overall Joe Haden, Steven Nelson and Terrell Edmunds had solid games. Cam Sutton forced a fumble. But the real star of the game was Minkah Fitzpatrick, whose fumble recovery set up a field goal and whose interception took at least a field goal off of the board for the Cowboys, while setting up another Steelers field goal – that’s a nine point swing. Which doesn’t even factor in his final pass deflection. Grade: B+

Special Teams
Where to start? The Steelers got suckered on a lateral during a punt return. OK. That’s understandable if not excusable. But Chris Boswell placed the ball exactly where he wanted to and Dallas still got a 64 yard kick return. Now throw in a missed extra point, a missed field goal and a blocked extra point. Easily the worst day ever for a Danny Smith-coached Steelers special teams unit. Grade: F

Mike Tomlin, Chris Boswell, Steelers vs Cowboys

Mike Tomlin and Chris Boswell. Photo Credit: Post-Gazette

Coaching
It is clear that the loss of both Devin Bush and Tyson Alualu is taking its toll on the Steelers defense. Yet Keith Butler continues to scheme to minimize those losses and to adjust during games. While they may be giving up yards, the Steelers defense continues to deliver with big plays at critical moments.

  • Randy Fichtner’s got a different set of challenges.

Outside of Derek Watt, he hasn’t lost any starters, yet he continues to start slowly. The Steelers struggle to establish the run, while the deep ball fails to be a factor. But like Butler, Fichtner continues to make adjustments on the fly, and while the Steelers offense might be “boring” it is putting points on the board when it counts.

  • Credit Mike Tomlin for being smart enough to understand that 8-0 equals not perfection in the NFL.

Being smart enough to realize you don’t know everything is a virtue in life and the NFL and it is one that Tomlin possess. Grade: B

Unsung Hero Award
The “usual suspects” on the Steelers defense made ESPN highlight-reel Splash Plays. And make no mistake about it, those plays were critical to the game’s outcome. But so were bread-and-butter plays turned in down after down, and no one epitomized that more than the defense’s leading tackler who dropped two players for losses, which is why Vince Williams wins the Unsung Hero Award for the win over the Cowboys.

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Steelers Cut Dustin Colquitt. Jordan Berry’s Return Probable. Tomlin’s Patience Punters Remains Thin

The Steelers cut punter Dustin Colquitt today after just 5 games, with Mike Tomlin admitting that “Our punting is not up to snuff and that we have to get better in that area and we are willing to do whatever is required in an effort to do so.”

  • Dustin Colquitt is of course the son of Craig Colquitt who punted for the Super Steelers in Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV.

However, Colquitt’s punting average of 43.1 ranks 29th in the league and is two yards below Jordan Berry’s average of 45.5 average during 2019. While nothing is confirmed, the Steelers are expected to r resign Jordan Berry prior to their game against the Tennessee Titans.

The Steelers made a additional roster moves, putting Devin Bush on injured reserve. They replaced him with Henry Mondeaux who served on their practice squad in 2020 and 2019 after playing his college ball at University of Oregon, spent training camp in 2018 with the New Orleans Saints and was on their practice squad for the final game of the 2018 season.

Taking Henry Mondeaux’s place on the practice squad is Ray Wilbon, a rookie linebacker out of Ball state who was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Atlanta Falcons following the 2020 NFL Draft.

Jordan Berry, Steelers Jordan Berry

Jordan Berry punting during the 2015 preseason. Photo Credit: John Heller, Post-Gazette

Mike Tomlin Has Little Patience with Punters

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is patient with players at some positions but punter is not one of them. In the middle of the 2008 season, Mike Tomlin cut Mitch Berger after Berger knocked off punts 27, 32 and 35 yards during the Steelers Monday Night win over Washington.

  • At the time, Tomlin’s criticism of Berger was particularly harsh, especially given that Berger was nursing not one but two strained hamstrings.

However, when Paul Ernster turned out to be an even worse punter, the Steelers resigned Mitch Berger after a few games, and Berger continued to punt for the Steelers all the way through to Super Bowl XLIII.

In 2013 the Steelers brought Zoltan Mesko to Pittsburgh during a waiver wire shopping spree, but Mesko only lasted 7 games posting a 42.5 yard average and suffering a blocked punt. Mat McBriar unfortunately offered little in the way of an upgrade, and he too suffered a blocked punt and posted a 41.5 yard average.

McBriar did complete a 30 yard pass to David Paulson on a successful fake punt that set up a Ben Roethlisberger touchdown in the Steelers December 2013 win over the Green Bay Packers.

Nonetheless, McBriar was gone after the season.

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Devlin Hodges And The Defense Lead Steelers To 20-13 Win Over Browns

Photo credit: ABC News.

Looks like the Browns may have to wait another year to realize those Super Bowl dreams.

Undrafted rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges completed 14 of 21 passes for 212 yards, one touchdown and one interception, as the Steelers came from behind to defeat the Browns, 20-13, at Heinz Field on Sunday.

The victory improves the Steelers record to 7-5, and they still have the inside track on the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC with just four weeks to go.

As for the Browns, they are now 5-7, and it would be best to categorize their postseason chances as slim.

Things did start out quite well for the Browns, who methodically had their way with Pittsburgh in the first meeting, a 21-7 victory at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 14.

Cleveland took the opening kickoff and efficiently marched downfield on a time-consuming drive down to the Steelers six-yard line. The key play on the drive was a remarkable throw by quarterback Baker Mayfield on third and 14 that was topped by an even more remarkable sideline catch by receiver Jarvis Landry that was initially ruled incomplete, before being reversed after a challenge by Browns’ head coach Freddie Kitchens.

But after a neutral zone infraction by Bud Dupree gave Cleveland a first and five from the six, the Steelers defense held strong and forced the Browns to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Austin Seibert.

As for Pittsburgh’s offense, it did virtually nothing in the first quarter, gaining a net-total of four yards on two possessions.

The Browns made it 10-0 midway through the second quarter on a fifteen yard catch-and-run by running back Kareem Hunt.

But just went it looked like the Steelers were in deep trouble, they let the Duck fly. Facing a third and nine from the Pittsburgh 18, Hodges let loose with a pass down the left sideline that was pulled in by receiver James Washington, who was actually the real hero, as he showed great body control and concentration by getting both feet in-bounds for a 31-yard catch near midfield.

The drive ultimately stalled at the Cleveland 21, where kicker Chris Boswell connected on a 39-yard field goal to make it, 10-3, visitors.

Following a quick three-and-out by Cleveland, the Steelers offense built on its new-found momentum, marching 69 yards on a five-play drive that culminated in a 30-yard touchdown catch by Washington to tie the score at 10 just before the half. Washington displayed even more concentration than on the sideline pass, by not only fighting off blatant pass interference, but by wresting possession of the ball away from the Browns’ defensive back who interfered with him.

The Steelers carried their momentum into the second half, taking the opening kickoff and marching 69 yards yet again, this time on a seven-play drive that culminated in a hard-fought, one-yard touchdown run by rookie running back Benny Snell Jr., to make it 17-10.

The key play on the drive was made by, you guessed it, Washington, who pulled in a 44-yard catch down to the Cleveland 15 while being tightly contested by cornerback Denzel Ward.

Three plays later, Ward was involved in another key play on the drive, by interfering with rookie receiver Deon Cain on a third-down pass into the end zone, a call that gave the Steelers a first and goal at the one.

Moments later, the Steelers offense would have the football again, and in really decent field position, thanks to a strip-sack by Dupree and a fumble-recovery by defensive lineman Cam Heyward at the Cleveland 46.

Pittsburgh did advance the football to the Browns’ nine but ultimately had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Boswell to make it 20-10, early in the fourth quarter.

Cleveland’s offense got on a bit of a roll on the ensuing drive, advancing all the way to the Steelers 14. But on third and 10, Heyward and Dupree combined to sack Mayfield and force a 34-yard field goal by Seibert to pull the Browns to within a touchdown midway through the final period.

The Browns got the football back one play later on an interception by Terrance Mitchell on a pass in-which there seemed to be some miscommunication between Hodges and rookie receiver Diontae Johnson.

Mitchell returned the interception to the Pittsburgh 30 yard-line.

But not only did the Steelers defense hold strong, it pushed Cleveland’s offense back on a third-down sack by defensive lineman Javon Hargrave at the 38.

The Brown’s sent Seibert out to attempt a 56-yard field goal, but instead of that, he performed a pooch punt that was eventually downed at the Steelers one. Head coach Mike Tomlin challenged that a Browns’ player made contact with the football as part of his body was in the end zone–something that appeared to be obvious on replay and would have given the Steelers possession at the 20. Unfortunately, the call was upheld, putting Pittsburgh’s offense in a very precarious position.

How did the offense respond? Perhaps with the most important drive of the season to date.

Snell rattled off 12 yards on the first play, while Hodges converted on two third and six passes–one to Johnson and another to tight end Vance McDonald.

The Steelers ultimately had to punt, but not before advancing the ball to their own 47 and not until their was only 1:53 remaining.

The Browns advanced the football to their own 40, thanks mostly to a questionable roughing the passer call on Dupree, but cornerback Joe Haden put an end to the competitive phase of the game with a diving interception at the 1:06 mark.

For the day, the Steelers defense limited Mayfield to 196 yards passing while sacking him five times.

As for Washington’s day, he pulled in four passes for 111 yards and a touchdown, while Snell finished the day with 63 rushing yards and a score.

Next up for the Steelers is a trip to Arizona where they will take on the Cardinals next Sunday at 4:25.

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Steelers Trade 2020 1st Rd Pick To Dolphins For DB Minkah Fitzpatrick

The Steelers must really believe in that Mason Rudolph, huh? Either that, or they fully expect Ben Roethlisberger to play a few more years beyond this one.

Despite losing future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the remainder of the 2019 season, it is being reported that the Steelers have sent their first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick, the 11th-overall pick out of Alabama in the 2018 NFL Draft, reportedly sought a trade following Miami’s 59-10 Week 1 drubbing at the hands of the Ravens. Miami is not so subtly looking to tank the season in-order to secure the number one overall pick in 2020, and Pittsburgh was seen as a possible landing spot heading into Week 2.

But with the Steelers not only falling to 0-2 after a 28-26 loss to the Seahawks at Heinz Field on Sunday, but also losing the services of Roethlisberger, who will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his throwing elbow, it didn’t seem realistic to make such a huge move.

However, either the Steelers feel they have their man in Rudolph or they feel Roethlisberger will be back to play quarterback a few more seasons. That’s the only way this move now makes sense. This is a trade that serious contenders make, not winless teams who just lost their franchise quarterback.

This is a huge gamble for the Steelers, considering their 2020 first-round pick could be of the top-five variety if Rudolph doesn’t pan out. But if Rudolph does have a really good year as a replacement for Roethlisberger, Fitzpatrick could potentially make a huge difference, especially considering he can play either safety or slot corner.

No matter where he plays, Fitzpatrick figures to make the Steelers secondary better in 2020.

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Ben Roethlisberger To Have Surgery On Elbow And Will Miss Rest Of 2019 Season

As per the team’s official website, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is scheduled to have surgery on the elbow of his throwing arm this week and will miss the rest of the 2019 regular season.

Below is the official statement issued on Monday by head coach Mike Tomlin on Steelers.com:

“Ben Roethlisberger had an MRI on his right elbow Sunday evening and it was determined by the Steelers’ medical team that surgery will be required. We expect the surgery will be scheduled for this week. He will be placed on our Reserved/Injured List and is out for the season.”

Roethlisberger, who completed eight of 15 passes for 75 yards in the Steelers 28-26 loss to the Seahawks at Heinz Field on Sunday, was in visible pain after attempting several throws late in the second quarter, didn’t play in the second half.

In his place, second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph completed 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Rudolph, who won the backup quarterback job with his improved play throughout the preseason, is now slated to start the rest of the year.

Many have wondered if Rudolph, who the Steelers traded up to select in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, has what it takes to be a true heir apparent to Roethlisberger. Now, he will have what amounts to a 14-week job interview to show the Steelers what he is capable of.

Rudolph will get the first start of his career this Sunday afternoon, as the Steelers travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers in a Week 3 match-up.

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Steelers Fall To 0-2 After 28-26 Loss to Seahawks At Heinz Field

Russell Wilson completed 29 of 35 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns, as the Steelers fell to the Seahawks, 28-26, at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon to start the 2019 regular season 0-2.

After the two teams exchanged punts on the first four possessions, the Steelers defense created its first turnover of the season, when T.J. Watt stripped running back Chris Carson of the football at the Seahawks 34, and Mark Barron scooped up the fumble and appeared to score. However, safety Sean Davis was called for an illegal block in the back on the return, and the Steelers offense set up shop at the Seattle 22 yard line.

Four plays later, the Steelers scored their first touchdown of the season, when running back James Conner plunged in for a one-yard touchdown. The big play on the scoring-drive was actually a pass interference penalty against Seattle linebacker Mychal Kendricks who was called for face-guarding on an incomplete third-down pass to running back Jaylen Samuels.

After struggling mightily to get anything going against the Steelers defense and potent pass rush, the Seahawks offense suddenly came to life on the ensuing drive. But after running back Rashaad Penny was stuffed for a two-yard loss on third and one from the Steelers 26, it appeared that the Seahawks would have to settle for a field goal. The field goal was good from 46 yards out. Unfortunately, Dan McCullers was called for a personal foul, giving Seattle a fresh set of downs. One play later, Wilson found tight end Will Dissly for a 14-yard touchdown to knot the score at seven.

The Steelers offense finally found some life on the next drive, as Ben Roethlisberger quickly drove the team down to the Seattle 28 on three consecutive passing plays. However, on a quick pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster on third and four in-which the receiver fought for a first down, tight end Vance McDonald was called for offensive pass interference, and the Steelers ultimately had to settle for a 41-yard field goal by kicker Chris Boswell to take a 10-7 lead, a score that held up at halftime, thanks to a 58-yard miss by Seahawks kicker Jason Myers at the end of the second quarter.

The Steelers defense held Seattle to a three and out to start the second half, but Roethlisberger did not return to the lineup after being ruled out with an injury to his passing elbow.

Second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph took over, and a third-down pass intended for Donte Moncrief went through the veteran receiver’s hands and was intercepted at the Pittsburgh 40 by safety Bradley McDougald.

The Seahawks took advantage and their first lead of the day six plays later, when Wilson connected with Dissly for his second touchdown of the game–this time from 12 yards out–to make it 14-10, visitors.

The Steelers offense answered four plays later, and Rudolph completed the first pass of his career, when he found Smith-Schuster for 45 yards on a flea-flicker play.

Unfortunately, Pittsburgh’s offense stalled immediately, and Boswell was brought in for a 33-yard field goal to make it a one-point game.

The Seahawks quickly made it an eight-point game on a seven-play, 78-yard drive that culminated in a 37-yard touchdown run by Penny on third and two.

The Steelers answered right back and made it a two-point game early in the final period, as Rudolph completed six of seven passes on a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with an eight-yard strike to McDonald that made it 21-19. The Steelers elected to go for two but were thwarted when Rudolph was intercepted in the end zone.

Perhaps the most critical play came on the ensuing drive. On second and 20 from the Seahawks 27, Wilson’s pass for receiver Tyler Lockett fell incomplete, as he was being covered by safety Terrell Edmunds. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll challenged the play for pass interference, and he was rewarded with a reversal and a first and 10 at the Steelers 35. And on third and three from the 28, Wilson found rookie receiver D.K. Metcalf for a touchdown that gave the Seahawks a 28-19 lead.

After a five-play drive by the Steelers that went nowhere, it appeared that the game was all but over. However, on the very first play of their following drive, the Seahawks fumbled, and rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush recovered at the 14, before being shoved out of bounds at the three.

One play later, Rudolph and McDonald hooked up for a second time to make it a 28-26 game with 5:34 remaining.

Needing a stop, the Steelers desperately tried to get the football back, but to no avail, as Seattle ran out the final 5:34 with the big play coming on third and 16, when Wilson scrambled up the middle for 15 yards. On fourth and one from the Pittsburgh 33, the Seahawks elected to go for it and sealed the win when Carson gained two yards.

For the day, Rudolph completed 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards, two touchdowns in one interception. Roethlisberger turned in a rather dismal performance before exiting, as he completed eight of 15 passes for 75 yards.

Stephon Tuitt looked like a defensive player of the week candidate in the first half when he sacked Wilson three times, while Watt added one of his own. But the Steelers pass rush was stymied in the second half, as Seattle’s offense posted 240 yards.

Next up for the Steelers is a trip to San Francisco to take on a 2-0 49ers team next Sunday afternoon at 4:25.

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A Little Article About Rich Erenberg, A Steelers Running Back From The 1980s

Photo credit: Steelcityblitz.com

The Steelers drafts of the mid-’70s-to-mid-’80s never came close to producing the same legendary results as the ones from 1969-1974, when head coach Chuck Noll and his scouting staff that included lead scout–and son of team owner Art Sr.– Art Rooney Jr. selected nine future Hall of Fame players.

When it came to Rich Erenberg, a running back Pittsburgh selected in the ninth round of the 1984 NFL Draft……well, he was no exception.

But in Erenberg’s defense, the Colgate product did show some promise in his rookie campaign.

According to his Wikipedia page, Erenberg tied a Steelers record in his very first National Football League contest with seven kickoff returns in a Week 1 loss to the Chiefs at old Three Rivers Stadium. Erenberg would go on to return 28 kicks during the 1984 season, and while he never came close to taking one to the house–his longest return of the year was 47 yards–he did total a respectable 575 yards for an equally respectable 20.5 yards per return.

However, it was in the backfield where Erenberg actually looked like the proverbial diamond in the rough while posting 405 yards and two touchdowns on 115 carries.

By this point in his career, fans had grown so disenchanted with the performance of Walter Abercrombie, who the Steelers selected with the 12th pick of the 1982 NFL Draft, some were suggesting he change positions from running back to receiver (he really did have excellent hands) in order to pave the way for Erenberg.

Speaking of receiving, Erenberg even showed some promise as a dual-threat running back in ’84, totaling 38 receptions out of the backfield for 358 yards and one touchdown.

If you’re adding at home, that’s 763 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. When you combine those numbers with his respectable return yards, that’s not a bad rookie year for a ninth-round pick out of Colgate, a tiny Division-I AA college located in Hamilton, New York. According to a 2012 article by theinsidepress.com that ranked the greatest athletes in Horace Greeley history (where Erenberg went to high school), Erenberg was an All-County running back during his junior and senior seasons. At Colgate, Erenberg was a Division-I AA First-Team All-American in 1983 after breaking the record for most rushing yards in a season with 1,883.

Erenberg contributed quite a bit to an ’84 Steelers team that won the old AFC Central Division title by the slimmest of margins and then shocked the football world by upsetting the Broncos in the divisional playoffs and advancing all the way to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since the heyday of the 1970s.

If the Steelers were going to get back to their glory days, they needed some mighty youngsters to help pull the rope.

Unfortunately, that ’84 season proved to be the highlight of the entire decade for the Steelers. And much like Weegie Thompson, who also had a promising rookie campaign in 1984, it would prove to be the high point of Erenberg’s career, as he never came close to duplicating his rookie season and was out of football after three years.

If you do a Google search of Rich Erenberg, you won’t find much information, other than he evidently still lives in the Greater Pittsburgh Area and went into real estate after football.

As for that article on the greatest athletes in Horace Greeley history, perhaps it’s no surprise that Erenberg was listed number one.

That’s usually how it goes for even the most obscure professional athletes–they were the BMOC (Big Man on Campus) in high school and college.

No, Rich Erenberg never came close to reaching stardom in the NFL. But in his rookie season, when the Steelers made it to the doorstep of the NFL’s grandest stage for the only time in a decade filled mostly with disappointment and struggle, he gave them just about everything he had.

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Steelers 2019 Draft Needs @ Tight End – How High of a Priority for Pittsburgh?

The Steelers haven’t built their offense around the tight end position since the early 90s and the days of Eric Green. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not important. The cupboard is a little bare at the moment thanks to the free agent departure of veteran Jesse James, who signed a fairly lucrative deal with the Lions.

Therefore, there’s no question Pittsburgh should draft a tight end. The real question is when?

Vance McDonald, Chris Conte, Vance McDonald stiff arm Chris Conte, Steelers va Buccaneers

Vance McDonald stiff arms Chris Conte into oblivion. Photo Credit: AP, via Tribune Review

Steelers Tight End Depth Chart Entering the 2019 NFL Draft: The Starters

The Steelers often like to employ two starters at the tight end position, and even though he never put up huge numbers, Jesse James started 34 games over his final three years in Pittsburgh. Despite just starting seven games in 2018, James had his best season in terms of receiving yards with 423.

James took on the role of the number two tight end a year ago, thanks to the emergence of Vance McDonald, who Pittsburgh acquired in a trade with the 49ers just prior to the 2017 regular season. Vance McDonald, 28, had by far the finest season of his career, tallying 50 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdowns.

After several failed attempts, it looks like the Steelers have finally found a more than suitable replacement for the legendary Heath Miller. Not only that, but with his combination of size, speed and athleticism, Vance McDonald appears to give the Steelers the kind of weapon at the position that has tortured their own defense for years.

Steelers Tight End Depth Chart Entering the 2019 NFL Draft:The Backups

Despite the 2018 coming out party of Vance McDonald, again, the Steelers are going to have to find a replacement for James. At first glance, Xavier Grimble, who will be entering his fourth season with Pittsburgh after turning pro in 2014, appears to be a decent candidate to assume James’ old role in the offense.

At 6-4, 261 pounds, Xavier Grimble certainly has the size; he has also shown flashes of athleticism while catching 22 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns. And, at 26, he’s obviously still young enough to evolve into a decent to better veteran tight end in the Steelers offense. The question is, does Pittsburgh trust Xavier Grimble enough to promote him, especially after his boneheaded goal line fumble that turned a sure touchdown into a touchback early in what turned out to be a crushing loss to the Broncos last November 25?

Behind Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble are players named Jake McGee, Bucky Hodges and Christian Scotland-Williamson, none of whom have ever seen any game action in the NFL.

The Steelers 2019 Tight End Draft Needs

McDonald still has three years remaining on a five-year contract extension he signed with San Fransisco at the end of the 2016 season. That means he likely has the number one tight end spot in Pittsburgh’s offense for as long as he continues to produce. Health is another matter as far as McDonald is concerned, as he suffered through a string of injuries prior to last season.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2018 NFL Draft

Provided Vance McDonald stays healthy, he should be a reliable weapon in Pittsburgh’s offense for the next few years. But as I alluded to already, there’s clearly room on Pittsburgh’s depth chart for another tight end.

  • Does this mean the Steelers should draft one in the first, second or even third round?

Before you rule it out, remember that Pittsburgh just lost two of its biggest play-makers in receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell. It wasn’t long ago that the drafting of receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster seemed like a luxury, while the selection of running back James Conner felt like a heartwarming story.

Today, not only are both coming off of Pro Bowl seasons, they’re the two biggest weapons in Ben Roethlisberger‘s arsenal. Point is, if the Steelers have a shot at a talented and athletic tight end, it may not be the worst thing if they drafted him–even with a premium selection. Play-makers are play-makers, and the Steelers need to find them wherever they can. Therefore, the draft priority must be considered Moderate.

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Iron Sharpening Iron? JuJu Smith-Schuster Named Steelers MVP, Terrell Edmunds Rookie of the Year

Sometimes Iron does sharpen Iron. This summer, as the photo below details, Mike Tomlin had JuJu Smith-Schuster face off against Terrell Edmunds at St. Vincents in Latrobe and it appears to have been for the benefit of both men.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Terrell Edmunds

JuJu Smith-Schuster works against Terrell Edmunds at St. Vincents. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

The Pittsburgh Steelers announced their year end awards this week as the players honored wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster as the team MVP, while the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Pro Football Writers association named Terrell Edmunds as the rookie of year aka the “Joe Greene Great Performance Award.”

  • The Pro Football Writers Association also named Joe Haden as the winner of “The Chief Award” which recognizes the player who was most helpful to the media covering the team.

Last year JuJu Smith-Schuster won rookie of the year honors as he took the Steelers wide receiving crops by strom, quickly becoming a fan favorite in the process. JuJu Smith-Schuster followed up that effort in 2019 with a performance that has seen him break the 100 yard catch and 1000 yards receiving and includes yet another 97 yard touchdown reception.

In a year when Antonio Brown started slowly with rookie James Washington struggling to get his footing in the NFL JuJu Smith-Schuster showed himself to be a player who was able to step up and pick up the slack, earning Ben Roethlisberger’s trust as a true Go-To target.

Terrell Edmunds did not have the sensational rookie year that JuJu Smith Schuster did in 2018, but move in and start at safety, and helped improve an area which had been a position of weakness in 2017.

While Terrell Edmunds only had one interception and one sack, his play improve during the course of the year to the point where he was able to shadow the New England Patriots Ron Gronkowski during the Steelers victory over the Patriots.

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One Lesson From Jaguars Game? Steelers Need to Play Javon Hargrave More

We have some lessons to learn.”
Mike Tomlin following the Steelers come from behind win over the Jacksonville Jaguars

Mike Tomlin’s right. And here’s one lesson the Steelers should learn form the Jacksonville game: Javon Hargrave needs to play more.

To say the least, Over the last two seasons the Pittsburgh Steelers have developed a flair for the dramatic. Dramatic in the form of Ben Roethlisberger 4th quarter, or perhaps more accurately, two minute warning comebacks.

It took the Steelers 4 attempts from the two yard line to score the go ahead touchdown in a game that Pittsburgh never led until the final five seconds of the game arrived.

Javon Hargrave, Blake Bortles, Cam Heyward, Steelers vs Jaguars

Javon Hargrave deflects a Blake Bortles pass while Cam Heyward is blatantly held. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com

The truth is that the inability of Ben Roethlisberger to get in sync with Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald and the inability of the offensive line to get rushing lanes open for James Conner is the biggest reason why such late heroics were again needed.

  • It happens. The Jaguars have a good defense.

But, and few could have imagined saying this in September, the Steelers have a good defense too, and one that could be better by finding a way to give more playing time to Javon Hargrave.

The Steelers of course drafted Javon Hargrave in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the third defensive pick after taking Artie Burns and Sean Davis. Hargrave quickly assumed Steve McLendon’s starting role and his play in the 2nd half of 2016 was a big reason for the team’s turn around.

  • But Javon Hargrave plays nose tackle, and the Steelers play their base 3-4 defense less and less frequently.

So be it. In many ways sub packages define Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler’s defense and far be it for me to criticize them.

But regardless of which subpackage they deploy, the Steelers coaches need to find a way to get Javon Hargrave on the field more. During the first half it looked like Leonard Fournette was going to lead the Jaguars on steamroll the Steelers defense similar to what they had done in the playoffs.

But Javon Hargrave arguably began the defensive rally by sacking Blake Bortles on third down to force a field goal when the Jaguars were in the Red Zone. He followed it up with another sack on the next series helped get the ball back (although the Steelers would turn it over quickly.)

While snap counts by quarter are not available, it seemed like early in the game there was a lot of Daniel McCullers Number 93 on the field and a lot less of Javon Hargrave. However, in the second half Hargrave 79 was on the field a plenty, which is when the Steelers defense went into shut down mode.

  • On the day, Hargrave tackled two Jaguar ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage, got two more licks in on Blake Bortles and helped force a 3 and out by deflecting a Bortles pass on third down.

Cam Heyward leads all Steelers defensive lineman having been on the field for 78% of the Steelers defensive snaps. He’s followed by Stephon Tuitt who clocks in at 68%. Javon Hargrave is next, at 38%, meaning his snap count is only 7% higher than Tyson Alualu.

When he first arrived in Pittsburgh and speculation still abounded that he might shift the Steelers to a 3-4 defense, Mike Tomlin explained that a players like Aaron Smith or Casey Hampton were going to be good whether they played in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.

Tomlin’s logic was sound, even if it trying to apply to every good player would be an oversimplification (see the Steelers moving “bust” 1st rounder James Farrior from the outside to inside linebacker.)

Well, Javon Hargrave might officially carry the title of nose tackle, but he’s shown he can be an impact player, and it would wise for Karl Dunbar, Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin to figure out how to get him on the field more frequently.

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