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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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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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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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.
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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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 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.
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.
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 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.
“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.
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.
JuJu Smith-Schuster burns A.J. Bouye. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com
By his own admission, Ben Roethlisberger had a horrible game. Indeed, Ben Roethlisberger played terrible football until there was 5:06 left in the 4th quarter, then Big Ben began to click. At that point Roethlisberger could do no wrong, and led the Steelers to two touchdown drives. Ben Roethlisberger’s overall performance had its weaknesses, but the results compensated. Grade: B-
Running Backs James Conner found it to be rough sledding in a week when he officially inherited the Steelers starting running back role from Le’Veon Bell. James Conners only managed 25 yards on 9 carries, and while he did make 6 catches, he dropped a clear game winner late in the game. Grade: D
Tight Ends Vance McDonald was clearly out of synch with Ben Roethlisberger early in the game, however for the 2nd week in a row, McDonald found away to come down with another tough touchdown catch. Xavier Grimble had 1 catch for 3 yards. Grade: B
Wide Receivers Antonio Brown’s target’s to catch ratio this week won’t help his Pro Football Focus raiting, but many of those passes were badly overthrown. As it was Antonio Brown’s touchdown, and his 25 yard reception that got the Steelers to the 2 were game changers. However, JuJu Smith-Schuster’s catches had equal, if not greater impact. On both touchdown drives JuJu Smith-Schuster made tough catches that put the Steelers into scoring position. James Washington had one catch, but Ryan Switzer seems to have a bigger role in this offense at this point. Grade: A
The Jacksonville Jaguars have one of the better defenses in the league and are led by a group of solid pass rushers. The Steelers offensive line in many respects struggled against the Jaguars, as they failed to open holes for James Conner and Ben Roethlisberger faced much more pressure than normal. Grade: B-
Defensive Line Tyson Alualu actually led the unit with 7 tackles, while Cam Heyward had the look of a one-man wrecking crew in the second half, blowing up the line for 2 tackles for a loss, 1 quarterback hit and a sack. The Steelers defense shut down the Jaguars offense in the last 20 minutes of the game, and its started up front. Grade: B
Cam Heyward sacks Blake Bortles. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com
Linebackers Vince Williams led the team in tackles, defensed a pass, had a tackle for a loss, a QB hit and registered a sack, playing like a one-man wrecking crew. T.J. Watt was close behind him, notching two sacks, dropping a ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage and hitting Blake Bortles twice. Jon Bostic had another solid game, as did Bud Dupree while L.J. Fort delivered in spot duty. Grade: B
Secondary Sean Davis continues to keep the lid of opposing offenses and limited a Leonard Fournette to simply reaching the second level as opposed to exploiting it. Coty Sensabaugh had another strong game with 7 tackles. Terrell Edmunds also quietly had a good day as did Joe Haden. Blake Bortles was 10 of 18 for 104 yards and Jacksonville lost -3 yards on its last 5 possessions, when all it needed was a first down. Grade: A.
Special Teams Chris Boswell went 3-3 on extra points, while Jordan Berry boomed off several long punts on a day when the Steelers needed to pin the Jaguars deep. Ryan Switzer looked solid as a return man, although the Jaguars did have some reasonable success returning punts. Grade: B-
Coaching Randy Fichtner went up against one of the NFL’s best defenses, and while the Jaguars clearly tested the Steelers, Fichtner’s offense came up with 3 touchdowns in 16 minutes. Beyond that, the early struggles appeared to be more tied to issues of execution rather than game planning.
Keith Butler‘s defense deserves any and all accolades that come its way following this game.
Yes, it is true that the Jaguars appeared to be in the process of imposing their will on the Steelers defense in the first half. But instead of demoralizing the Steelers defense, it energized them, and the Steelers defense went into complete shutdown mode for the game’s final 20 minutes.
To be sure, the Steelers weren’t shutting down the Greatest Show on Turf or the Jimmy Johnson’s Dallas Cowboys of ‘90’s, or the New Orleans Saints of 2018, but limiting any offense in this day and age to negative yards for a quarter and a half when the only thing the offense needs for victory is a handful of third downs is impressive.
Mike Tomlin on Steelers sidelines. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner
Mike Tomlin refused to “Live in his fears.”
Early in the 2nd half, instead of declining a penalty that would have brought up 4th 1, Tomlin accepted it and his defense responded with a strip sack that forced the Jaguars to punt from their end zone. Later, Mike Tomlin managed his timeouts so that his offense had one to for the final drive.
And when the Steelers got into scoring range, Mike Tomlin didn’t hesitate in going for the win instead of the tie. Grade: A
Unsung Hero Award
After the game Mike Tomlinswore that the Steelers hadn’t made any adjustments.
Yet the educated eye could see that the Steelers had made one key change. Daniel McCullers’ Number 93 was not often seen in the second half. Instead, it was replaced by Javon Hargrave’s number 79, who in addition to helping completely shutdown the run, also managed two sacks, two more quarterback hits and defensed a pass and for that Javon Hargrave wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers win over the Jaguars.
Things were ugly Thursday night, as the Steelers fell to the Packers, 51-34, at Lambeau Field in their second game of the 2018 preseason. Therefore, you shouldn’t expect a high GPA.
Mason Rudolph made his first start against the Packers and was immediately victimized by a pick-six on his very first pass of the night. Rudolph played the rest of the first half and recovered a bit, completing five of 12 passes for 47 yards and a four-yard touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Joshua Dobbs took over in the second half, and he, too, proceeded to throw a pick-six on his very first pass. Dobbs did fare a bit better, completing 12 of 18 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns to go along with that interception, while also contributing 27 rushing yards. Grade: C
James Conner, he of the leaner and meaner physique, looked impressive in his limited amount of work, carrying five times for 57 yard–including a 26-yard touchdown. Rookie Jaylen Samuels had a nice night, as he posted 38 yards and a score on nine carries, while veteran backup Fitzgerald Toussaint continued to play decent this preseason, tallying 26 yards on seven carries. Grade: B
This just in: The Steelers know how to identify and cultivate receivers. Latest example appears to be second-round pick James Washington, who pulled in five catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns. Washington showed off one facet of his skill-set by getting deep on a 57-yard pass from Dobbs; and he showed off his ability to make the combat catch on a 19-yard touchdown in-which he was able to out-physical a Green Bay defensive back and come away with the football. It was a quick night for Smith-Schuster, but he continues to be a touchdown-machine, pulling in his lone reception for a four-yard score in the first half. Damoun Patterson continued his impressive preseason, catching three passes for 35 yards–including a 29-yarder. Grade: B+
It was another uneventful night for the tight ends, although Jesse James did set up a score with a 21-yard catch (his only one of the night). Injuries continue to be a problem for Vance McDonald, as he sat out Thursday’s game with yet another ailment. Grade: Incomplete
Rudolph was sacked three times, but that may have been more on him and less on the line, albeit one that was missing some key starters. Missing key starters or not, the Steelers did rush for 157 yards, while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Grade: B-
Javon Hargrave had a decent night, as did big Dan McCullers, as he plays for his football life this summer. However, the defensive line, minus Cam Heyward, didn’t generate all that much pressure on the Packers’ stable of four quarterbacks. And it’s hard to give a great evaluation of any unit that’s part of a defense that allowed 37 points on the night and had trouble getting off the field on third down. Grade: C-
What can you say about the inside linebacker unit? It’s very early, but it doesn’t look like Jon Bostic is going to adequately close the massive hole that was left in the middle by the tragic loss of Ryan Shazier late last season. Tyler Matakevich didn’t do a lot to make one feel better about the unit, either. L.J. Fort did have a fine night, posting five tackles and a sack, and unknown rookie Matthew Thomas also drew some praise. As for the outside linebacker position, Bud Dupree did record a sack, and the Packers were held to 77 yards rushing. Grade: C-
The unit was missing Joe Haden, Mike Hilton and Sean Davis, and I don’t know if that had a lot to do with so many missed tackles, bad angles and futile pursuits of Packer ball carriers, but it obviously didn’t help much. The young Terrell Edmunds did continue to play well, even if he was pretty much helpless on a touchdown pass from future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers to stud tight end Jimmy Graham. As for the veteran side of things, Morgan Burnett returned to Green Bay to take on his former team and acquitted himself quite well, even recording a sack in the process. But those missed tackles and bad angles…just so many. Grade: D
Edmunds did set up Pittsburgh’s second touchdown by forcing and then recovering a fumble on a kickoff. The low-light for Danny Smith’s unit may have been Jordan Berry’s punting, as the veteran continues to draw criticism this summer–including from his head coach in the post-game presser. As for the return game, Quadree Henderson’s main path to a roster spot is that avenue, and again, Thursday night, that avenue was closed. Grade: C-
Missing several key starters–including the Killer B’s–it remains to be seen if Pittsburgh’s biggest offensive weaknesses from 2017–red zone efficiency and situational play-calling–have been rectified in 2018. As for the defense, yes, that unit was also missing several key starters. But Mike Tomlin and Keith
Photo credit: Packers Wire USA Today.
Butler appear to have a huge problem on their hands finding some combination of defensive backs and inside linebackers to protect the middle of the field. Thursday night, they seemed light years away from finding a solution. Grade: C-
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When people think of former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher‘s first season in Pittsburgh–1992–one of the first things that comes to mind is his initial game, a 29-24 come-from-behind victory over the Oilers at the old Astrodome in Houston.
Yes, it was a great way to kick off a career that would certainly put The Chin in rarefied air is it pertained to Pittsburgh coaching legends–the decision to try a fake punt, down 14-0 early in the game was an indication to the old AFC Central Division that this Steelers team and this Steelers coach were here to win.
Rod Woodson terrorized the Houston Oilers
And win the Steelers did in ’92, five of their first seven games, in fact, and were primed for a first place showdown with Houston, a rematch that would take place at Three Rivers Stadium on November 1, 1992.
With the help of an old LA Times post-game article, we know the Oilers jumped out to a 6-0 first half lead thanks to two Al Del Greco field goals–one from 29 yards away and the other from 19 yards out.
Pittsburgh took the lead later in first half on a one-yard run by Barry Foster, a running back who would go on to break the Steelers single-season rushing mark with 1,690 yards and tie an NFL record with 12 100-yard games.
Behind 7-6 early in the third quarter, the Oilers lost their star quarterback and Steelers nemesis, Warren Moon, after Moon was hit on the chin by cornerback Rod Woodson.
Carlson connected with receiver Webster Slaughter for an 11-yard score to make it 13-7.
That was bad enough, but just 1:03 later, Ray Childress scooped up a fumble by Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell and raced eight yards for yet another touchdown, stunning the Three Rivers crowd and giving Houston a 13-point advantage.
But the Steelers were no strangers to overcoming such deficits against Houston in ’92: “We were down 20-7, but we’ve been there before,” Cowher would go on to say later.
The Steelers were there before, and they were about to do that again.
Early in the fourth quarter, Neil O’Donnell connected with tight end Adrian Cooper on a two-yard touchdown pass to pull Pittsburgh to within 20-14.
Midway through the final period, following a fumble recovery by legendary linebacker Greg Lloyd, the Steelers went ahead, 21-20, on a five-yard touchdown pass from Neil O’Donnell to the other and more decorated tight end, Eric Green.
It wasn’t over yet. The Oilers had one more chance. Cody Carlson had one more opportunity to stick a dagger in Pittsburgh’s heart–and if not end its season, at least capture sole possession of first place.
As Carlson methodically drove the Oilers’ offense down the turf at Three Rivers Stadium in the final moments, I could sense another heartbreaking loss coming on the horizon. As the seconds ticked off the clock, and Cowher kept the Steelers final timeout in his back pocket, I figured a turnover was all that could save the day.
And when Cody Carlson set up Del Greco at the 22 with seconds left, I kind of resigned myself to second place in the Central.
Little did I know that Bill Cowher had been responding to pleas from assistants to use with “Don’t worry, he’s going to miss the field goal.”
Bill Cowher’s instincts were on the mark. The day was actually saved by Del Greco, himself, who hooked the seemingly make-able field goal, giving the Steelers not only sole possession of first place, but an all-important sweep of Houston.
As the fans in attendance went nuts, some of whom were seen dancing and hugging on the top of the dugout, I felt the kind of magic that fans must have experienced two-decades earlier, when the 1972 edition came out of nowhere and captured the hearts of an entire region (for good).
Yes, it felt like the 70’s to a 20-year old who really didn’t know any better. The one thing I knew for sure:
The 1992 Steelers had put the rest of the NFL on notice.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Greg Lloyd, who never backed down from a fight and was certainly at the forefront of the team’s resurgence in the 1990’s:
“I’m sure (the Oilers) are going to say ‘What if, what if, what if?’ That’s a tough loss for them, but a great win for us.”