Steelers Free Agent Focus: Shamarko Thomas – 4 Years Later Thomas Fails to Disprove Doubters

The Pittsburgh Steelers do not like to trade future draft picks. The franchise went down that road too many times in the Pre-Noll era and paid the price repeatedly. Nonetheless Noll did it in the summer of 1973 when he traded the Steelers 1974 3rd round pick to the Raiders to acquire Glen Ray Hines.

Because of that trade, Chuck Noll, Art Rooney Jr., Dick Haley and Bill Nunn were forced to sit on their hands after drafting Lynn Swann and Jack Lambert during the Steelers 1974 Draft in hopes that no one took John Stallworth in the 3rd round.

Neither did Tom Donahoe or Bill Cowher, and neither did Kevin Colbert until the 2013 NFL Draft when the Steelers traded their 2014 third round pick to get the Cleveland Browns 2013 4th round pick to grab Shamarko Thomas in the 4th round, and four years later Shamarko Thomas enters free agency have failed to disprove the doubters.

Shamarko Thomas, Markus Wheaton, Steelers 2013 training camp, Shamarko Thomas free agent, Shamarko Thomas rookie

Shamarko Thomas & Markus Wheaton as rookies in 2013 at Latrobe. Photo Credit: Ryan Wilson, CBSSports.com

Capsule Profile of Shamarkoy Thomas’ Steelers Career

Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake explained Pittsburgh’s break from character by arguing that if Shamarko Thomas, who stands at 5’10”, were two inches taller, he’d have been a first round pick.

  • In a word, Pittsburgh as hot on Shamarko Thomas.

The Steelers immediately worked Shamarko Thomas into the defense, a rarity for a rookie in Dick LeBeau’s system. The Steelers goal was to groom Shamarko Thomas as Troy Polamalu’s successor, and the first step in that process was to get Shamarko on the field covering slot receivers as a nickel back.

Most of those came at the beginning of the season, before he got injured forcing the Steelers to bring back Will Allen. While Allen remained “The next man up” when Shamarko Thomas got healthy, Thomas still got some work with the defense, although that ended after the Steelers 2013 debacle against the Patriots.

Shamarko Thomas, Shamarko Thomas workout

Shamarko Thomas working out during the 2014 off season

The Steelers 2014 OTA’s brought the first sign that the Steelers might be having second thoughts about Shamarko’s ability to succeed Troy Polamalu. Will Allen was the number 2 safety on the depth chart, and Shamarko Thomas suffered an injury early in the season. When he returned, his action came exclusively on special teams.

  • Mike Tomlin explained away the move by suggesting that Thomas was simply struggling to board a “Moving Train” as would any player would.

Rookie defensive coordinator Keith Butler gave Shamarko Thomas his first extended shot at earning the starting strong safety job during the summer of 2015. The Steelers started Shamarko Thomas throughout preseason, but Thomas continued to make mistake after mistake. Shortly before the season opener, the Steelers benched Shamarko Thomas in favor of Will Allen.

For the record, Shamarko Thomas played 20 snaps with the Steelers defense in 2015 and 5 snaps in 2016…

The Case for the Steelers Resigning Shamarko Thomas

In 2016, whenever the Steelers needed help at safety, the Steelers looked to Jordan Dangerfield, signaling the definitive end to the Shamarko Thomas experiment.

  • But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a case for the Steelers resigning Shamarko Thomas.

If Shamarko Thomas has been a brutal disappointment at safety, he’s been a quality often times standout special teams player. Yes, he’s made mistakes, but he’s arguably been the Steelers best gunner for the past several years.

Clearly, if Shamarko Thomas has a future in the NFL it is on special teams. Clearly on one will pay him much more the than the veteran minimum, if even that. If Shamarko Thomas is bound to be racing downfield to stop kick and punt returners, doesn’t it make sense for him to be doing it in Pittsburgh?

The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Shamarko Thomas

When things don’t pan out with a high-profile draft pick (think Jarvis Jones), often times it is in the best interests of both parties to go their separate ways. Yes, Shamarko Thomas is a quality special teams player and, to be brutally frank, Danny Smith’s special teams don’t have the luxury of cavalierly showing good players to the door.

Fair enough. But the truth is even if the Steelers bring Shamarko Thomas back on a veteran minimum salary to play special teams, that means that he’ll be taking a roster spot that could be occupied by another young player who can both do Shamarko’s job on special teams, and potentially contribute something, either now or in a future season, to the offense or defense.

  • Shamarko Thomas isn’t going to contribute anything to the Steelers defense.

That’s simply the reality. As early as 2015 people were already labeling the 2013 NFL Draft as one of the worst in history. If that’s true, then the Steelers came out of that draft with Le’Veon Bell, Landry Jones, Markus Wheaton and Vince Williams, giving them a pretty successful haul.

But the Steelers missed on Jarvis Jones and missed on Shamarko Thomas, and it is time for them to move on from both mistakes.

Curtain’s Call on Shamarko Thomas and the Steelers

The Shamarko Thomas situation promises to be one of the more interesting, albeit low-profile decisions the Steelers make during the 2017 off season. Reading the tea leaves from reporters such as Dale Lolley and Jim Wexell, there are some signs that the Steelers have some interest in bring Thomas back.

  • But he won’t be a priority, which means he’ll get a chance to test the market.

If the Steelers can bring him back at or near the veteran minimum, he’d be a good addition to their special teams. If someone wants to offer him more than that, then Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin will wisely thank him for his service and send him on his way.

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

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Chris Boswell kicks the Steelers into the AFC Championship game

The Steelers outlasted the Chiefs, 18-16, in a divisional round match-up at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday night to advance to their first AFC Championship game since the 2010 season.

Kicker Chris Boswell booted a postseason-record six field goals, as he provided the only scoring for Pittsburgh and an offense that moved the ball effectively but could never once reach the end zone against the Chiefs’ very effective red zone defense.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 20 of 31 passes for 224 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.

Receiver Antonio Brown caught six passes for 108 yards, while running back Le’Veon Bell was once again the star on offense, as he rushed 30 times for 170 yards, breaking the franchise’s single-game postseason mark he set one week earlier in the wild card game against the Dolphins at Heinz Field.

Pittsburgh’s defense was mostly stellar, holding the Chiefs to 227 total yards–including just 61 yards on the ground–and all but made Kansas City’s two most dangerous weapons–tight end Travis Kelce and receiver/running back Tyreek Hill–non-factors.

Kelce caught five passes for 77 yards, while Hill totaled 45 yards from scrimmage–including just 27 yards on four receptions.

Speaking of Hill, his skills as a return specialist were also a concern for the Steelers special teams, who had been struggling in kick coverage, but Hill averaged just 18 yards on four kickoff returns, and didn’t have a single punt return the entire night.

Holding a  9-7 lead in the second quarter, outside linebacker Bud Dupree hit Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith just as he was about to release a pass, and Ryan Shazier intercepted the ball at the Chiefs’ 44. However, after quickly marching to the Chiefs five-yard line, a quick Roethlisberger pass intended for Brown was deflected in the air and intercepted by safety Eric Berry in the end zone.

After yet another Kansas City punt, the Steelers added a field by Boswell–his fourth of the day (this time from 45 yards)–to make it 12-7 at the half.

Boswell added two more field goals in the second half, and Pittsburgh had an 18-10 lead midway in the fourth quarter, when the Chiefs went on a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and drew to within two points, thanks to a one-yard run by Spencer Ware with 2:43 left.

Kansas City went for two and appeared to tie the game on a pass from Smith to receiver Jeremy Maclin. However, a holding call on Eric Fisher, who was attempting to block the legendary James Harrison, and Smith’s next pass from 10 yards further back was knocked away by rookie safety Sean Davis.

Needing one first down to run out the game, the Steelers did just that, when Roethlisberger rolled to his left and found Brown for a seven-yard gain on third and three.

Next up for the Steelers is a trip Gillette Stadium to take on the Photo credit: chron.com  in the AFC Championship game next Sunday evening at 6:40 p.m. (ET).

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Le’Veon Bell Leads Steelers Killer Bees in Dolphins Win Game Ball Voting with Silverback in Pursuit

To no one’s great surprise, Le’Veon Bell topped the rest of the Steelers Killer Bees in the game ball voting for the Steelers Wild Card victory over the Dolphins.

Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Steelers killer bees, Steelers vs. Dolphins

The Steelers Killer Bees. Photo credit: Steelers.com

steelers vs. dolphins, steelers dolphins wild card game, steelers dolphins game ballsThat’s the kind of thing that happens when you make your playoff debut by setting Steelers records in one game that neither Franco Harris, nor Jerome Bettis, nor Willie Parker nor Rocky Bleier could top in their collective 58 playoff games.

James Harrison came in second in the voting earning 29 votes, which also is not surprising given his role in completely neutralizing the Miami Dolphins rushing attack. Next came Antonio Brown, who himself had a record setting day with his two touchdown performance that was good enough to earn him 17 votes.

  • Bud Dupree was the next highest individual vote getter, grabbing 14 votes, or one more than the Steelers offensive line, which was a write in vote.

Ben Roethlisberer was the only other player to reach double digits, reaching 10 votes. Ryan Shazier got close with 9 votes, followed by Lawrence Timmons with 7, and Stephon Tuitt who got 6. Jesse James got 2 votes, as did a write in favoring Danny Smith’s dismissal, followed by 1 vote for Mike Mitchell.

  • The write in success of the Steelers offensive line deserves to be commended.

The synergy between Le’Veon Bell and his offensive line is something truly incredible, and truly special. With that said however, the lukewarm support enjoyed by Stephon Tuitt and Mike Mitchell is perhaps a surprise, but this poll is about what you readers think, not about what yours truly thinks.

As always, Steel Curtain Rising thanks everyone who took out time to vote. Now its on to Kansas City!

 

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Steelers Report Card for the Wild Card Win over the Dolphins – Acing the Essay, Coasting on Multiple Choice

Taken from the Grade Book of a teacher who watched his star students ace the essay portion of the test only to coast a little too much on the multiple choice section, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the Wild Card Win over the Dolphins.

Antonio Brown, Steelers Report card wild card win dolphins, Steelers vs. Dolphins

Antonio Brown waltzes into the end zone to put the Steelers ahead 7-0 in the Wild Card win over the Dolphins. Photo credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger started the game in playoff form, completing his first 11 passes including two long touchdown strikes. Those numbers are excellent, but by Ben Roethlisberger’s own admission he took his eye off the ball. The Steelers fourth drive should have put the nail in Miami’s coffin, instead Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception which opened the door to Miami making a real game of it. Standards are higher here in the playoffs, hence the “Good, but…” grade for Ben. Grade: B-

Running Back
Le’Veon Bell finally got to start a playoff game and when he did he broke Franco Harris’ single game yardage record. Bell ran for 167 yards. Take out Bell’s longest run, and his average is still above 5 yards. Wha’ts more impressive, the Dolphins knew the runs were coming, and Bell STILL earned his yeards. DeAngelo Williams got two carries in mop up time, and Roosevelt Nix saw time at fullback. Grade: A+steelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers vs. dolphins, wild card

Tight Ends
This is another clear case of how statistics don’t accurately measure a player’s performance. Jesse James has one catch for 6 yards. Ho hum, right? Wrong. Jesse James saved an interception by snatching it away from a defender. Jesse James also made a critical block the permitted the first touchdown. David Johnson and Xavier Grimble also saw time. Their names don’t show up in the stat sheet, but you can see the product of their work in Le’Veon Bell’s record breaking day. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Believe it or not, Antonio Brown had never caught a touchdown pass prior to the Dolphins game. Brown rectified that scoring two, and doing so in dramatic fashion to give the Steelers a 14 point lead. After that, the Steelers went into a run on first, run on second and run on third type offense, limiting the opportunities for the rest of the receiving corps. Eli Rogers, however did make a nice 19 yard catch, and Demarcus Ayers had two nice short catches. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Cobi Hamilton each had 1 catch for 10 yards.

While the play of the wide recievers overall was strong, Brown had a couple of drops. These didn’t impact the game, but Kansas City will not be as forgiving and the group’s grade reflects that. Grade: B+

Offensive Line
While its wrong to say that an NFL running back is only as good as the line in front of him, the truth is that no running back can truly excel without a quality line blocking for him. The Steelers offensive line delivered so well for Le’Veon Bell that their third touchdown drive consisted only of runs. While the line’s overall play was extremely strong, Ben Roethlisberger did face a little more pressure than he has of late, and this is not a tendency that can be allowed to build momentum as the post season progresses. Grade: A-

Defensive Line
Just 3 months ago the Miami Dolphins humiliated the Steelers defensive line, and the unit took it personally. The Steelers defensive line responded with a monster game. Stephon Tuitt might only have four tackles and no splash plays, but he was all over the field, always running to the ball. Javon Hargrave only had 1 tackle, but if he’s not playing well Jay Ajayi is. He didn’t. Grade: A

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons had a monster game leading the team with 14 tackles including 2 for losses, 2 sacks and registered 2 more QB hits. And he was probably not the best linebacker on the field. That distinction belongs to James Harrison, who set the edge and completely shut down Miami’s running game on the weakside. Harrison also had one of his strip sacks, which prevented Miami from getting on the board before the half. Bud Dupree had a strong game, with a hellicious hit on Matt Moore, and shared a sack with Harrison. Ryan Shazier had an interception which essentially ended any threat of a Dolphins comeback, and played extremely well against the run. An outstanding day for the linebackers. Grade: A

William Gay, Lawrence Timmion, Leonte Carroo, Steelers Wild Card win Dolphins

Wlliam Gay and Lawrence Timmons send Leonte Carroo reeling in Steelers Wild Card win over the Dolphins. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger PennLive

Secondary
Mike Mitchell was all over the field all day, and his strip sack of Matt Moore set the tone for the defense in the second half. Ross Cockrell led the defensive backs in tackles, and helped negate a Dolphins 2 point conversion. Artie Burns had 4 tackles while William Gay had a pass defensed that he could have intercepted. Sean Davis stepped up with a tackle for a loss before getting injured. Grade: B+

Special Teams
The Steelers special teams were showing some disturbing tendencies as the season drew to a close, and those have continued here in the post season.

  • Fitzgerald Toussaint continues to struggle as a kick returner.
  • Chris Boswell missed an extra point, and several of his early kick offs were short.

Worse yet, the Dolphins averaged close to 30 yards on kick returns including a long one of 58 yards. The Dolphins also had a 9 yard punt return.

The Steelers return team continued to commit needless penalties, and again failed to stop a fake punt attempt. At the end of the day, these mistakes did not prove to be costly for the Steelers, but if they continue it is only a question of when and not if it will cost the Steelers a playoff game. Grade: D

Mike Tomlin, Danny Smith, Joey Porter, Steelers wild card win dolphins

Mike Tomlin, Danny Smith and Joey Porter look on during Steelers Wild Card win over the Dolphins. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Coaching
You don’t get many do overs in the NFL, but both Todd Haley and Keith Butler learned from their mistakes in the first outing vs. Miami.

The Steelers began with a balanced attack and quickly put up 14 points, and then essentially turned the game over to the offensive line and Le’Veon Bell. That plan worked, and would have worked better with just a little better execution from Ben Roethlisberger, which isn’t Todd Haley’s fault.

On defense, Keith Butler’s unit completely smothered the Dolphins running game, forcing them to try to beat the Steelers through the air. As has been said many times in this space, Fantasy Football owners who started Matt Moore and Jarvis Landry probably came away happy, at least based on yardage totals. But, Keith Bulter’s boys forced the Dolphins to settle for 3 early in the game, and later the defense came up with turnovers on 3 occasions to snuff out any Dolphin comeback attempts.

  • Colin Cowherd might find the Steelers performance lackluster, but the scoreboard proves him wrong.

Two years ago when the Steelers lost to the Ravens at Heinz Field in the playoffs, several position groups appeared to be out of their depth. Perhaps that was to be expected, although not excused, given the long layoff and turnover since the Tewbowing at Denver.

  • The 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers displayed no playoff jitters against the Dolphins.

This was a team that came out with a specific plan on both sides of the ball and fearlessly executed it. Focus perhaps could have been a little better after the lead was established, but the fact that the Steelers were aware of that speaks to their coaching.

Mike Tomlin’s staff had a solid game plan and his players executed. The only real critique probably lies in the fact that Ben Roethlisberger was in the game so late into the 4th quarter. And that drops the coaching grade. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero Award
When the Dolphins run roughshod over the Steelers in October, any number of commentators pointed to opposing teams tremendous success in running the ball against the Steelers defense when either Cameron Heyward or Stephon Tuitt was out of the lineup.

  • Came Heyward missed both Dolphins game due to injuries.
  • Yet in their second outing they Dolphins struggled to rush where they’d soared before.

What changed? Well, certainly the improvement is the result of a team effort. But one player who has stepped up and quietly but steadily made plays each week is L.T. Walton, who played extremely well against the Dolphins, making tackles behind the line of scrimmage, recovering a fumble, and plugging gaps to allow the linebackers to make plays, and for that L.T. Walton wins the unsung hero award for the Steelers Wild Card win over the Dolphins.

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Sean Davis Wins Joe Greene Great Performance Award, Follows in Polamalu, Lake & Perry’s Footsteps

As expected, Sean Davis won the Steelers Joe Greene Great Performance award for 2016, an honor bestowed on the Steelers top rookie via vote of the media. While Sean Davis was the obvious candidate, he doubtlessly had competition from both Artie Burns and Javon Hargrave, which is a good sign.

Sean Davis, Sean Davis 1st interception, Sean Davis Joe Greene Great Performance Award

Sean Davis returning his 1st NFL  interception in the Steelers win over the Giants. Photo Credit: 247sports.com

Nice When a Steelers Draft Pick Lives up to Hype

It is really nice when a Steelers draft pick lives up to all of the advanced billing as a rookie. When the Steelers drafted Sean Davis in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft, pundits both inside and outside Steelers Nation praised the move.

A good friend and regular reader of this site who is a huge Maryland Terrapins fan, emailed me to sign Sean Davis’ praises. And then there was the picture:

Sean Davis, Devin Smith, sean davis joe greene great performance award

Sean Davis attempts in vain to defend a pass to Devin Smith. Photo Credit: Jonathan Ernst, Getty Images via thecomeback.com

Honestly, when I first saw this photo, I had Devin Smith caught the ball or not and if it was a play of consequence. As it turns out, it was. Smith caught the ball and scored a touchdown. Nonetheless, the photo clearly shows Sean Davis’ superior athletic skills, and I took that as a good sign for the Steelers.

  • Since then, all arrows on Sean Davis have been pointing up.

On opening day, Sean Davis became the first rookie Steelers defensive back to start since Chad Scott, another Maryland Terrapin, in 1997. Sean Davis has appeared in all 15 of the Steelers games, and supplanted Robert Golden as the Steelers full time starter at strong safety during the middle of the season.

  • Per the Steelers count, Sean Davis has 5 defensed passes, 1 interception, half a sack and 61 tackles.

While those numbers are nice, they don’t do justice to how well Davis has played during the second half of the season. The sight of Sean Davis stepping up at stopping a ball carrier behind or at the line of scrimmage has become more common as the Steelers 2016 season has progressed.

  • The Steelers Red Zone defense has been stout, and Sean Davis has played a big role in keeping opposing teams from scoring touchdowns.

He’s been doing it all season and, just this past weekend after Ben Roethlisberger’s second interception, he stepped up big time to prevent a catch in the end zone during prevent a touchdown on third down, forcing a Baltimore field goal.

That folks, is what you call a difference maker.

Stability at Safety for the Steelers?

This award comes to Sean Davis with just perhaps a touch of irony. Less than a week ago, Shamarko Thomas’ season, and perhaps his career in Pittsburgh, ended when the Steelers put the concussed safety on injured reserve.

The Steelers gave Thomas his chances, but their decision to start Jordan Dangerfield over him earlier in the season signaled that the Shamarko Thomas experiment had ended.

Recognition as the Joe Greene Great Performance award recipient seems to signal Sean Davis seems to be filling the role of Polamalu’s replacement. OK, maybe “replacing Troy Polamalu” is a little too much to put on Sean Davis shoulders.

But at the very least, the award is a good sign. 3 other Steelers safeties have won the Joe Greene rookie award – Polamalu won it in 2003, Darren Perry won it in 1992, and Carnell Lake won it in 1989. All of them went on to be long-term staples of the Steelers secondary.

Moats Wins “Chief Award” Bell Voted Steelers MVP

Sean Davis’ rookie of the year award wasn’t the only honor bestowed on the South Side this year. The Pittsburgh Chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association honored Arthur Moats with the “Chief Award,” an accolade  given to the member of the Steelers who has been the most cooperative with the press.

  • Le’Veon Bell was also voted as the Steelers 2016 Most Valuable Player by his teammates.

Given Brown’s tremedous success this season, routinely running for over 100 yards from scrimmage and taking over a couple of three games, the award was hardly a surprise. (Nonetheless, no one could have argued had the honor fallen to Ben Roethlisberger or Antonio Brown.)

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Vote Now Steelers Nation: Steelers Game Ball Winners for Christmas Win over Baltimore

Wow! What a game. On Christmas Day 2016 the Pittsburgh Steelers snapped a 4 game losing streak to the Baltimore Ravens on the heels of a heroic, furious 4th quarter comeback that saw the lead change twice as Steelers score 3 touchdowns. As we always do after a Steelers win, we invite you, the citizens of Steelers Nation to vote game ball winners.

Steelers vs. Ravens, Antonio Brown, Shareece Wright, Steelers Ravens Christmas

Antonio Brown makes a catch on Shareece Wright in the Steelers 31 to 27 win over the Ravens

Earning the top ballot slot is Antonio Brown, who was quiet for most of the game, but came alive in the fourth quarter making a number of tremendous catches, including the game winner.

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 12-06-2014 18:49:27
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Poll Results:
Who deserves a game ball for the Steelers Christmas win over the Ravens (votes for multiple players allowed)

Behind Brown, you have Le’Veon Bell who also had an impressive game rushing for 122 yards who also came on strong in the 4th quarter. Ben Roethlisberger, who did throw two interceptions, never lost his composure, as he threw 3 touchdown passes including two strikes in the end zone in the 4th quarter.

Xavier Grimble also gets a ballot slot, for his early touchdown that put the Steelers ahead at the beginning of the game. And we’re also giving the Steelers offensive line a slot on the ballot, who did not allow a sack, and opened the lanes for Le’Veon Bell.

James Harrison leads the balloting on defense, as he ran for led the team in tackles. Lawrence Timmons is next, as he was second in tackles, and brought Joe Flacco down early on a critical 3rd down. Ryan Shazier is next, as he recorded 10 tackles and also had a last minute interception. Bud Dupree also gets a slot on the ballot, due to his sack of Joe Flacco.

  • Finally, my wife Alejandra gets a ballot slot.

Due to the Christmas celebrations down here in Argentina yours truly needed to watch the game on tape delay. My wife knew the result, but didn’t let on in the slightest, all the way until the end.

Remember, You Can Write in Your Game Ball Choices

This Steelers game ball winner poll isn’t about who I think should get game balls, its about who you think should get game balls. Both William Gay and Sean Davis had strong games – if you think they deserve a game ball, write their names in.

A case could also be made for Jesse James and Chris Boswell. Again, write in their names if you think they deserve a game ball. Better yet, write in their names and leave a comment stating your case.

Please be sure to check back later for our full analysis of the Steelers AFC North clinching win over the Baltimore Ravens.

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Why Le’Veon Bell’s Record Game Isn’t Biggest Story of Steelers 27-20 Win over Bills

Le’Veon Bell’s record game led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 27-20 win over the Buffalo Bills on a snowy afternoon at Orchard Park. Much of the game’s coverage will center around Le’Veon Bell’s record setting performance.

Le’Veon Bell deserves all the praise his 298 yards from scrimmage will earn him. But his monster individual game shouldn’t overshadow a larger, team accomplishment that Pittsburgh displayed in beating Buffalo: The Steelers relied on teamwork to excel in the face of adversity.

Le'Veon Bell's record game, Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs. Bills, Le'Veon Bell 236 yards rushing, Le'Veon Bell Steelers rushing record

Le’Veon Bell in route to is 236 rushing performance vs. the Buffalo Bills. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune Review

Bills Offer True Challenge, Steelers Respond as Team

The true leaders on any team rise to their position because they both excel at a level above everyone else in a way that allows others to elevate their performances.

For a long time now, Ben Roethlisberger has served as the leader of the Steelers offense. And, for the past two or three seasons, Cameron Heyward has stood as the leader of the Steelers defense. When both men are playing at the top of their games, everyone else tends to follow.

  • But the true test of teamwork comes when the leader is absent or unable to perform up to standard.

Going into the game, it was clear that LeSean McCoy and the Buffalo Bills were going to test the Steelers. The Bills have the NFL’s toughest rushing attack, and worst outings of the season for the Steelers rushing defense came with Cameron Heyward either out or playing injured.

  • Knowing the Steelers would be without Cam Heyward AND Javon Hargrave, doubtlessly left Rex Ryan licking his chops as he viewed game films of Pittsburgh’s losses at Miami, New England and Dallas.

Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler knew exactly what Rex Ryan would try to do and had a week to plan. Todd Haley wasn’t so lucky. Haley certainly didn’t plan for his franchise quarterback to have one of his worst outings in recent memory. But he did.

The die was cast: The Buffalo Bills would be putting both the Steelers offense and defense to the test.

As Ben Stumbles, Bell Rumbles

Sometimes good players have bad days. Count the Bills game as a bad day at the office for Ben Roethlisberger. It wasn’t that Ben Roethlisberger was simply out of sync the entire day. At times, Ben made adjustments to convert 3rd downs. At others, he exploited weakness in the Bills defense to find Antonio Brown and set up scores.

  • But at other moments, particularly in the Red Zone, Ben Roethlisberger was way, way off.

The interceptions he threw were of the Mark Malone or Kordell Stewart variety. Interceptions are bad. Throwing interceptions in the Red Zone is worse.

  • This season alone, we’ve watched Roethlisberger’s struggles signal stumbles by the rest of his offense.

That was certainly the case in Philadelphia and Miami and at home vs. the Ravens at home. Fortunately, it was not the case on the road against the Buffalo Bills. Given the weather, Rob and Rex Ryan had to have expected a steady diet of Le’Veon Bell. Todd Haley didn’t disappoint.

  • The Bills knew Le’Veon Bell was run at them, and they still couldn’t stop him.

Le’Veon Bell has taken over games before, his performance against the Titans in 2014 springs to mind. However, he has perhaps never dominated as he did against the Bills. Bell didn’t do it alone. Once again, the Steelers offensive line imposed its will.

  • But the line wasn’t the only contributor to Le’Veon Bell’s record game.

David Johnson had an unheralded day blocking, and Roosevelt Nix provided the best fullback play the Steelers have seen since the days of Dan Kreider. To be sure, Cobi Hamilton and Eli Rogers each made a critical catch.

But this game belonged to Le’Veon Bell and the road graders who paved his way.

Steelers Defense Puts on Shut Down Performance When It Counts

LeSean McCoy might not be get the ink Ezekiel Elliott gets, but if you reach your 11th game in the National Football League with a 5.5 yard rushing average, you’re an elite back. Both elite and less than elite backs have tormented the Steelers defense too often this season.

  • The Steelers defense shut down LeSean McCoy in a way that would make the Steel Curtain or Blitzburgh defenses proud.

Time and time again, LeSean McCoy’s number got called only to see the Steelers defense stone him at or behind the line of scrimmage. In fact, the Steelers defense made 7 tackles for a loss. There was simply no place for McCoy to go; he finished with a partly 27 yards rushing.

Stopping LeSean McCoy wouldn’t have mattered if Tyrod Taylor had been allowed to gouge the Steelers defense with his legs, or put the Bill’s wide receivers in position to burn the Steelers secondary.

  • Keith Butler’s defense didn’t allow either event to occur.

Taylor had 3 scrambles for 2 yards, while Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Sean Davis and Stephon Tuitt sacked him 5 times. The Steelers defense wasn’t perfect. An Artie Burns holding call negated a William Gay Pick Six, and a collision in the secondary set up a the Bill’s last non-garbage time touchdown.

  • But the defense showed it could step up when it had to.

Artie Burns immediately answered the Bills final interception with one of his own, and which set up a Steelers field goal. This Steelers defense still has its flaws, but with each passing week a new player steps up, elevating the performance of the entire until.

Steelers Have Grown Much in a Month

Just one month ago the Pittsburgh Steelers had lost their 4th game in a row, and the key take away was that this team simply wasn’t that good. Since then the Steelers have won two road games in 5 days, and stopped a streaking NFC playoff contender at home.

  • This week the Steelers defense directly attacked and neutralized the strength of Buffalo Bills offense.
  • Equally important, the Steelers offense relied on physical football to overcome a poor performance by Ben Roethlisberger.

The Bengals and Ravens will offer tougher tests in the next two weeks, but the level of difficulty has risen for the Steelers in each of the last four weeks. The cream rises  in December football and, Mike Tomlin has his team stepping it up a notch each new week.

And that’s exactly what must continue happening.

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I Don’t Care about Karlos Williams’ 10 Game Suspension. Neither Should Steelers Nation

Karlos Williams, a running back formerly of the Buffalo Bills and brother of Steelers inside linebacker Vince Williams, was signed to the Steelers practice squad in October. 

  • A fifth round pick by Buffalo in the 2015 NFL Draft, Williams showed great promise as a rookie, rushing for 517 yards and seven touchdowns.

Unfortunately, he showed great immaturity after that, reportedly turning up at his second training camp overweight and ultimately being released when he was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 regular season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

steelers karlos williams, karlos williams 10 game suspension, vince williams

Steelers practice squad running back Karlos Williams and brother Vince Williams. Photo credit: John Grieshop, Brett Carlsen Getty Images via FOXsports.com

After serving his suspension, the Steelers snatched up Karlos Williams, who signed him to their practice squad in October. Not only did some consider it a foregone conclusion  that Pittsburgh would eventually promote Karlos Williams to the active  roster; some even speculated that he could be nice insurance for the seemingly inevitable departure of star running backs Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams both of whom are free agents after this season.

The reality: Karlos Williams never did get promoted to the Steelers active roster during his six week stay on their practice squad. Also,  it was announced on Wednesday that he will serve a 10-game suspension for, again, violating the NFL’s drug policy.

The Internet being what it is, and fans being who they usually are, many began to angrily lament the signing of such a troubled player a la Martavis Bryant — and another blemish on the Steelers (mythical) previously spotless record.

Yes, much like a traded away seventh round pick, some people apparently bought in way too deep on the addition of Williams to the team’s practice squad and are now considering this a major setback for the organization.

Please.

  • I could care less about Karlos Williams 10 game suspension. In-fact, before Wednesday’s announcement of his suspension, I had completely forgotten all about him.

As for the notion that he could take the place of a departing Le’Veon Bell next season: If Williams was really that talented and had that kind of can’t-miss potential, well, for one thing, he wouldn’t have been on the Steelers practice squad (he would have been immediately signed to their active roster); secondly, another team would have stolen him off of Pittsburgh’s practice squad a long, long time ago.

This is just speculation (everyone does it, so big whoop), but my guess is Karlos Williams was signed to the Steelers practice squad, as a favor to Vince Williams, his older brother and budding starting inside linebacker.

  • Will Williams, Karlos, that is, ever see action in a Steelers game? Will he ever see action in anyone else’s NFL game? I don’t know, and I don’t really care.

Karlos Williams was the proverbial flier of an acquisition. Had he panned out, great! But, if he didn’t–as appears to be the case after his latest drug transgression–how much of a risk was it in the first place? This is no different than a Major League Baseball team signing a troubled player to a minor league contract in the hopes that he’ll reform his ways and reach his potential.

  • In conclusion, the Steelers are fighting for their playoff lives with just weeks left in the regular season.

They’ve got more important things to worry about than Karlos Willliams 10 game suspension, and so do you.

 

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As Cameron Heyward’s Season Ends – Steelers Nation Collectively Cries: “Game Over!”

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the middle of what is already their 2nd worst losing streak of the Mike Tomlin era, and the news just got worse. Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Heyward’s season ends thanks to a pectorial muscle injury he suffered in the loss to the Cowboys.

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Cameron Heyward’s 2016 season ends due to injury. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The Steelers haven’t announced the move yet, but Cameron Heyward made this posting via Twitter and Instagram:

 

One can only imagine that Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and Johnny Mitchell must be channeling their inner Bill Paxton:

In truth don’t expect anyone on the South Side to throw in the Towel, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are 0-4 when either Cameron Heyward or Stephon Tuitt has missed a game over the last two seasons. Cameron Heyward is easily both the Steelers best and most consistent player on the Steelers defense. He is also a leader both on and off the field. Losing Cam Heyward for the rest of 2016 would be akin to losing Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell or perhaps even Ben Roethlisberger.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ron Cook broke the news on Twitter this morning before Mike Tomlin’s press conference.

Heyward was still being evaluated when Mike Tomlin addressed reporters, so no update came, but the Steelers have confirmed the news.

Mathews and Hargrave Next Men Up

With Cam Heyward out for the rest of 2016, the Steelers will likely turn to Ricardo Mathews and or Javon Hargrave to take his space. Hargrave has been splitting time at nose tackle with Daniel McCullers, but he has gotten reps at defensive end. Mathews started with Heyward missed the Dolphins and Patriots game with a hamstring injury, and the Dolphins targeted him in route to their 200 yard rushing game.

  • The Steelers also have Johnny Maxey and Caushaud Lyons on their practice squad, either of whom could be activated.

The Steelers picked up Caushaud Lyons last year off waivers and kept him on the active roster through the end of September. The Steelers then cut Lyons and resigned him to the practice squad. Regardless of who the Steelers bring onto the roster, the man has extremely big shoes to fill.

Johnson Out Forte Back In

It never rains but it pours. Before losing Cameron Heyward the rest of 2016, the Steelers annouced that reserve inside linebacker Steven Johnson going on injured reserve. To replace him the Steelers will active L.J. Forte, whom they cut this weekend to make way for Ladarius Green.

 

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Have Injuries Finally Caught Up with the 2016 Steelers?

When you follow a  team like the Pittsburgh Steelers on a consistent basis, it’s kind of easy to fall into a false sense of security regarding the capabilities of most players on the roster–and that includes the backups.

For example, reserve inside linebacker Vince Williams was absolutely dominant in back-to-back victories over the Chiefs and Jets. Williams combined for 25 tackles and two sacks, and as you watched him perform so well, you surely didn’t miss Ryan Shazier, the guy he replaced in the lineup.

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Vince Williams limps off the field during the Steelers 30-15 drubbing at the hands of the Miami Dolphins. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla Tribune-Review

Speaking of the Jets game, Chris Hubbard went the entire way at right tackle, thanks to injuries to starter Marcus Gilbert and backup swing tackle Ryan Harris a week earlier vs. Kansas City, and did more than yeoman’s work, as part of an offensive line that hardly allowed a scratch on superstar quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

In the game against the Jets, star defensive end Cameron Heyward left with a hamstring injury and never returned.

Maybe you didn’t notice Heyward’s absence, as Pittsburgh scored 17-unanswered second half points to run away with a 31-13 victory.

  • But here the thing about injuries:  They tend to have an accumulative effect.

As Vince Williams was flying around Heinz Field for two weeks, making tackle after tackle and playing like a man possessed, maybe you didn’t miss Shazier because:

a) Heyward was such a dominant presence along the defensive line, he gave Williams plenty of room to roam or

b) you simply didn’t know what you were missing.

For as annoying as Ryan Shazier’s injury history has been over the duration of his two-plus year career with the Steelers, the reality is, nobody on Keith Butler‘s defense is capable of being the difference-maker he is.

  • When he plays, Ryan Shazier makes things happen, whether it be a tackle for loss, a forced fumble or a key interception (Just ask Jeremy Hill of the Bengals).

Vince Williams can provide his share of tackles–even tackles for loss–but he has yet to prove he can be the impact player Shazier is.

As for Cam Heyward, his absence was a little harder to miss, what with such a drop-off in talent on the defensive line, due to the journeyman pedigree of backup Ricardo Mathews and the rookie pedigree of the otherwise utlra-talented Javon Hargrave.

Along the offensive line, while he doesn’t get the hype of a Maurkice Pouncey or David DeCastro, and while his story may not be as inspirational as left tackle Alejandro Villanueva‘s, fact is, Marcus Gilbert is one of the premiere right tackles in the NFL.

Gilbert may not have been everyone’s cup of tea over the first few years, when he was having hiccups that involved accidentally injuring his own teammates, but through hard work and commitment, he turned himself into a valuable member of the offensive line.

Was Marcus Gilbert an indispensable member of the line? It sure didn’t seem that way after the March signing of the veteran Ryan Harris, who started in Super Bowl 50 a year ago and began the regular season as a backup behind both Gilbert and Villanueva.

Unfortunately, after holding his own against the Jets, Chris Hubbard had a whale of a time trying to stop the Dolphins edge-rushers that included accomplished veteran linebacker Cameron Wake, as Ben Roethlisberger was harassed most of the afternoon and sacked twice.

  • Back to the Steelers defense.

Sunday’s game may have been physical, but the unit that appeared to be on the receiving end of most of the beatings was a Steelers defense that barely laid a hand on Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill and allowed an astounding 222 yards rushing.

You don’t have to be a football guru to see that Sunday’s game against the Dolphins was lost at the line of scrimmage, and Pittsburgh was missing a handful of key contributors on both sides of the ball.

Head coach Mike Tomlin’s “Next Man Up” mantra is rather appealing, inspirational and catchy. But, like most backups in the NFL, the more they play, the more they get exposed.

  • And the more backups that are in at any given time, the more a team may be weakened and exposed.

This coming Sunday, when the Steelers take on the Patriots at Heinz Field with Landry Jones as their starting quarterback, you may unfortunately get to witness the immediate effect of an injury to the most important player.

But in Miami on Sunday, you witnessed the accumulative effect of several injuries to a handful of valuable players.

 

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