Is James Harrison on the Roster Bubble? Or are the Steelers “Bettising” Him?

Is Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison roster spot in jeopardy? Recent comments by linebackers coach Joey Porter seem to open that door.

  • Yet it is also possible that the Steelers are “Bettising” their linebacking legend.

Joey Porter’s announcement that first round draft pick TJ Watt will start at outside linebacker across from Bud Dupree and that neither will rotate is welcome news.

James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons

James Harrison roars at practice while Lawrence Timmons looks on. Photo Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Finding a starter-capable player at right outside linebacker was one critical question the Steelers needed to answer “Yes” two during training camp, and it appears they leave St. Vincents having done so. But they will also leave St. Vincent’s without James Harrison having practiced with the team, which isn’t all that out of the ordinary, given that Harrison doesn’t need the reps.

But before the Steelers preseason opener against the Giants, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell identified 15 potential open slots on the Steelers roster and 38 locks, leave Harrison and William Gay as “almost locks.”

  • In Wexell’s view a combination of a numbers game with Harrison not showing enough speed could put him in jeopardy.

Regardless of whether Wexell was simply speculating or musing about something he’d heard off the record, Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter’s conversation with Joey Porter thickened the plot, as Porter declared:

We know what he can do. At the same time, you want to see a little bit to make sure he still has got it,” Everybody has to be tested to see if you still got it. We can assume something. But the NFL, sometimes you just wake up one day and that pop is gone. There will be a time when we take the wrapping off of him and let him go out there so we can see if it’s still that James from last year.

That, combined with James Harrison being held out of practice, was enough to get Dale Lolley to question whether the Steelers were preparing to move on from James Harrison.

While that’s certainly a possibility, such a move would be out of character for the Steelers. It’s well known that Chuck Noll held on to too many of his starters from the 70’s for too long, but institutional memory has largely kept the team from making the same mistake, as James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Hines Ward learned during the 2012 off season.

The Steelers not only brought Harrison back, but offered him a two year deal, with Harrison proclaiming his desire to play into his 40s. The Steelers cut plenty of players before their contracts expire – think Justin Hartwig or Willie Colon, but it’s rare for them to cut someone after signing them to a new contract (Greg Warren excepted, although word is the Steelers did it this way so that Warren would benefit financially.)

Are the Steelers Bettising James Harrison?

The other possibility is that the Steleers are “Bettising” James Harrison. “Bettising” of course refers to Steelers Hall of Fame Running back Jerome Bettis, who began hearing calls from the experts (Mike Prisuta, for example) as early as the 2002 season.

  • And while Bill Cowher, Kevin Colbert and Dan Rooney didn’t pay much heed to those calls, outside criticism his ability still served to motivate Bettis late in his career.
Jerome Bettis, Ryan Clark

Jerome Bettis and Ryan Clark at St. Vincents in 2015. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Could the Steelers be doing something similar with James Harrison? It is possible but unlikely. James Harrison, who was in the weight room at 5:00 am the morning after the Steelers playoff win over the Chiefs, epitomes the concept of “self-starter.” He needs no motivation.

So on the one hand, you have the Steelers who don’t typically sign veterans and then cut them, on the other hand you have two veteran reporters who are not wont to suggest that someone of James Harrison’s stature is on the roster bubble as a matter of idle speculation.

To be clear, Jim Wexell has reiterated that he expects to see Harrison on the final roster. And even offered this after Harrion’s “mob interview” at St. Vincents:

As someone who would love nothing more than to see James Harrison hosting Lombardi Number 7 alongside Ben Roethlisberger, the hope here is that Wexell’s instinct is right and  Mike Tomlin and Joey Porter are in fact “Bettising” Deebo.

Time will tell. But until then, we’ll chalk this up as a case of 2+2 not quite equaling four.

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Steelers Sign Tyson Alualu. Has Johnny Mitchell Found the Coveted “4th Lineman” for His Rotation?

After remaining relatively inactive during the first wave of free agency, Pittsburgh as been busy this week signing three players into days with the franchise’s latest acquisition seeing the Steelers sign Tyson Alualu the free agent defensive lineman from Jacksonville to a two year contract.

  • During the 2010 NFL Draft the Jacksonville Jaguars surprised the rest of the league when they drafted Tyson Alualu with the 10th overall pick.

Since then Tyson Alualu has had a solid, but hardly spectacular career, although it should be noted that he did make several “All Rookie teams” in 2010, per reporting by Jim Wexell on Steel City Insider.

Tyson Alualu, Steelers 2017 free agents, Steelers defensive line

Steelers reserve defensive lineman Tyson Alualu in Pittsburgh after arriving as a free agent. Photo Credit: Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette

With seven seasons under his belt, Tyson Alualu provides a perfect example of a player who may not have lived up to his lofty draft status, but is very far from being a bust. He’s never missed a game due to injury, he brings the Steelers 88 games of starting experience, 17.5 sacks, and offers position flexibility with the ability to play either nose tackle or defensive end.

All of this must make for pure music in the ears of Steelers defensive line coach Johnny Mitchell

Does Johnny Mitchell Finally Have his Coveted 4th Lineman?

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive line coach Johnny Mitchell has been with the team since the fall of 1994, having replace Steve Furness as part of Bill Cowher‘s coaching purge following the 1993 season. During Johnny Mitchell’s watch and, particularly during the Kevin Colbert era, the Steelers defensive line has been a model of stability.

While each of those starters played a critical role in securing Lombardi Trophies in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII, their impact and importance of their understudies cannot be under stated. Johnny Mitchell’s system relies heavily on rotating defensive lineman in and out throughout the game.

  • But for Mitchell’s system to be effective, the Steelers can’t suffer a drop of in quality of play when the starter has taken a breather.

For a long time, players like Chris Hoke, Travis Kirschke and Nick Eason were good enough to allow Mitchell rotate Keisel, Smith and Hampton in out as needed. In his two years in Pittsburgh, Al Woods looked he was growing into that same role but the Steelers stint in salary cap purgatory in prevented the team from keeping Al Woods in Pittsburgh in 2014.

They signed Cam Thomas instead, who was decidedly not up to the role. Daniel McCullers whom the Steelers drafted during the 2014 NFL Draft has flashed, but has yet to show he can take that role. Ricardo Mathews performed well after Cam Hewyard was lost for the season and so did L.T. Walton.

  • But the Steelers appear to have found an upgrade from both men in Tyson Alualu.

During the heyday of Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel’s tenures, Johnny Mitchell quipped – not altogether jokingly – the he would retire when this trio began their “Life’s Work.” The arrival of Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and most recently Javon Hargrave has provided Mitchell with another fearsome threesome.

Tyson Alualu just might provide the type of talent and stability that Mitchell needs to get his rotation humming.

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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Sad Day in Pittsburgh: Miami Dolphins Sign Lawrence Timmons, Law Dog Leaves Steelers

All good things come to an end. And so it is with Lawrence Timmons time as a Pittsburgh Steeler, as the free agent inside linebacker  signed a two year contract with the Miami Dolphins.

Mike Tomlin made Lawrence Timmons his first draft pick as Steelers head coach when he took Timmons in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Timmons went on to start 126 games for the Steelers, including a streak of 6 years where he never missed a game due to injury.

Lawrence Timmons, Mike Tomlin, Joey Porter, Stephon Tuitt, Lawrence Timmons Dolphins

Lawrence Timmons leaves the field in 2014 as Mike Tomlin, Joey Porter & Stephon Tuitt greet him. Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images via Zimbo.com

As stars such as James Farrior, Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith either retired and/or faded, Lawrence Timmons remained a steadfast, constant presence in the middle of the Steelers defense. From 2012 to at least 2014 Timmons was the most consistent, if not best defender on the Steelers defense.

  • Several times during the last year Lawrence Timmons had expressed a desire to sign a third contract with the Steelers.

The Steelers likewise wanted him back, but if reports are accurate, Timmons signed a 2 year 12 million dollar contract with the Miami Dolphins that included 11 million dollars of guaranteed money. That was more than the Steelers were willing to pay, and likely more than they were willing to guarantee in such a short time span.

Steel Curtain Rising will take a longer look at Lawrence Timmons’ legacy as a Pittsburgh Steeler, but those who wish for a fairly comprehensive recap of his career can click here.

Steelers Inside Linebacker Depth Chart with Timmons Gone

For the first time since 2009 the Steelers will enter training camp with a new name penciled in at left inside linebacker. Vince Williams will get the first shot at replacing Timmons. The Steelers anticipated this possibility last summer when they resigned Vince Williams to a 3 year contract.

Vince Williams is more of a linebacker in the mold of Larry Foote and provides a hard-hitting presence in Lawrence Timmons’ absence, he lacks Timmons speed and athleticism. Lawrence Timmons defection to the Dolphins likely won’t alter the Steelers plans to target cornerback and outside linebacker in the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft, but if a good inside linebacker is on the board in the third round he could very well get a call from Mike Tomlin.

Life Imitating Art?

Steel Curtain Rising strongly supported the Steelers keeping Lawrence Timmons in Pittsburgh, but we understand that salary cap realities require Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin to make hard choices like this.

  • But news that Lawrence Timmons signed with the Miami Dolphins arrives with a large dose of irony at this site.

Two years ago as on April Fool’s Day we published a fax article indicating the Steelers had traded Timmons to the Dolphins to move up in the draft. The article did so well that Jacob Klinger of PennLive went so far as to call the Steelers for confirmation of the story. To this day, it remains the 5th most visited page in the site’s history following our 2014 migration to WordPress.

  • What can we say? This is one of the times when you hate to be right.

In a perfect world, Lawrence Timmons would have finished his career in Pittsburgh. Sadly, we won’t see that happen now.

But Steel Curtain Rising thanks Lawrence Timmons for 10 wonderful years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thank you Law Dog!

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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Colbert vs Donahoe – Why Do We Never Ask “Can Kevin Colbert win without Tom Donahoe’s players?”

The Super Bowl has arrived and, just as they have since 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers are spectating with the NFL’s 30 also-ran teams. For a franchise that measures successful seasons in Lombardis and fan base with a “What have you done for me lately” mentality, 6 years without a trip to the Big Dance is a long drought.

And the lapse has gone on long enough, that even the most serious Steelers homer must acknowledge the elephant in the room, and the question we’ve strived to ignore has some legitimacy:

  • Will Kevin Colbert ever prove he can win a Super Bowl without Tom Donahoe’s players?
Kevin Colbert, Bill Cowher, Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher

Kevin Colbert sits along side Bill Cowher during the press conference announcing his hiring. Photo Credit: Toledo Blade

What’s that? Have you gone crazy? Isn’t that the wrong question to ask (it is)? Doesn’t everyone know that Mike Tomlin is the man with the proverbial monkey on his back? Musn’t Mike Tomlin STILL need to prove he can win the big one without Bill Cowher’s players?

Well, yes, there still are large segments fans in Steelers Nation along with a cohort of the press (see Colin Cowherd, Jason Witlock and sadly Terry Bradshaw) that insist that Tomlin’s inability to win without Cowher’s players this remains Dan and Art Rooney II’s fatal blind spot.

  • This site has debunked those arguments before, and will do so again as needed.

But really, if you buy into the Tomlin only won on Cowher’s coattails nonsense, then your intellectual honesty demands you apply the same standard to Kevin Colbert with respect to his predecessor, Tom Donahoe. Let’s see what happens when you do just that….

Tom Donahoe’s Overlooked Role in Architecting Super Bowls XL and XLIII

Tom Donahoe was of course the man Dan Rooney tapped in 1992 to be the Pittsburgh Steelers first ever Director of Football Operations following Chuck Noll’s retirement and Dick Haley’s departure for the Jets. For much of the 90’s, Donahoe was the most powerful person in the Steelers organization not named Rooney, until the Rooneys sided with Cowher in a power struggle, and sent Donahoe packing.

Tom Donahoe, Kevin Colbert vs. Tom Donahoe

Tom Donahoe, Steelers Director of Football Operations, 1992-99. Photo Credit. Stillcurtain.com

  • Donahoe had full control of the Buffalo Bills from 2001 until 2005, but was unsuccessful. He now advises the Philadelphia Eagles.

While Tom Donahoe made his mistakes, particularly as friction between him and Cowher got worse, if you really want to see his impact on the Steelers, look no further than the Steelers Super Bowl XL roster. Take a good look and ask yourself, could the Steelers have won Super Bowl XL if they had:

Hum… Take away Hines Ward, Joey Porter, Aaron Smith, Deshea Townsend, and Alan Faneca – all Donahoe draftees, and Jerome Bettis whom Donahoe acquired via trade and it’s a lot harder to imagine “One for the Thumb” arriving in 2005, even if this alternate timeline still saw the Steelers drafting Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.

By the time Super Bowl XLIII rolled around, the Bus had been parked, Alan Faneca had moved on to New York and Joey Porter was in Miami. But I defy anyone subtract the contributions of Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, and Deshea Townsend and map out a route for the 2008 Steelers that ends in a 6th Lombardi Trophy.

And if you really want to get picky about it, had the Steelers pulled out a win in Super Bowl XLV, Hines Ward would have likely won his second Super Bowl MVP award. But that, as well as the rest of this, misses the point.

Time to Retire a Tired Argument Used on Mike Tomlin

The argument that Kevin Colbert’s achievements are somehow diminished by the fact that Tom Donahoe acquired several critical contributors to both of Colbert’s Super Bowl teams is idiotic. Part of being a good leader is being smart enough and secure enough NOT to clean house for the sake of cleaning house.

  • So why conduct this exercise?

There are two reasons:

First, to highlight the fact that while people always put Tomlin in Cowher’s shadow, no one ever follow suit with Kevin Colbert and his predecessor. Why shouldn’t the same standard apply to both men? The answer is that it shouldn’t apply to either man, which was the second and most important objective of this exercise.

Mike Tomlin, Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher, Tomlin wins with Cowher's players

Rare photo of Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher together, taken in 2010. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

The fact that Mike Tomlin enjoyed his greatest success (thus far) with a large number of men who’d previously played for Bill Cowher doesn’t taint his accomplishments in the slightest. And the pundits in the press as well as critics within Steelers Nation need to stop making that suggestion.

As Kevin Colbert himself observed after Super Bowl XLIII, the Six Lombardi equaled 6 Super Bowls for the Pittsburgh Steelers as a franchise, instead of four Chuck Noll and one for Bill Cowher.

  • So please, let’s bury the “Tomlin only won with Cowher’s players” argument for good.

Although, if at this point, you remain unconvinced, then by all means please hold Kevin Colbert to the same standard and do it with equal enthusiasm and frequency.

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No Place Like Home: Is Ben Roethlisberger’s Road Record Under Todd Haley a Concern?

Is there a larger trend behind Ben Roethlisberger’s road record and struggles away from Heinz Field?

Sometimes reality is inconvenient. Last spring Bruce Arians reopened, yet again, the story of Art Rooney II forcing his firing after the Steelers 2011 season.

While unwelcome, Arian’s comments opened the door to a comparison of Ben Roethlisberger’s performance by offensive coordinator. And the numbers painted a clear picture: The Arians-Haley switch worked out well for Roethlisberger, Haley and Arians.

8 games into the 2016 season we know the story isn’t that simple because after 7 starts, Ben Roethlisberger is clearly struggling on the road. The question remains, Is this a new development, or are we only now just noticing? Let’s see what the numbers tell us….

Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger home road splits, Ben Roethlisberger road record

Ben Roethlisberger @ Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Archie Carpenter, UPI

Ben Roethlisberger’s Performance at Home and on the Road by Coordinator

When we first broke down the numbers on Ben Roethlisberger’s performance per coordinator, the focus was on the number of sacks he was taking and his efficiency at gaining yards, throwing touchdowns, and avoiding interceptions.

ben roethlisberger, passing statistics, todd haley, bruce arians, haley vs. arians, ken whisenhunt, roethlisberger offensive coordinator

Ben Roethlisberger’s performance under different offensive coordinators through 2015

These are all valuable measures, and using those metrics, the change from Bruce Arians to Todd Haley was just what the Dr. ordered. Nary a thought was given to how the variance in Ben Roethlisberger’s performance by venue.

  • Perhaps we should have, because those numbers tell an interesting story.

Ben Roethlisberger’s road record vs. his performance at Heniz Field with Ken Whisenhunt is quite interesting. Overall there’s very little difference between how Roethlisberger performed on the road and at home from 2004 to 2006. In fact, his completion percentage was a little higher, and he still threw more touchdowns than interceptions on the road.

Ben Roethlisberger, Ken Whisenhunt , Ben Roethlisberger road record Ken Whisenhunt, Ben Roethlisberger home record Ken Whisenhunt, Ben Roethlisberger performance Ken Whisenhunt

Ben Roethlisberger & Ken Whisenhunt home & away

On the critical statistic of wins and losses, Ben Roethlisberger’s winning percentage at Heinz Field was only slightly better than on the road. Likewise, his passer rating was only down slightly. It should be noted that, if the “Roethlisberger is a game manager” motif was unfair at this stage of his career, Ben Roethlisberger himself claimed to only be the supporting cast of a roster that included stars like Hines WardJerome Bettis, Joey Porter, Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu.

  • Mike Tomlin replaced Ken Whisenhunt with Bruce Arians, who made little secret of his intent to loosen Ben’s leash.

Here’s how Ben Roethilsberger’s home and away statictics with Bruce Arians look:

Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Arians, Ben Roehtlisberger and Bruce Arians, Ben Roethlisberger's road record Bruce Arians, Ben Roethlisberger's statistics Bruce Arians

Ben Roethlisberger & Bruce Arians, home and away

Under Bruce Arian’s tutelage we start to see a wider gap emerge between Ben Roethisberger’s performance and record at home, and away from Heinz Field. His completion percentage on the road was down under Arians by 3%, his interceptions were slightly up, but Ben Roethlisberger’s passer rating took a hit on the road under Arians of about ten points. However, the differential between Ben Roethlisberger’s winning percentage at Heinz Field and on the road under Bruce Arians was double what it was under Ken Whisenhunt.

  • So how does Ben Roethlisberger’s record road record and home record vary under Todd Haley’s first four years?

Here’s where the numbers get interesting:

Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger road record Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger statistics Todd Haley

Ben Roethlisberger & Todd Haley at home & away

First, his overall winning percentage under Todd Haley is down, which is part is due to the fact that the Steelers, contrary to Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s protests, were rebuilding in 2012 and 2013.

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  • And that should show you just how much Ben Roethisberger means to the Steelers.

Because Ben Roethlisberger’s performance, in terms of accuracy, throwing more interceptions, and sacks is better under Todd Haley than it was under Bruce Arians. So credit Todd Haley with doing something right. But don’t pat him on the back too hard….

…You can see that under Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger’s performance at home is better than his performance on the road. His completion percentage is stable on the road, but his sack number are up, his interceptions numbers are similar to what they were under Arians, but Ben Roethisberger is throwing far fewer touchdowns on the road, and his passer rating reflects it.

Under Todd Haley’s first four years, for the first time in his career, Ben Roethlisberger has a below .500 winning percentage on the road.

Ben Roethlisberger’s Home and Road Records with Todd Haley by Season

How do these trend play out on a season-by-season basis? The numbers don’t tell us a whole lot, but they do suggest but it is the tendency suggests an alarming trend.

Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger road reacord 2012, Ben Roethlisberger home record 2012, Ben Roethlisberger Todd Haley 2012

Ben Roethlisberger’s road record and home records for 2012

In 2012, there was little difference between Ben Rothlisberger’s performance at home and on the road, except that his winning percentages away from Heinz Field began to dip, but other factors probably account for that.

Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger road record 2013, Ben Roethlisberger passing statistics 2013, Ben Roethlisberger Todd Haley 2013

Ben Roethlisberger’s road record and home records for 2013

Ben Roethlisberger’s performance at Heinz Field in 2013 and on the road was very similar, except that his winning percentage was down, but like 2012 this was probably due to other factors.

Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger home and away record 2014, Ben Roethlisberger statistics 2014, Ben Roethlisberger Todd Haley 2014

Ben Roethlisberger’s road record and home record for 2014

In 2014, Ben Roethlisberger’s road record remains stable, but his performance away from Heinz Field begins to dip in a couple of key areas.

Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger road record 2015, Ben Roetlhisberger statistics 2015

Ben Roethlisberger’s on the road and @ home in 2015

Many of Ben’s performance metrics on the road and at home are stable across the first four years of Todd Haley’s tenure, but the difference in Ben Roethsiberger on the road and Ben Roethlisberger at home gets noticeably bigger in 2014 and 2015 – which lay outside of the Steelers current rebuilding window.

It is in 2014 and 2015 that Ben Roethlisberger starts taking more sacks on the road than he does at home. His touchdown numbers plummet (although they were bad in 2013 too) and his completion percentage dropped by 6% in 2015. Worse yet, Ben Roethlisberger’s winning percentage on the road fell to its worst level in 2015.

Ben Roethlisberger’s Road Record in 2016…

So how are the trends holding up halfway into the 2016 season. Quite frankly, the early returns are not good:

Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger road record 2016, Ben Roethlisberger statistics 2016

Ben Roethlisberger at home & away 8 games into 2016

If you had to write a book on the 2016 Steelers at this point you would title it “A Tale of Two Roethlisbergers.” He’s really looking like two separate quarterbacks at Heinz Field and on the road.

To be fair to Ben NO ONE played well in Philadelphia. And in Miami and at Baltimore Ben was injured. Likewise, against Miami his defense was missing Cameron Heyward and Ryan Shazier, who define the concept of “Difference maker.” Likewise, in Miami Todd Haley inexplicably abandoned the run in a game when Le’Veon Bell was looking like he could take over the game.

And, for most of the season, the Steelers have rotated 4th or 5th WR’s alongside Antonio Brown.

Will Ben Roethlisberger’s Road Struggles Continue?

What to make of all of this? Somewhere out there are probably statics on how a quarterback’s play drops off on the road. My guess is that Ben Roethlisberger’s road record under Ken Whisenhunt was probably better than that average, that it was probably at about that average under Bruce Arians, and is below that under Todd Haley.

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Late in their careers, word was that Peyton Manning couldn’t play in the cold and that the wheels fell off Brett Favre after Thanksgiving.

  • Could the late game story on Ben Roethlisberger be that he struggles on the road?

The raw numbers suggest that, but it is impossible and unfair to make that assertion without assessing the performance of the entire defense along with other offensive skill players in question during the timeframes we’re looking it.

Ben Roethlisberger made a name for himself in his second year by leading his team to Super Bowl XL with three straight playoff wins on the road. But the numbers do not lie. Under Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger’s road record shows that he struggles when he’s away from  Heinz Field and it would be ironic if that trend defines the latter part of his career.

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2016 Pittsburgh Steelers are for Real. Just as Steelers Nation Thought They Were

From the moment they lost in heartbreaking fashion to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs last January, the Steelers were considered heavy favorites to be champions of the 2016 season.

The hype not only seemed sincere, as it came from the players, the media (both local and national) and, of course the fans, but it never waned, even in the face of the season-long drug suspension for receiver Martavis Bryant, the three-game drug suspension for running back Le’Veon Bell, and, of course, the questions surrounding a questionable defense.

As Pittsburgh prepared to face the Redskins Monday night, in a Week 1 match-up at FedExField, I must say I felt pretty darn confident. When asked to give a prediction–both as a writer and as a relative (my brother always asks me for a score)–I said, “31-13.”

2016 steelers, 2016 steelers season opener, antonio brown, steelers vs. redskins

Antonio Brown shreds the Redskins defense in the Steelers 2016 season opener. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune-Review

And this wasn’t some homer bias on my part (I usually save the lopsided predictions for the playoffs), I truly believed the Steelers, the AFC’s sixth seed a year ago, far outclassed the talents of Washington, the NFC East’s champion from 2015.

What was the famous postgame quote screamed by late head coach Dennis Green following a depressing loss to the Bears? “They are who we thought they were!

  • While the Steelers weren’t exactly flawless in their 2016 debut on Monday Night Football, once they got rolling, they looked about as dominant as one would hope.

Pittsburgh was trailing 6-0 late in the first quarter. The offense hadn’t done much in its first two drives. In-fact, following a punt on the first series, the Steelers second possession ended when a pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger deflected off the hands of young receiver Eli Rogers and was intercepted.

  • But following another near-turnover on the third offensive possession, the Steelers began to take control of the game and never really looked back.

What started as a 6-0 deficit, became a 24-6 advantage by the third quarter on the way to a 38-16 pasting of the Redskins before a national audience.

Ben Roethlsiberger looked as efficient as ever, as he completed 27 of 37 passes for 305 yards and a touchdown. Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns–and it almost “seemed” like an off night for him, as he battled premium corner Josh Norman off and on throughout the game.

And what can you say about veteran running back DeAngelo Williams? Twenty-five carries for 138 yards and two touchdowns. It says a lot about the abilities of the 33-year old as he fills in for Bell during his suspension, but it also says a lot about an offensive line that actually may be the best in the NFL.

Back in the late 2000s, the Steelers had a dominant defense complete with studs at every position. I don’t really have to name them, but, in-addition to Roethlisberger’s franchise quarterback-status, Dick LeBeau‘s unit gave the team legitimacy as a Super Bowl-contender. You didn’t have to wonder whether or not all-world players like Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, James Farrior, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith were going to show up each and every week and make life miserable for their opponents on offense.

  • You just knew they would.

I have that same feeling about the current Steelers offense. They scored 38 points on Monday night, and quite frankly, I don’t see many weeks in-which they don’t at least threaten to score that amount.

As for the defense, it wasn’t necessarily stout, as it surrendered 384 total yards. But there was only one touchdown allowed on the evening, and linebacker Ryan Shazier may have made the pivotal play of the evening, when he intercepted a Kirk Cousins pass and paved the way for the 26-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Brown that broke the game open in the third quarter.

Having a dominant defense is ideal, but if you can’t have that, an opportunistic one is often all that’s needed. A year ago, the Steelers defense did something it hadn’t been able to do for years, and that was take the football away. After averaging just 19 takeaways between 2011-2014, Pittsburgh had 30 in 2015. Despite having the 30th ranked pass defense, the Steelers allowed just under 20 points per game, and part of that had to do with coming up with timely picks and fumbles–often when the other team was driving for a score.

Sure, there was some luck involved, Monday evening (in-addition to Roethlisberger’s fumble that was nearly recovered by the Redskins, a pass into the end zone  that should have been intercepted, was caught for a touchdown by Rogers after it was deflected right to him), but what did the legendary Chuck Noll used to say? “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Whether or not the Steelers are crowned champions at the end of this season  remains to be seen, but  they definitely are who we thought they were.

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Pittsburgh Steelers History vs Washington Redskins

The Pittsburgh Steelers history vs. the Washington Redskins includes 77 contests played over the course of 83 years.

The record reflects that the Washington holds the advantage over Pittsburgh. Overall, the Steelers record vs. the Redskins is 33-43-4. However, the Steelers are 7-4 vs. the Redskins since Chuck Noll’s arrival in Pittsburgh in 1969. The Steelers 2016 season opener on Monday Night Football at FedEx Field will mark the 78 installment of this series.

Art Rooney Sr. was the polar opposite to both George Preston Marshall and Jack Kent Cooke. And about the only similarity between Daniel Rooney and Daniel Snyder is the their first name.

Even if the rest of Steelers Nation isn’t ready to get the pitchforks out for the Redskins, the Steelers history vs. the Washington Redskins has provided a lot of memorable games – for both franchises. With the help of Tony Defeo we recount them here.

Scroll down or click on the link below.

LaMarr Woodley sacks Jason Campbell in Steelers 2008 win over Redskins. Photo Credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

LaMarr Woodley sacks Jason Campbell in Steelers 2008 win over Redskins. Photo Credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

1979 – Super Steelers Peak Against Redskins

November 4, 1979 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 38, Washington 7

Terry Bradshaw had his best day passing, to that point in his career. Both Lynn Swann and John Stallworth caught for over 100 yards, for only the second time in their careers. Chuck Noll’s offense totaled 545 yards – his best effort to that point. The Steelers scored 38 points against a Redskins team that entered the game as the stingiest defense in points allowed. It was the worst Redskins loss since 1970… And did we mention that Bradshaw missed most of the second half with a concussion?

  • If the Super Steelers of the 70’s had a single peak moment, the 1979 Redskins victory would be a candidate.

Joe Theismann describes the Redskins effort as “Embarrassing.” John Riggins conceded to John Clayton, then of the Pittsburgh Press:

They’re the defending Super Bowl Champs, and they’re playing at the top of their game now. You expect them to when November rolls around. That’s when the giants tart to wake from their slumber. They were awake today.

Indeed, in addition to the touchdown John Stallworth’s two touchdowns, Terry Bradshaw threw scores to Bennie Cunningham and Randy Grossman, while Rick Moser (who?) scored the Steelers final touchdown. Donnie Shell and Mel Blount both recorded interceptions.

The win over Washington marked the third straight week the 1979 Steelers demolished a playoff contender, with victories over Denver and Dallas preceding it, followed by another win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Key Takeaway from Steelers vs Washington Redskins History: 2 weeks later the 1979 Steelers fell 35-7, suffering their worst defeat in San Diego at the hands of Don Coryell, whose offense was coached by a then-obscure offensive coordinator named Joe Gibbs….

1985 – Redskins “Officially” Send Steelers into 80’s Mediocrity Era

November 24, 1985 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Washington 30, Pittsburgh 23

The 1984 Steelers had shocked the NFL by winning the AFC Central, upsetting John Elway at Mile High in the Divisional Playoff game and knocking on heaven’s door by reaching the AFC Championship. 1985 started with the bang of Mark Malone’s 5 touchdown game vs. the Colts. But that win was led to a 3-5 record at midseason, when a Malone injury led to David Woodley getting the starting nod, who led Pittsburgh to 3 straight wins.

  • Unfortunately, stomach flu would sideline Woodley, forcing Scott Campbell into his first NFL action.

Change was also the watch word in Washington. A week before Lawrence Taylor had sacked Joe Theismann, knocking out of the game and ending his career. Jay Schroeder responded by rallying the Redskins to victory, and started his first game against the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium.

Scott Campbell played a respectable first half, connecting with Louis Lipps and Rich Erenberg to tie the score at the half. However, the Redskins owned the second half, with the Steelers only managing two Gary Anderson field goals as John Riggins ran for a touchdown, while Mark Mosley knocked in two more.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: The 1985 loss to the Redskins dropped the Steelers record to 6-6, signaling 7-9 finish and introducing an era of Pittsburgh would find itself mired in mediocrity.

1988 – Young Steelers Suffer Serious Growing Pains vs. Redskins

September 11, 1988 @ RFK Stadium
Washington 30, Pittsburgh 29

Chuck Noll’s 1988 Steelers won the franchise’s first game without Art Rooney Sr. a week earlier against Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys. Could this young Steelers team upset the Super Bowl champions?

  • For 3 and 3/4 quarters, the 1988 Steelers teased that they could.

Bubby Brister showcased his rocket like arm and his mobility. First hitting Louis Lipps on an 80 pass were Lipps burned future Hall of Famer Darrell Green. Brister then scrabbled for a touchdown, although mistake that proved costly, Harry Newsome bobbled the snap, and the Steelers missed the extra point.

The Redskins pulled a point ahead as the fourth quarter began, but Brister hit Dwight Stone over the middle, Stone zinged past Wilber Marshall and ran 70 yards untouched for a touchdown. Gary Anderson knocked in his 3rd field goal of the game. Midway through the 4th quarter, the Steelers had a nine point lead…

…Yet, in what would be a recurring theme during the 1988 season, Tony Dungy’s defense failed to defend a 4th quarter lead. The Redskins scored quickly on a 74 yard drive, and then Darrell Green returned a punt 13 yards to the Steelers 44, setting up an easy field goal drive.

Just how bad was the Steelers defense? After the game Doug Williams confided in Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I played terrible in the first half. The offensive line gave me time, and I wasn’t doing my job.” For the record, Williams had what was then a second best passing day for a Redskins quarterback completing 30 of 52 passes for 430 yards.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: The 1988 Steelers would lose several close games like this. But the great individual efforts that powered those “almost wins” revealed that these Steelers had real potential, something that the 1989 Steelers would realize. None of that was apparent as Pittsburgh finished 1988 at 5-11.

1991 – Redskins Render Steelers as Road Kill on Ride to Super Bowl XXVI

November 17th, 1991 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Washington 41, Pittsburgh 14

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins both entered the 1991 season with something to prove. In 1990, the Redskins had gone fallen in the NFC Divisional Playoffs a 49ers team that many assumed were en route to their 5th Super Bowl.

  • The loss carried extra sting in Washington, because only a few years before, it was the Redskins, and not the 49ers who’d been dubbed “The team of the 80’s.”

Although 80’s were over, another Super Bowl would put Redskins back in the conversation.

In contrast, the 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers had shocked the world, overcoming a disastrous start and a regular season that saw them shut out 3 times, only to see them make the playoffs and upset the Oilers in the Astrodome. In 1990 however, the Steelers limped to a 9-7 record, as inconsistency and an inability to win divisional games cost them a playoff game. Steelers Digest Bob Labriola editor remarked that 1990 marked the year the Steelers had either learned to win or to lose games.

  • The Steelers entered 1991 hoping to prove that learned to win.

Sadly, by the time the Redskins arrived at Three Rivers Stadium in week 11, Washington already had an 11-0 record, while Steelers held a 4-6 record, which wasn’t nearly as good as it looked.

The Redskins trashed the Steelers that day, as a Mark Rypien to Art Monk 63 yard hookup led to a 1 yard Gerald Riggs touchdown just four plays into the game. By half time the Redskins led 17-0. After three quarters the Redskins led 27-0.

  • Then the Steelers did what those 1990 and 1991 Chuck Noll teams did all too well – the teased.

Neil O’Donnell hooked up with Adrian Cooper and then Dwight Stone early in the 4th quarter to cut the
Redskin’s lead to 13. Suddenly, it seemed like the Steelers had a chance. Of course they didn’t. Ricky Sanders and Gary Clark hooked up with Rypein from 49 and 40 yards to reestablish the Redskin’s 27 point margin.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: Chuck Noll may hold a 2-1 advantage over Bill Walsh, but the Emperor was 0-3 vs. Joe Gibbs, a statistic that reveals just how great of a coach Joe Gibbs was – and that comes from someone who grew up actively rooting against Gibbs’ Redskins.

1997 – 3 Scappy Steelers Interceptions Seal the Deal

September 7, 1997 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 14, Washington 13

Just like in 1988, Pittsburgh opened the season with back-to-back games against Dallas and Washington. And like 1988, the Steelers were facing a Cowboys Super Bowl coach who would ultimately be heading into his final campaign. But unlike 1988, the Dallas Cowboys had come into Three Rivers Stadium, trashing the Steelers to the tune of 37-7.

  • So the Redskins arrived in Pittsburgh facing a Steelers team looking for a comeback to defuse the “Free Agency is ruining the Steelers” stories that were a stable of 1990’s.

The Steelers got their comeback win, but the outcome was in doubt until the final gun. For the record, Kordell Stewart rushed for one touchdown, to open the scoring and Jerome Bettis closed it with another touchdown. But the Steelers defense wrote the real story of the game.

Twice in the first half Gus Frerotte led the Washington deep into the Red Zone, and twice Pittsburgh’s defense picked off his pass in the end zone, with Darren Perry and Levon Kirkland splitting the honors. Following Bettis’ touchdown, Frerotte ripped off a perfect pass to Michael Westbrook, only to have Randy Fuller, he of 1995 AFC Championship fame, deflected the pass.

The Redskins had one final chance following the 2 minute warning and threatened to reach field goal range when Jason Gildon tipped a pass that Chris Oldham picked off, ending the game.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: This game established the 1997 Steelers as a scrappy, team that could rally to beat just about anyone during the regular season.

2000 – Steelers Scalp Redskins to Close Three Rivers Stadium

December 16, 2000 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 24, Washington 3

If ever there was a case study in contrast to who Daniel Rooney and Daniel Snyder run their franchises, the Steelers 2000 victory over the Redskins offers the perfect example.

The 2000 off season marked Daniel Snyder’s first full year as Redskins owner, and he made no bones about breaking from the past. Upon assuming control of the team, Snyder summarily fired dozens of Redskins first office workers, many secretaries and administrative staff, some who’d had decades of service to the team.

  • That meant less to Snyder than showing everyone a new chief was in charge.

The offseason also saw Snyder the first of many off season Lombardi Trophies by signing any and every big name free agent the Redskins could fit under their salary cap. Washingtonians drank the Kool-Aid. Deion Sanders signing earned a front page story in the Washington Post and 2 and a quarter full pages from the sports section. Fans called into radio shows predicting an undefeated season.

Prior to the season opener, an owner at the Wheaton Athletic Club remarked to a patron, “…I’m tired of hearing about Tampa’s injured players. A win is going to be a win.” The client’s response, “Yeah. And a Super Bowl is gonna be a Super Bowl.”

  • Given that the Steelers were coming off a 6-10 season, Redskins fans figured the final game at Three Rivers Stadium would be a road sign route to Lombardi number 4. If they thought of it at all.

By reality unfolds at its own pace. The 2000 Steelers started 0-3, but rallied with 5 straight wins and held a 7-7 record heading into their matchup against Washington. Meanwhile, at 7-6 but on a two game losing streak, Snyder fired Norv Turner. Before the Steelers game, interim coach Terry Robiskie was forced to admit that he’d need to clear any quarterback changes with Snyder.

  • The game itself was a work of beauty. A better send off for Three Rivers Stadium could not be had.

Jerome Bettis rumbled for 104 yards, and Deion Sanders pulled back rather than try to tackle. Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington intercepted Jeff George, Snyder’s anointed starter, two times while future Super Bowl quarterback Brad Johnson watched from the bench.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: When Daniel Snyder objects to Myron Cope’s “Wash Redfaces” nickname for the Redskins, Cope mocks Snyder on the air declaring: “If that boy billionaire thinks he can shut me up, he can take his head and stick it in a bucket of paint.”

2004 – Jerome Bettis Ties Franco Harris Record for 100 Yard Games

November 28th, 2004 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 16, Washington 10

Joe Gibbs return from retirement heading into the 2004 season was one of the biggest stories, as one of the most underrated coaches (nationally) would seek to revive the fortunes of a once proud fantasy. The Pittsburgh Steelers, following their 6-10 2003 campaign, were supposed to be in “Rebuilding” mode, as rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was to get an apprentice year behind Tommy Maddox.

  • But of course things seldom workout as planned.

The Steelers entered their week 12 matchup vs. Washington with a 9-1 record, while Gibbs Redskins had a 3-7 mark. But again, what looked to be a mismatch on paper, turned out to be something very different in reality.

The 2004 Redskins defense was deceptively good, holding the Steelers to a 13-0 lead at half time, thanks to two Jeff Reed Field goal and a Jerome Bettis touchdown (set up by a Antwaan Randle El punt return.) In the third quarter the Redskins made it look like they’d give Pittsburgh a run for their money, as Patrick Ramsey hooked up with Chris Cooley to make the score 13-7.

But another Jeff Reed Field goal, followed by a Deshea Townsend put the game out of reach as on a day where Clark Haggans, Joey Porter and Aaron Smith teamed to sack Patrick Ramsey 5 times.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: With his 4ths straight 100 yard game, Jerome Bettis tied Franco Harris’ franchise record for 100 yard games. Not bad for a player supposedly getting a “scholarship” year.

2008 – Steelers Nation Anexxes over Fed ExField

November 3, 2008 @ FedEx Field
Pittsburgh 23, Washington 6

For a Steelers fan who grew up in Metro Washington DC subjected to an endless stream of “Are you a Redskins fan?” “No,” “Then you’re a Cowboy in Redskins territory….” The Steelers 2008 Monday night win at FedEx Field was a portrait of glory.

Fans forget in hindsight that this game did not start out well for the Steelers. Bob Ligashesky’s special teams botched a surprise on-sides kick to open the game, followed by another Steelers turnover deep in their own territory. Redskins fans at FedEx Field were fired up, as Washington led for the first 29:28 of the first half until Ben Roethlisberger put the Steelers ahead with a rushing touchdown.

  • With Byron Leftwich taking over for an injured Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers defense took over.

James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley, Nick Eason, Aaron Smith, James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons, who saw his first extended action – at outside linebacker, combined for 7 sacks, and Tyrone Carter end a Jason Campbell streak of 271 passes without an interception.

Best of all, before it was all over, Steelers fans had taken over FedEx Field to the point where the Redskins were forced to use a silent count.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: Jim Zorn’s Redskins were 5-2 heading into the game, looking to make “statement.” Instead, the Steelers made a statement that they were serious Super Bowl contenders.

2012 – Dick LeBeau Schools RGIII

October 12, 2012 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 27, Washington 12

In 2012 Robert Griffith III, or RG3 was a rookie sensation that was shaking the NFL. After just 7 games pundit were already saying that RG3 was doing what Doug Flutie, Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb had promised to do in earlier generations – prove that you could win big with a non-pocket passer.

  • Worse yet, the Steelers 2012 defense had been shaky, having failed to protect 4th quarter leads on 3 separate occasions.

Dick LeBeau answered by unleashing his defensive backs on the Redskins wide receivers, and the Steelers corners and safeties hit hard. This led to numerous drops on the part of the Redskins’ receivers. On offense, Todd Haley did his best Ron Ernhart impression, as the Steelers fed the ball to Jonathan Dwyer and dominated time of possession, keeping the ball for over 33 minutes as the Steelers beat the Redskins 27-12.

Key Steelers history vs Washington Redskins Takeaway: Dick LeBeau improves his record to 15-1 against rookie quarterbacks. For the Record RGIII finished the day 16-34-177, 1 touchdown and 8 yards rushing. Need we say more?

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Steelers Sign Javon Hargrave – Is Hargrave a Cameron Heyward or a Stephon Tuitt?

The “Official” wind down of Pittsburgh’s OTA’s saw the Steelers sign Javon Hargrave, the 3rd round defensive lineman out of FCS South Carolina State where he twice won the SBN Sports Mel Blount Defensive Player of the Year.

steelers, 3rd round pick, defensive lineman, javon hargrave, otas

Steelers 3rd round pick Javon Hargrave; Photo credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Extended rookie hold outs have been rare for over a decade and rookie contracts have become so pro-forma since the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement that some players opt not to use an agent – far cry from 1990 when Neil O’Donnell, the Steelers 3rd round pick held out deep into August.

No, there was never any question Javon Hargrave was going to arrive at St. Vincent’s Latrobe signed and suited up for action with the rest of the Steelers 2016 draft class. The biggest question surrounding Javon Hargrave’s rookie year with the Steelers comes down to this:

That might seem like an odd question, given that the Steelers drafted Hargrave to play nose tackle while providing rotational relief at both defensive end positions but the analogy is very apt. Why? Well, comes times an infographic is worth 1,360 words:

Johnny Mitchell, rookie starts, steelers defensive line, casey hampton, stephon tuitt

Steelers rookies not named Casey Hampton rarely start for Johnny Mitchell

When that inforgraphic first appeared in 2014, no Steelers rookie not names Casey Hampton had started on Johnny Mitchell’s defensive lines. OK, at the beginning of Mitchell’s tenure Brensten Buckner and later Orpheus Roye made a few starts. But since then, all rookies, including Aaron Smith, Ziggy Hood and even Cameron Heyward never got a starting nod. I wrote a lengthy piece on this for BTSC’s 2014 Renegade, which you can read at length here.

But history has changed since then.

  • Or perhaps more precisely, Stephon Tuitt has changed history since then.

Stephon Tuitt started four games as a rookie in 2014, and in doing so he registered a sack and forced a key fumble. Tuitt in fact started the final four games of 2014, which also happened to feature the best four defensive performances of the Steelers that season.

But it’s also true that the Steelers never for a second considered started Cam Thomas over Tuitt when Keisel went down. And that represented a 180 degree shift in the thinking of Mike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau and Johnny Mitchell, who watched Cam Thomas struggle when he rotated in for Heyward or Keisel early in the year, but nonetheless kept Tuitt on the bench.

If all goes according to plan (meaning there are no injuries), Heyward, Tuitt and veteran Dan McCullers will start all season long for the Steelers. But it would be nice if Hargrave showed enough for the coaches to turn to him instead of Ricardo Mathews should one of the big three fall.

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How Long Does It Take to Grade an NFL Draft? 5 Years & the Steelers 2011 Draft Class Shows Why

How long does it take to grade an NFL Draft class? Google “2016 NFL Draft Grades” you’ll get 3,980,000 returns. OK, the 2016 NFL Draft hasn’t generated 4 million report cards, but there’s no shortage of grading done on a draft that’s less than a week old.

steelers, draft, grade, steelers draft grades, a plus

Image Credit: Real Sport 101

  • Instant draft grades are understandable, enjoyable but ultimately meaningless.

True NFL draft evaluation takes years. How many? Well, Dale Lolley suggests 3 years suffices. That’s reasonable. Four years offers a natural number because that’s when players become free agents. A draft class has certainly revealed a lot about itself in four years.

  • But 5 years is really the magic number when it comes to draft evaluation.

Were Chuck Noll still with us, he would applaud. 5 Years might seem a little too long to wait, and 5 years certainly is an eternity a Twitterized, update by the second sports landscape. But think about it. IT makes a lot of sense, and the Steelers 2011 Draft Class provides a compelling example.

Why Wait 5 Years to Evaluate a Draft?

Let’s concede that 5 years IS a long time to wait to grade an NFL draft class, especially when you consider that the average pro football career is 4 years. But, as your statistics teacher told you (or will tell you) the mean gives you the balance point of your data set.

  • For an NFL draft class that half of every NFL draft class is out of the league by the end of year four.

That also means that by year five you’re going to a meaningful body of work, or “data set” if you will, on everyone from that class. Guys who hung on simply because they were playing on inexpensive rookie contracts will be out of the league by then.

Others who were late bloomers (think Brett Keisel) will have established themselves. Players who might not have been a good fit for the team the drafted them will have found success elsewhere (think James Farrior and Ryan Mundy).

  • That sounds logical on paper, but 5 years STILL seems like too long a time.

A look at the evolution of the Steelers 2011 Draft Class shows why prudent draft evaluations come after 5 years.

Evolution of the Steelers 2011 NFL Draft Class

Drafting second to last in each round is the price you pay for making it to the Super Bowl and losing, but despite that the Steelers 2011 Draft was well received. Kevin Colbert labled the Steelers first pick as a historic day for the franchise. The Steelers met their needs, at least theoretically.

  • Cameron Heyward, the Steelers 2011 first round pick did not play much that season.

That’s no surprise, as Aaron Smith started the season, Brett Keisel was still in his prime, and Ziggy Hood had finished 2010 with a bang (yes, its true, people forget that.) Marcus Gilbert got a baptism by fire when Willie Colon was lost for the season and won the rookie of the year award. And Cortez Allen saw spot duty, but showed a lot of promising signs.

  • Still, no meaningful evaluation of the 2011 Draft class was possible at season’s end.

In 2012 Steelers Nation got to see more. Chris Carter got some starts while James Harrison was out, but could not hold off Jason Worilds. Cam Heyward got playing time but still didn’t start. Baron Batch returned from injury, but wasn’t the same (or the flashes he’d shown prior to tearing his ACL weren’t just that, flashes.) Marcus Gilbert started the season, but was out most of the year injured.

  • Cortez Allen started late in the year and looked like Mel Butler Woodson.

After two years, it looked like some meaningful conclusions on the Steelers 2011 were Possible. But were they…?

Evaluation of Cameron Heyward was mixed. Some pointed to per-snap production stats that were far better than Ziggy Hood’s. Others concluded his failure to start was a warning sign of an impending bust. Some concluded that the Steelers decision to draft Mike Adams might spell trouble for Marcus Gilbert. Curtis Brown hadn’t shown anything when he got on the field.

  • The Steelers 2011 draft class did begin to sort itself out during 2013 – to a point.

Cam Heyward emerged as the stud that the Steelers drafted him to be, relegating Ziggy Hood to the bench. Marcus Gilbert’s start to the season was shaky, but by season’s end he had the starting job, and a new contract locked down. Cortez Allen got injured, and struggled a little, but finished strong. Chris Carter showed he wasn’t the answer, in contrast, and Baron Batch never made the final roster.

  • By the end of 2014, the argument for closing the books on a grade for the 2011 draft class was strong.

Cameron Heyward continued to terrorize offenses, while Marcus Gilbert quietly settled into becoming one of the better right tackles in the league. Curtis Brown and Baron Batch were out of football (as was Keith Williams). Chris Carter was bouncing around the league.

  • Yet Cortez Allen remained an enigma.

The Steelers thought enough of his first three seasons of production and his work in preseason to extend his contract. And based on past experience with Steelers DB’s, Cortez Allen looked poised to have a breakout year. Except he didn’t. He struggled in coverage. He lost his starting job, then was benched, then went to IR.

  • By season’s end, four year’s had elapsed since the Steelers made their picks in 2011 NFL Draft, yet a definitive grade remained elusive.

A Cortez Allen rebound could transform and “OK” grade on the Steelers 2011 Draft to a good or even great one. Alas, Cortez Allen didn’t rebound. Either because of injury or aptitude, he didn’t play outside of the Steelers opener vs. New England and went on IR earlier in the year. Last month the Steelers cut Cortez Allen.

Waiting 5 years to grade an NFL Draft Class isn’t sexy and it won’t win you many page clicks. But if you really want a meaningful draft evaluation, then you really must way 5 years.

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Steelers 2016 Draft Needs @ Defensive End – Need Depth Behind Heyward and Tuitt

Fairly or unfairly tackles, linebackers and defensive backs have long overshadowed defensive ends in Pittsburgh Steelers defenses, as the Steelers went 21 years between drafting defensive ends with a first round pick.

Yet, after drafting Aaron Jones in 1988* then Ziggy Hood in 2009, the Steelers only waited two years to draft to use another first rounder on Cam Heyward in 2011. Twice as much time has elapsed since then so the question must be asked, will the Steelers look to draft another defensive end in in the 2016 NFL Draft? Should they? Let’s take a look.

*Pittsburgh drafted Huey Richardson as a linebacker in 1991, but since 2011 the Steelers Media Guide has listed Richardson as a DE. Steel Curtain Rising rejects such Orwellian attempts to re-write history.

Steelers Depth Chart @ Defensive End Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starters

In Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt the Pittsburgh Steelers field their strongest pair of defensive ends since the days of Dwight White and L.C. Greenwood.

  • Yes folks, we just went there.

That’s no disrespect to Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, both of whom proved themselves worthy of successors on the Steel Curtain, but Smith and Kesiel’s careers peaked at different times. Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler, Johnny Mitchell and Steelers Nation are more fortunate with Heyward and Tuitt.

When the Steelers picked Cameron Heyward first in 2011, Kevin Colbert labeled it a “historic day for the franchise.” The Steelers general manager was right on the money there, as Heyward has not only arrived as a hell raiser on the field, but also as a leader off of the field.

Why Heyward started 2013 on the bench with Hood starting remains a mystery, but Heyward’s ascension to the starting lineup and the reversal of the Steelers 0-4 start are in no way coincidental. In 5 seasons, Hewyard has 22 sacks, 15 passes defensed and a whole lot of other impact plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

Stephon Tuitt is only entering his third year, but already he has proven himself as an impact player on the Steelers defense. In 2015 Tuitt had 6.5 sacks and one interception and this is a player who still has a lot of “upside.”

Steelers Depth Cart Defensive End @ Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups

For all of the accolades heaped on Heyward and Tuitt, the brutal reality is that the Steelers have little or no depth behind him. Yes, the Steelers will return 2015’s 6th round pick L.T. Walton to the line up, but he only had 6 spot appearances in 2015. Beyond L.T. Walton, the Steelers also signed Ricardo Mathews, a journeyman defensive lineman who can play both end and nose tackle if necessary.

Kevin Colbert caused alarm in Steelers Nation when he picked up Caushaud Lyons from the waiver wire, thus exposing Doran Grant.

Grant returned both to the practice squad and then to the active roster, where Lyons held a spot all season long, but never got in any game action.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2016

Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Defensive End

At defensive end the Steelers sport two stud starters, and have three backups who offer untested potential. The Steelers philosophy at defensive line is evolving under Keith Butler, but that is unlikely to alter Johnny Mitchell’s long-time philosophy of rotating his defensive linemen, something he was unable to do much in 2015.

  • That means that the Steelers won’t look to defensive end in rounds one or two.

But picking a defensive lineman after that might not be a bad idea, if a quality one remains on the board, but that would also assume that the Steelers have addressed more pressing needs, a defensive end really is a best available athlete on the board.

All things considered the Steelers 2016 draft need at defensive end must be considered Moderate.

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