Steelers 2019 Draft Needs Matrix

The 2019 NFL Draft is just hours away and when it does the Pittsburgh Steelers will have already logged one of the most unusual off seasons in franchise history.

  • They’ve traded away their best player for near fire sale value
  • The national media has piled on the team and its franchise quarterback
  • Kevin Colbert has been uncharacteristically aggressive in free agency

The latter point is the one that is most relevant one to keep in mind. A year ago the Steelers responded to the playoff disaster against Jacksonville by making piecemeal moves in free agency, and defying the critics and going offense heavy in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Steelers 2019 pre draft press conference

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin at their 2019 pre draft press conference.

This year Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin moved swiftly to address the Steelers most glaring roster needs by signing cornerback Steven Nelson, inside linebacker Mark Barron and wide receiver Donte Moncrief.

  • While Kevin Colbert denies those moves will impact the Steelers draft decisions, don’t believe him.

Whether the freshly signed free agents turn out to be the next Ladarius Greens and Mike Mitchells or the next James Farriors and Ryan Clarks isn’t relevant tonight. What is relevant is that the Steelers have inoculated themselves against having to reach to fill need in with one of their premium picks.

And just what are the Steelers needs heading into the 2019 NFL Draft?

Steelers 2019 NFL Draft Needs

Over the last month, with a whale of an effort from staff writer Tony Defeo, Steel Curtain Rising has broken down the Steelers need on a position by position basis. Now that all is said and done, the Steelers areas of need break down into 3 tiers.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2018 NFL Draft

At the top you have cornerback and inside linebacker identified as areas of High-Moderate need, followed by wide receiver and running back which clock in at Moderate-High.

In the middle tier, you have tight end, defensive line, outside linebacker and safety which are of Moderate need.

In the bottom tier you have offensive line which is of Low-Moderate need and quarterback which is of Low need.

There’s a lot of clustering there, so how do we break the ties? For that you have our annual Steelers 2019 Draft Need Matrix.

Steelers 2019 Draft Need Matrix

The premise of the Steelers draft needs matrix is simple – it is a guide to who the Steelers should pick in the event their on the clock and have two or more players with the same grade on them. Here is the Steelers 2019 Draft Needs Matrix:

Steelers 2019 Draft Needs Matrix, Steelers 2019 Draft Needs

Inside linebacker beats cornerback by a hair. Both are positions where the Steelers could and should draft to meet immediate future need. Inside linebacker wins out because the Steelers have more bodies at cornerback i.e. Cam Sutton, Brian Allen and dare we hope Artie Burns who could still contribute.

  • Whereas Jon Bostic is the only legitimate player behind Vince Williams and Mark Barron.

Running back will surprise many. And so it should. James Washington is the X factor in the quest to replace Antonio Brown. If he pans out as reporters and coaches assure use he will, the Steelers will be OK. If not, the Steelers will fall hard this autumn.

However, as is the case with inside linebacker and cornerback, the Steelers have more bodies at wide receiver than they do at running back. We’ve written time and time again how a dearth of running back depth as derailed the Steelers in December. Adding a third running back to play along side James Conner and Jaylen Samuels could go a long way to rectifying that chronic problem.

Wide receiver beats safety because of the above mentioned X factor and the simple reality that Ben Roethlisberger no longer has a Hall of Fame talent to target. Safety trumps outside linebacker because Anthony Chickillo has shown he can contribute at a far greater level than Marcus Allen or Jordan Dangerfield.

  • Outside linebacker beats out tight end because the Steelers might need to replace Bud Dupree before Vance McDonald sniffs free agency.

Tight end beating out defensive line is a no brainer. The Steelers could use more depth at defensive line, but they’re OK there. But defensive line depth clearly outshines the need to use a mid or even late round pick on a quarterback for a third straight year.

The NFL Draft – The Day Dreams Come True

Who will the Steelers pick in the first round? Will Devin Bush fall to him, or will Kevin Colbert engineer his first day one draft trade since picking Troy Polamalu in 2003? Or might they look to corernback, and draft Rock Ya-Sin, Bryon Murphy, or Greedy Williams? Or perhaps they’ll tap a safety again, such as Justin Thronhill or Darnell Savage?

  • Maybe they’ll surprise everyone and grab a tight end or a wide receiver?
  • I don’t pretend to know who that person will be any more than I’ll pretend to pontificate on who that person should be.

But every boy who ever wrapped his hands around a Nerf football and yapped out a bogus snap count has dreamed of playing in the NFL. And for a few hundred young men, that dream is about to become true. Let’s give those young men their day and wish the good luck and God speed in the NFL.

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Steelers 2019 Draft Needs @ Wide Receiver — Life Without Antonio Brown

The Steelers have boasted one of the most talented and productive receiving corps in the NFL in recent years, especially last season when both Antonio Brown and second-year sensation JuJu Smith-Schuster caught over 100 passes. But as the title of this article implies, Brown will not be on the team in 2019, thanks to his ugly and bitter divorce that ultimately resulted in a trade to the Raiders in exchange for a third and a fifth-round draft choice.

In Smith-Schuster, who already has a Pro Bowl under his belt after also posting 1,426 receiving yards to go along with 111 catches, the question is, can he fill Brown’s very large shoes as the number weapon in Pittsburgh’s offense? Another question revolves around the receiving corps and whether or not Pittsburgh has enough weapons to complement Smith-Schuster.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, M.J. Stewart, Steelers vs Buchaneers, Steelers MNF win Buccaneers

JuJu Smith-Schuster stiff arms M.J. Stewart. Photo Credit: Mark LoMoglio, AP via PennLive.com

Steelers Wide-Receiver Depth Chart Entering the 2019 NFL Draft: The Starters

Lining up alongside Smith-Schuster as the number two receiver in 2019 is expected to be veteran Donte Moncrief, who Pittsburgh signed to a free agent deal in March. In five seasons in the NFL, Moncrief, 25, has 200 receptions for 2,543 yards and 21 touchdowns. Moncrief spent his first four seasons as a member of the Colts before signing a one-year deal with the Jaguars last offseason.

Despite playing in Jacksonville’s anemic passing offense that included Blake Bortles at quarterback, Moncrief managed to catch 48 passes for 668 yards and three touchdowns a year ago. He had his best season in 2014 with Indianapoli, reeling in 64 passes for 733 yards and six touchdowns. This just so happened to be right before Andrew Luck was plagued by the injury bug. Beings that Luck has a quarterback pedigree much more in-line with Ben Roethlisberger, Moncrief may prove to be more productive for the Steelers.

Steelers Wide-Receiver Depth Chart Entering the 2019 NFL Draft: The Backups

If any receiver figures to challenge Moncrief for the number two spot (at least prior to the draft), it’s second-year man James Washington, a second-round pick out of Oklahoma State last year. However, to say Washington’s rookie season was underwhelming is, well, an understatement, as he caught just 16 passes for 217 yards and one touchdown. Late in the season, Eli Rogers made his return from the ACL tear he suffered in the divisional round loss to the Jaguars the previous January, appearing in three games and catching 12 passes for 79 yards.

But it was another young receiver who seemed to find a bit of a niche as a slot in Pittsburgh’s offense. I’m talking about Ryan Switzer, a return specialist that came to the Steelers in a trade with Oakland last summer. Switzer was targeted 44 times, catching 36 passes for 253 yards and a score. Rounding out the Steelers depth chart at receiver are virtual unknowns Ka’Raun White, Tevin Jones and Trey Griffey.

Steelers 2019 Wide-Receiver Needs

steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2018 NFL Draft

Thanks to the Steelers free agent activity where they addressed needs at cornerback, inside linebacker and receiver, this might be a year where Kevin Colbert’s annual axiom of “Best player available” is the way to go. If that happens to be receiver–and if there’s a player whose value at number 20 exceeds that of linebacker or corner–it wouldn’t be a huge shock if that’s the direction the team goes with pick number one.

After all, Smith-Schuster is really the only proven asset at receiver, and it’s paramount that the Steelers infuse their offense with as many weapons as possible in 2019. Therefore, the draft priority at receiver may accurately be described as Moderate-High

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Steelers 2019 Tight End Draft Needs

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

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

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

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

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

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How To Fix The Broken Pittsburgh Steelers? I Believe They’re Already “Fixed”

Since the end of the 2019 season, the questions involving the “broken” Pittsburgh Steelers have been abundant. How can they get back to the old “Steeler Way?” How can Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin fix this broken situation, this national embarrassment?

  • Call me crazy, but I believe the broken Pittsburgh Steelers have already been “fixed.”

At least when it comes to their sources of bad PR.

I look in my pretend pocket, and I find two receipts. One documenting the trade of receiver Antonio Brown to the Raiders in exchange for a third and a fifth-round draft pick. The other one is for the transaction that allowed running back Le’Veon Bell to simply waltz into free agency and get the multi-year contract he always wanted–or at least get a multi-year contract with the Jets.

James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers vs Browns

JuJu Smith-Schuster watches as James Conner scores. Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker, USA Today, via SB Nation

The way I see it, Brown and Bell–often dubbed the “Toxic Twins” by both the media and the fans–were the headline acts of the circus that had been the Steelers the past few seasons.

They were the players that gave use Facebook Live, bad rap songs, drug suspensions, off-the-field issues involving flying furniture and speeding tickets, Gatorade bucket tosses and camp holdouts.

Brown and Bell were responsible for a great percentage of the non-football related questions — those so-called “distractions”–their teammates had to answer the past few years.

  • So many people wanted Brown and Bell gone, and now they are.

They are no longer going to be a problem for the Steelers. They are no longer going to be creating negative headlines (and even if they do–and even if they’re about the Steelers–they’ll be doing so in other locker rooms).

  • What more can the owner, the general manager and head coach do to “fix” this problem, other than extract the problem children?

I’ll tell you what they can do, they can draft people of higher character, something that has become a reality over the past few seasons. By selecting players like Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave, T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, Terrell Edmunds and James Washington in recent years, Pittsburgh is clearly trying to organically change the culture of its locker room.

This new draft philosophy is something that’s not unique to Pittsburgh, either.

Mostly gone are the days when a team like the Rams would trade its franchise running back — Jerome Bettis — in order to make room to draft another running back — Lawrence Phillips — who was accused of the heinous crime of physically assaulting a woman.

Today, if there’s even a whiff of poor character coming from a prospect’s draft camp, that player’s stock is likely to plummet to the point where he may not even be selected.

No, this recent phenomenon of targeting great players with great character is not unique to the Steelers, but they have clearly hopped on board in a very noticeable way.

Again, what more can be done? Do you want the people of authority to take a more disciplined, hard-line approach to running the team? Do you want Mike Tomlin, who has always been known as a coach who likes to treat his men like men, to become someone he isn’t?

Or do you trust that these young men of great character will grow into veteran players who know what it takes to be responsible professionals, people who won’t embarrass the organization on a local or national level?

Or, maybe, when talking about the “broken” Pittsburgh Steelers, you’re really referring to a lack of Super Bowl titles for the past decade. “If the Steelers were just a little more disciplined, they’d win it all,” is a popular sentiment among the faithful looking for reasons for their team’s failure to win that One for the Other Thumb.

  • If you think getting rid of two All-Pro players will help that situation, then I guess we’re all about 10 months away from finding out.

The 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer a broken organization, in my opinion–at least, as it pertains to having players in their locker room who will bring them bad publicity.

Are they now fixed to the point where they’ll be able to win a title without two very talented problem children?

That, of course, remains to be seen.

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Steelers Nation to Rest of NFL: Antonio Brown is NOT a Victim

If Steelers Nation hoped that the Antonio Brown soap opera would end with Pittsburgh trading Brown to Oakland for 3rd and 5th round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, they hoped in vain. Antonio Brown has kept the story alive, complete with released tapes of conversations between him and Drew Rosenhaus.

  • Give Drew Rosenhaus credit for one thing: He knows how to shape a narrative.

Outrage was the first reaction when news of Antonio Brown quitting on the Steelers before the season finale broke. Criticism of Mike Tomlin for creating this monster by empowering Brown because he didn’t run a tight enough ship followed.

  • Most of those stories came out of Pittsburgh.

As it became clear that the Steelers would trade Antonio Brown, the national media became more involved. Then Brown started ranting about “no more unguarantees.”

Antonio Brown, Antonio Brown Raiders, Mark Davis, Jon Gruden

Antonio Brown with Mark Davis and Jon Gruden. Photo Credit: NBC Sports

“Unguarantees” shifted the slant of the story towards money. Brown’s motive, as many national and even Pittsburgh reporters concluded, was about money from day one.

In an article published on Thursday March 28th, Frank Schwab expanded on Jeremy Fowler’s story that discussed concern around the NFL that the Steelers had set a bad precedent by trading Antonio Brown.

Schwab’s tone is unmistakable from the outset: “The NFL doesn’t like when players have power.”
Schwab continues:

There are some concerning aspects to how Brown forced himself out of Pittsburgh, but this part is also disingenuous: League sources told Fowler they’re worried what Brown did is “‘dangerous’ for teams expecting players to honor contracts.” From a league that drops players with millions in non-guaranteed money left on their contracts over and over and over and over, the lack of self-awareness about crying over players not honoring deals is rich. Once the NFL honors most of its contracts, or doesn’t fight against guaranteed deals in labor negotiations, it can complain about players who don’t do the same. [Emphasis added.]

And viola you have it! Antonio Brown is now supposed to be some sort of poster boy for cause of guaranteed contracts in the NFL.

  • So the conclusion readers are supposed to reach is that had Antonio Brown’s contract been fully guaranteed he’d have behaved?

Before answering this question, what are the “concerning aspects to how Brown forced himself out of Pittsburgh,” that Schwab eludes to? For those who have short memories, let’s review:

  • He threatened one reporter with violence, and called another a racist
  • He is accused of throwing furniture off of a 14th floor balcony
  • He was convicted of driving 140 miles an hour on McKnight road
  • He quit on his team with the playoffs on the line
  • He proceeded to mock his team, the Rooney family and attacked Ben Roethlisberger
  • He apparently was upset that teams weren’t throwing draft picks at the Steelers to acquire him, even though he’d done everything in his power to reduce his trade value

This came after the Steelers made Antonio Brown the NFL’s highest paid receiver in 2017 (we’ll get to the guaranteed money below) and after Ben Roethlisberger targeted him more times than any other NFL receiver in 2019.

Since he went AWOL at the end of the season, Antonio Brown has been the walking embodiment of narcissism. Oh, but ladies and gentleman, trust us on this one, if Art Rooney II had guaranteed his contract, none of this would have happened.

Yeah, and if you believe that, I can get you a really good price on Pittsburgh’s Roberto Clemente bridge. I’ll sweeten the deal even more if you can give me cash up front…..

Antonio Brown is Not “David” Battling Goliath for Guaranteed NFL Contracts

The issue of the lack of guaranteed contracts in the NFL has been gaining traction of late. I may be an outlier, but I see the issue of guaranteed contracts in the NFL as complex than most. Certainly, given that they face a far greater injury risk, it seems outright unjust that NFL players play on non- guaranteed deals compared to their guaranteed MLB, NBA and NHL brethren.

  • But how does the lot of NFL players’ job security compare to the rest of us, who work on an at will basis and can be let go at any moment?

To be fair to Frank Schwab, later on in his article he makes it clear that he does not condone Antonio Brown’s conduct. But it is ironic that in trying to use Antonio Brown as a character in some sort of David and Goliath story about guaranteed NFL contracts he’s hurting his cause.

The Steelers Stand by Their Word

“Guaranteed money is a term that has been thrown around a lot as the Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell stories have evolved. The Steelers stance of only guaranteeing the signing bonus and the first year of a contract has been savaged by the national press from about every angle possible.

  • What no one ever mentions is that the Steelers stand by their word more than any other NFL team.

NFL capologist Ian Whetstone has calculated that the Steelers pay 88% of their second contracts to home grown players.

Moreover, percentage remains in the mid 70’s for Steelers 3rd and 4th contracts.

That should put to rest any notion that Antonio Brown “had” to resort to such childish antics to secure financial security. Those who wish to root for Antonio Brown continue to excel as a Hall of Fame talent in Oakland are free to do so.

But please, do not us the disservice of portraying Antonio Brown as a victim.

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James Harrison, Emmanuel Sanders Speak Out, Change Their Tunes on Former Team

As the hits keep coming in Pittsburgh former Steelers are not only sound off, but also changing their tunes. Recent comments by Emmanuel Sanders and James Harrison lending insight into the impact that context can have on memory.

  • Surprisingly, Emmanuel Sanders’ comments haven’t gotten much play in Steelers Nation.

But last week the wide receiver that the Steelers took in the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft, joined to national pile on of Pittsburgh, this time taking aim at Kevin Colbert. Speaking on Denver’s 104.3 The Fan, Sanders called out Kevin Colbert for rebuffing his contract claims by asking “‘Who do you think you are, Antonio Brown?’”

  • Sanders claim “…I wanted to say, ‘F-you.’ I’ll never forget that.”

That’s a bit odd, because just before the Steelers infamous loss to the Denver Broncos last fall, Sanders confided in the Tribune-Review’s John Grupp that he’d been in Denver so long that, “I forget about my Pittsburgh days.”

James Harrison, Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers vs Broncos

James Harrison & Emmanuel Sanders at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: USA Today’s Steelers wire

Now, to keep Sanders’ quote in context, he further clarified, “I still remember the days there.” He also confided that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that the team wanted to keep him, but didn’t have the money. Tomlin, Sanders made it clear, wished him well. That’s important to remember.

Because both Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith and Peter King put this into the context of an either/or situation between Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. That makes sense because they were both drafted in the 2010 NFL Draft, but a little bit of research will reveal that the Steelers gave Antonio Brown his 2nd contract in 2012, whereas Emmanuel Sanders didn’t become a free agent until two years later.

If this were a Watch Tower column, and it is not, the we’d now take Smith and King to task for either ignoring context with contradicts Sanders’ claim and/or implying a backstory that doesn’t match the facts.

  • We’d also remark on their failure to question Sanders’ quote from Colbert.

Does anyone really think that Kevin Colbert used those words with Emmanuel Sanders? Tom Donahoe might have, but Kevin Colbert?

The larger point is, that when Sanders first recalled his time in Pittsburgh, the Steelers were riding on a 6 game winning streak. Antonio Brown’s antics had been largely forgotten, and Le’Veon Bell’s hold out had become permanent. And people weren’t piling on Pittsburgh.

  • Now they are. And it seems that Sanders has succumbed to peer pressure to join in.

That might be overly harsh. Perhaps it is. Emanuel Sanders has been an objective voice when asked about issues relating to Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. He very well may remember his interaction with Kevin Colbert that way.

But we’ve all been in situation when everyone is coming down on someone else, and we’ve all known how easy it is to join in.

  • If that seems to be the case with Sanders, James Harrison is taking the opposite route.

When asked about Ben Roethlisberger by Colin Cowherd, never one to be confused as a Steelers apologist, James Harrison surprised everyone by praising Ben Roethlisberger: “The people that are saying he’s a bad teammate, that’s their truth. For me, I think Ben is a good teammate and a good leader.”

Wow! What a difference 8 years makes. Back in the summer of 2011, Men’s Journal writer Paul Solotaroff did a feature length article on James Harrison. In the article, James Harrison didn’t mince words about some of his teammates, including Ben Roethlisberger, as Harrison told Solotaroff:

Hey, at least throw a pick on their side of the field instead of asking the D to bail you out again. Or hand the ball off and stop trying to act like Peyton Manning. You ain’t that and you know it, man; you just get paid like he does.

In subsequent radio interviews, implied that those comments were only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Harrison’s feelings about Ben Roethlisberger. Why the change? Who knows? Since 2011 Ben Roethlisberger has, in many ways, taken the team on its back and been the primary person responsible for the 8 non-losing seasons the Steelers have enjoyed since then.

He’s also become a better, more refined quarterback (thanks in no small part to Todd Haley, although commentators and most likely Roethlisberger himself would be loathe to admit it.)

  • Perhaps James Harrison, the ultimate underdog, feels compelled to do one of the things he does best: Swim against the stream.

Could this be a turning point in James Harrison’s relationship with the Steelers? Time will tell. But with everyone piling on Pittsburgh, James Harrison is deciding not to take part. Good for him.

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Final Analysis: Steelers Killer Bees Were Too True to Their Nickname

March 2019 marks the date in Steelers history when the Killer Bees came to an end. Ben Roethlisberger remains in Pittsburgh, but Antonio Brown is now in Oakland while Le’Veon Bell is a New York Jet.

  • To milk the metaphor a bit more, Brown and Bell seem intent on keeping the story alive by stinging their former team via social media.

But none of the barbs that Brown and Bell are throwing Ben Roethlisberger’s way change the fact that these two Killer Bees left town without fulfilling their purpose – bringing Lombardi Number Seven back to Pittsburgh.

  • Maybe that shouldn’t surprise us, given the trio’s nickname.

Sports nicknames entrench themselves with fans when they’re both fun and accurate.

Steelers Killer Bees, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell

The Steelers Killer Bees were too true to their name. Photo Credit: pegitboard.com

“The Steel Curtain” conjured images of strength while Joe Greene, Dwight White, Ernie Holmes and L.C. Greenwood became the front to an impenetrable defense. Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, Carnell Lake and Rod Woodson breathed life into “Blitzburgh” as they terrorized opposing quarterbacks. Jerome Bettis was the football embodiment of a Bus.

  • This isn’t just a Pittsburgh thing either.

Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine really did churn out division titles, pennants, and championships in machine like fashion. Washington’s “Hogs” really did dominate the line of scrimmage. The Redskin’s “Fun Bunch” was fun.

  • And so it was with the Steelers Killer Bees, whose nickname was both fun and accurate.

The “killer bees” or Africanized bees were brought to the Americas in the late 1950’s in an attempt to breed bees that produced more honey. They were originally contained in a secure apiary near Rio Claro, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. But the escaped and headed north!

  • An urban legend was born.

The phenomenon reached critical mass in popular culture the 1970’s. Although their stings weren’t worse than normal bees, “killer bees” were more aggressive, and more likely to swarm. It was too much for Hollywood to resist.

Several (bad) killer bees movies were shot. If memory serves, a Super Friends episode plot line revolved around the “killer bees.” And I even had to read a story about the coming threat of the “Killer Bees” in one of my elementary school reading books.

  • When the killer bees arrived in the United States in the 1980’s, their buzz was much worse than their bite.

Kind of like the Steelers Killer Bees.

Injury = Steelers Killer Bees Insecticide

Shortly after the Steelers January 2015 playoff loss to the Ravens, a fellow Steelers blogger, who is no homer, sent me a sort of “chin up” email, assuring me that by mid-October the Steelers offense would be “Blowing other teams out of the water.”

Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant gave Pittsburgh its most potent collection of talent at the skill positions since the days of Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Yet, the later quartet delivered 4 Lombardi trophies; the former delivered none.

As others, such as the Post-Gazette’s Joe Starkey have pointed out, injuries and suspensions are the main culprit behind Steelers Killers failure meet expectations. Ben, Bell, Brown and Byrant only played together for a handful of quarters in 2015. Le’Veon Bell missed games to suspension in 2015 and 2016 and Martavis Bryant missed all of 2016 due to suspension.

  • The Steelers should have had the 3 Killer Bees on the field together for 6 playoff games.

Instead, Ben, Bell and Brown only managed 3 complete games and the first quarter of the AFC Championship loss to the Patriots together. They won 2 of those three, and only won 1 of the other 3 contests.

  • Injury was the ultimate insect repellent even when all 3 Killer Bees remained healthy.

The 2017 Steelers defense was flashing signs of being good, if not very good before injuries to Joe Haden and Ryan Shazier. But of course we know what happened to the defense without Shazier. For whatever else you want to say about the Jacksonville disaster, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell (and Martavis Bryant) did their part.

Its been pointed out that Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII before Bell and Brown even arrived on the scene. Perhaps he can do it again.

But if the trio of Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner develops a nick name, let’s hope they find one that has a stronger pedigree.

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Steelers Response to Negative News Should Echo Chuck Noll’s Actions from 30 Years Ago

The Pittsburgh Steelers have weathered an onslaught of negative news from the national press. Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and even Josh Harris (who?) have made the rounds taking their pot shots at Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger.

Referring to Maurkice Pouncey’s spirited defense of Ben Roethlisberger, Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review postulated:

Frankly, I think it’s high time for more Steelers to start going this route. I also think it’s time for the organization and Roethlisberger to defend themselves with some sort of media availability of their own.

Tim Benz’s sentiment is understandable, but he’s wrong.

Bubby Brister, Chuck Noll, Bubby Brister super tecmo bowl raiting, Steelers 1988

Chuck Noll and Bubby Brister. Photo Credit: Mike Powell, Getty Images

If the Steelers as an organization are looking for precedent in how to handle such a situation, then they should look back 30 years and follow the example that Chuck Noll set in his darkest hour as head coach.

The 1989 Steelers opened the season with a 51-0 loss at Three Rivers Stadium to the Cleveland Browns. They followed with a 41-10 loss to the Bengals in Riverfront Stadium a week later. The combined 92-10 opening losses sent vulchers circling Three Rivers Stadium.

As one writer reflected two seasons later after Chuck Noll retired, “The once unthinkable question was on everyone’s mind, and it wasn’t ‘Will Dan Rooney fire Chuck Noll?’ but “…How long will he wait?’” ESPN’s Pete Axthelm to Pittsburgh who asked Chuck Noll point blank, “Has the game passed you by?”

  • When pressed to answer his critics, Chuck Noll was pitch perfect: “Winning. The only way to respond is by winning.”

That specific clip hasn’t survived or at least surfaced here in the digital age, but here is a similar interview:

The 1989 Steelers rallied around The Emperor. They upset the then Super Bowl favorite Minnesota Vikings the next weekend and shut down Barry Sanders and the Detroit Lions the week after that.

  • Although they would endure two more shutouts that season, at 4-6 Noll boldly declared the playoffs were in the Steelers sights.

Critics scoffed, but the 1989 Steelers made the playoffs, upset Jerry Glanville’s Oilers, and were a bad Chuck Lanza to Bubby Brister snap (ah Dermontti Dawson, why did you have to get cramps) and a dropped Mark Stock pass away from reaching the AFC Championship game.

  • Unfortunately, the 2019 Steelers have to wait 5 months before they can start winning again.
  • And that forces Mike Tomlin and company to speak with words instead of actions.

When asked by The Athletic at the NFL owners meeting to address Antonio Brown’s charges against Ben Roethlisberger, Tomlin replied, “(Brown) is no longer a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, so I don’t feel it necessary to comment on his comments regarding things that are in-house.”

Given the context, Mike Tomlin’s response is just as pitch perfect as his predecessor Chuck Noll’s was 30 years ago.

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Watch Tower: National Press Declares Open Season on Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger

The Watch Tower’s lights have been dim for quite some time, but that’s due to lack of time and certainly not for lack of material. Today we shine our lights on the national press piling on Pittsburgh in light of the Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell shake ups, some historical background on those two stories, and more.

Ben Roethlisberger, Myles Garret, Steelers vs Browns, Steelers Browns tie

Myles Garrett sacks Ben Roethlisberger in Steelers tie with Browns. Photo Credit: Barry Reger, PennLive.com

National Media Declares Open Season on the Steelers, Roethlisberger

The Pittsburgh Steelers have taken a pounding from the national press. Certainly, the Steelers bear some responsibility. But much of the heat directed at the Steelers is unfounded.

  • Just how bad is it?

Well, when someone like Mark Madden can take the press to task for sloppy journalism, you know things are bad. The facts of the two stories are well established:

  • Antonio Brown quit with the playoffs on the line and then humiliated his team on social media
  • Le’Veon Bell turned down a 70 million dollar contract from the Steelers, held out, and ended up with a smaller contract from the New York Jets.

But you wouldn’t know that if you’d been following the national press. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell were victims of the Rooneys, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and perhaps worst of all Ben Roethlisberger.

Antonio Brown, Antonio Brown trade, Steelers trade Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin

Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger & Mike Tomlin in happier times. Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images via BTSC

  • The Watch Tower lacks both time and space to shine its revealing light on each culpable national journalist.

But we will start with what is perhaps the most egregious offender Sport Illustrated’s Robert Klemko. Josh Harris, last seen in the Steelers January 2015 playoff loss to the Ravens, tweeted that Ben Roethlisberger had intentionally fumbled in the 2014 season finale against the Bengals.

Accusing a fellow player of intentionally fumbling is an explosive charge, far more serious than a quarterback calling out a receiver for running the wrong route, but given that Josh Harris’ 9 NFL carry career ended 4 years ago, it likely would have and should have gone unnoticed.

Yet Robert Klemko gave Josh Harris a national platform in a feature length story that included interviews with Harris and Isaac Redman. From a journalistic stand point, that’s a completely ethical story line if you’re objective.

  • But Robert Klemko didn’t even feign objectivity.

Klemko could have requested a response from Roethlisberger, yet gives no indication that he tried. He could have talked to 9 of the other players in the huddle then. He did not. He could have analyzed the video from the play. He did not.

  • When Bruce Gradkowski offered a detailed rebuttal, he could have interviewed Gradkowski and done a follow up story. He did not.

Instead he took the words of Josh Harris, a player whose career doesn’t even merit a footnote in Steelers history, and treated them as if they had come from the Burning Bush. Klemko’s story was so one-sided that Isaac Redman publicly called him out for taking his words out of context.

Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs Colts

Happier Times: Antonio Brown & Le’Veon Bell celebrate a touchdown. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Wolf pack journalism and the use of negative headlines to sell papers er, um, generate clicks are nothing new.

  • But the Watch Tower wonders whether the digital media landscape has exacerbated both tendencies.

Stories from Jenny Vrentas of SI.com and ESPN’s Jeff Darlington perhaps offer examples. For a long time, teams, agents, and players depended on the media to get their message across. Now, thanks to social media, individual actors no longer need third parties to mediate for them.

Yet one of the few ways that independent press outlets can differentiate themselves from the “Content aggregators” is by getting one-on-one access to players.

  • But it seems as if this access is coming at a price.

While it has been normal for agents and PR reps to set ground rules in exchange for interviews, the press still retained leverage. Jenny Vrentas interview with Le’Veon Bell and Jeff Darlington’s interview with Antonio Brown suggest this is changing. Both Bell and Brown made outlandish claims to Vrentas and Darlington, claims that in a serious journalistic context would have been challenged.

Yet neither journalist showed any interest in challenging their subjects in name of finding the truth. If this is indicative of the direction professional sports journalism, then the Watch Tower shudders for its future.

Shout Out for the Good Guys

While the Steelers have largely remained silent against this onslaught of negative news, members of the Pittsburgh press and Steelers-focused bloggers have not.

  • Gerry Dulac, Ed Bouchette, Jim Wexell, Joe Starkey, Mark Kaboly, Mark Madden, Ian Whetstone and Simon Chester, to name just a few, have pushed back.

While their focus has been on the Brown and Bell stories, the national press has seemingly come at the Steelers from every angle. For example, Bill Barnwell (among others) have called out the Steelers for the salary cap of Brown’s 2018 contract re-structure.

Fortunately, scribes like Ian Whetstone have been quick to set the record straight:

Ian Whetstone has been particularly aggressive in this regard, so aggressive that a complete accounting of his efforts could easily fill up an entire column.

  • Ian Whetsonte wins Watch Tower kudos for his effort to promote the truth.

Simon Chester of Behind the Steel Curtain has been a particularly strong voice in the effort to set the record straight. Jesse James free agent defection to Detroit was unfortunate if not unexpected. Jesse James was asked about the situation in Pittsburgh as one might expect.

Jesse James.

Jesse James scores against the Panthers.

  • The national media took a few stray comments from James out of context, and tried to make it sound like his goal was to get out of Pittsburgh as soon as he could.

A full reading of his press conference, reveals a very different attitude. Fortunately, Simon Chester detailed this in a feature length story, which is a welcome benefit to those of us too busy working 10-12 hour days to research the story for ourselves.

And while it would be unfair for the Watch Tower to claim that national press as a whole has refused to admit that Le’Veon Bell lost his gamble, there are no shortage of writers who insist that Bell “won.” Again, Simon Chester was ready with a fact-based refutation of the Bell apologists.

Finally, The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly exposed the NFL Network for splicing together two separate Ben Roethlisberger quotes regarding the infamous route running incident in Denver:

Not that the national media had it out for the Steelers, or anything like that….

Pounding the Pavement on the Brown and Bell Stories

None of what has transpired over the last few months occurred in a vacuum, and the Watch Tower would like to shout out a few journalists who’ve earned their salaries as reporters during the time these stories have evolved.

  • Jeremy Fowler of ESPN earns Watch Tower Kudos for his reporting on both the Brown and Bell stories.

Jeremy Fowler got Le’Veon Bell on the record saying he would report to the Steelers during bye week. Bell of course never showed up, but Fowler was the only journalist to get Bell on the record at that time.

Fowler also provided perhaps the most detailed account of Antonio Brown’s conduct and special treatment by the Steelers organization, even unearthing the Brown didn’t stay at St. Vincent’s during training camp. That was an incredible story that took a lot of diligent reporting to write, and Jeremy Fowler deserves praise for putting it together.

Finally, Jim Wexell also offered an important detail that added important depth to the Bell story by reporting that Le’Veon Bell insisted offered to report late in the season before the deadline but only if the Steelers paid him the full 14.5 million.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot going on, much more than can be contained in this single column. Hopefully the Watch Tower will be back with more much sooner.

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Steelers Center Maurkice Pouncey Is A Loyal Teammate and a True Leader

Photo credit: Deadspin

As the saying goes, if I was in an alley fight, and I had to pick a Pittsburgh Steeler to have my back, center Maurkice Pouncey would likely be at the top of my list.

  • I’m sure the same goes for many of Maurkice Pouncey’s teammates–at least in a metaphorical sense, if not literal.

It has been known for quite some time that, in addition to ably filling the footsteps of Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Jeff Hartings by being the latest in a long line of great Steelers centers (seven Pro Bowls and almost certainly destined for immortality in Canton, Ohio, when his career is finally over), Maurkice Pouncey embodies the word “teammate.”

Steelers 2018 Offensive line, Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouency

Maurkice Pouncey is keeping Ben Roethlisberger clean. Photo Credit: MyDaytonDailyNews

It’s also no secret he’s one of the true leaders of the Steelers locker room, a player that just about every teammate who has known him during his career has respected and admired.

  • There’s also no question how much Maurkice Pouncey appreciates being a Pittsburgh Steeler.

While not as vocal about it as other Steeler greats such as Mean Joe Greene and Hines Ward, there’s no doubt Pouncey has always cared about the Steeler shield–the brand–and makes sure others show the same respect and love for the organization that he does.

At the tail-end of the 2017 season, shortly after legendary outside linebacker and fan-favorite James Harrison was released from the team, Maurkice Pouncey was quick to set the record straight on the sentiment that James Harrison was a victim and treated unfairly.

In fact, Maurkice  Pouncey was the first to speak up and bring to light Harrison’s unprofessional behavior throughout the season–behavior that was spurred on by his frustration over a lack of playing time–that ultimately forced head coach Mike Tomlin to get rid of him.

Harrison quickly signed a deal with the Patriots, Pittsburgh’s nemesis for many years. This action seemed to really irk Harrison’s old teammates, especially Maurkice Pouncey, who said Harrison ‘erased‘ his Steelers legacy.

It’s important to point out that Pouncey later clarified his statement and softened his stance on Harrison’s ultimate legacy in Pittsburgh. But there the Steelers were, in a PR alley fight with James Harrison, the media and the fans, and who was the first person to come to the rescue? Maurkice Pouncey.

Maybe that’s why I’m not surprised Pouncey was really aggressive just last week when his Steelers–specifically quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — were being dragged through the mud by two recent former teammates —Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, both of whom accused Roethlisberger of being the real problem in the Steelers locker room.

“I’ve been with Ben going on 10yr,” Pouncey said on Wednesday via his Instragram page. ” I swear on my kids he is a true leader!! sucks to see players who leave and are mad at the organization now try and point fingers like they are perfect! But this is the world we live in now!”

  • Spoken like a loyal Pittsburgh Steeler and a true team leader.

Will anyone grant Maurkice Pouncey, who, again, has quite the career resume, a national interview to get his positive take on Roethlisberger’s leadership qualities and Pittsburgh’s locker room situation?

Not likely, not when it’s become oh so chic to bash the Steelers on a national level. Not when people take as gospel the words of an All-Pro receiver but not those of an All-Pro center who has been hiking the ball to Roethlisberger for years.

No doubt Pouncey had some issues earlier in his career involving the law and immaturity. He also seemed to alienate the fan base a bit after suffering two season-ending injuries (as if that were his fault). However, Pouncey has not only put to rest his reputation for being injury prone. Much like Rod Woodson, who had some brushes with the law in the early portion of his Steelers career, Maurkice Pouncey has grown into a mature person and, by all accounts, a model citizen.

Fans have always demanded loyalty from their players, which is why the disdain for those who would rather hold out of training camp for more money or go play for another while trashing their previous one is so palpable.

But if you’re looking for loyalty — if you’re looking for someone who is pretty darn proud to be a Pittsburgh Steeler — look no further than Maurkice Pouncey.

 

 

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