Steelers 2016 Draft Needs @ Guard – Time to Put Depth Behind DeCastro, Foster

The Pittsburgh Steelers began their offensive line rebuilding process in 2010 by picking Maurkice Pounce with their first round pick and effectively concluded that process in 2012 when they picked David DeCastro in the first round followed by Mike Adams in the second.

After years of injury-induced turmoil on the offensive line, the Steelers appear to have learned that you can never have too many good offensive lineman on your roster. That’s a lesson well taken, but does it mean that the Steelers should make guard a high priority in the 2016 NFL Draft?

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Steelers Depth Chart @ Guard Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starters

With David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, the Pittsburgh Steelers have two excellent starters at guard.

Ramon Foster made the team in 2009 as an undrafted rookie free agent, and since then he’s appeared in 102 games and started in 87 of them. Foster has been both durable and dependable, and served as an important mentor to Alejandro Villanueva after Kelvin Beachum went down. The Steelers have resigned Foster, leaving little doubt about his future in Pittsburgh.

Starting on the other side of Pouncey is David DeCastro, who after an injury marred rookie season, is developing into a the ass-kicker the Steelers envisioned when he fell to them in the 2012 NFL Draft. DeCastro has played in 51 games and has started in 50 of them. The Steelers are expected to ink DeCastro to a long term deal this off season.

Steelers Depth Cart @ Guard Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups

The depth behind Foster and DeCastro is both thin and untested. Outside of Cody Wallace, who also serves as the primary backup at center, none of the players have any NFL regular season game experience to speak of.

Chris Hubbard is the team’s most experienced backup, having appeared in 7 games in 2015 and one game in 2014 after spending all of 2013 on the Steelers practice squad.

  • Behind Hubbard, the Steelers have B.J. Finney and Cole Manhart.

B.J. Finney was part of the Steelers 2015 undrafted rookie free agent class and spent the entire season on their practice squad. The Steelers signed Cole Manhart to reserve/futures contract earlier this year, and Manhart spent time in the Eagles and Saints training camps, and joined the Oakland Raider’s practice squad in December 2015.

Doug Legursky was on the Steelers roster during 2015 as a backup center but has experience at guard. However, the Steelers have shown no interest in resigning Legursky who remains a free agent.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2016

Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Guard

Clearly, the Steelers are not going to invest a number one pick in a guard. Their needs simply do not justify that. The fact that Chris Hubbard is still around shows that the Steelers see something they like in him, and the Steelers have a way of developing undrafted rookie free agents into solid NFL lineman.

  • Between Foster, DeCastro and Wallace, the Pittsburgh Steelers have 3 men who can play guard in the NFL.

That’s good. But one injury can change the Steelers calculus at guard in a hurry. The Steelers needs on the defensive side of the ball are so acute that they can probably safely ignore guards in rounds 1-3, but after that they need to take a serious look at who is left on the board when their time comes.

Therefore, the Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 draft need at guard must be considered Moderate.

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Steelers 2016 Draft Needs @ Center – Time to Pounce on Pouency….?

Since Chuck Noll arrived in Pittsburgh in 1969, the Pittsburgh Steelers have drafted 18 centers, (if you include Dermontti Dawson, who was drafted as a guard/center). Of those 18 picks, only five of them have come in the top three rounds.

Will 2016 NFL Draft elevate those numbers to 6 and 19? Should it? Let’s find out.

Steelers Depth Chart @ Center Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starter

The Steelers offensive line philosophy duing first part of Mike Tomlin’s can be best described as “plug and patch.” That changed in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft when the Steelers picked Center Maurkice Pouncey.

  • Since then Pouncey has been named to the All Pro team in four of his six seasons.

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The more skeptical fans in Steelers Nation will quickly point out that the two seasons that Pouncey wasn’t selected as an All Pro were because he was out injured, and argue that the Steelers should eye a replacement. If Bob Labriola’s comments Steelers.com are any indication, Steelers management does not agree.

Nor should they.

Yes, Pouncey struggled with high ankle sprains at the end of 2010 and 2011. But he only missed two regular season games in 2011 and Super Bowl XLV because of it. His other two injuries were unavoidable, one when David DeCastro fell on his leg, and another suffered by a collision in the 2015 preseason.

Beyond that, Pouncey has been solid. He is a leader on the field and off the field, and the Steelers have invested in him, as Pouncey is signed through 2019 and the Steelers show interest in changing that.

Steelers Depth Cart @ Center Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups

Kevin Colbert plucked Cody Wallace off of the waiver wire in before opening day in 2013, and by season’s end Wallace was starting at center.

  • Wallace has shown himself to be capable replacement.

While Wallace might not be the type of dynamic player that Pouncey is, the Steelers run blocking and pass protection in 2015 remained excellent by and large and the Steelers are fortunate to have such a capable number two who can get the ball dependably to Ben Roethlisberger.

The Steelers brought in Doug Legursky to provide extra depth after Pouncey went down, but Doug Legursky is a free agent who has attracted little interest inside or outside of Pittsburgh.

Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Center

steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2015The fact that the Steelers worked out free agent center Stefen Wisniewski show that there is some interest in strengthening the depth chart at center. Curt Popejoy of USA Today’s Steelers Wire has suggested that this move may spell trouble for Pouncey.

  • That’s possible but perhaps the thinking is more short term there rather than long.

Given all of their needs at other positions it is unlikely and would be unwise for the Steelers to target center in the 2016 NFL Draft. Now, should a player who has position flexibility to play both center and guard become available, he would merit consideration.

But when all is said and done, the the Steelers 2016 draft need at center must be considered Moderate-Low.

 

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Steelers Free Agent Doug Legursky – Letting Legursky Walk Is Right Call. This Time…

In free agency, you rarely get do overs and the Pittsburgh Steelers are no exception. The rules of the game are clear, a team needs to decide they want a player back, make their offer and then move on.

This Steelers free agent profiles details a quasi-free agency do over and the player is Doug Legursky, whom the Steelers let go in 2013 only to welcome back three years later. Now they get to make the decision again. Should they decide differently…? Let’s take a look.

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Capsule Profile of Doug Legursky’s Career with the Steelers

Doug Legursky got a foot in the door with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2008. Legursky failed to make the team, but did earn a spot on the practice squad in October, where he stayed for the rest of the year.

In 2009 Doug Legursky made the team, with Mike Tomlin declaring him “This year’s Darnell Stapleton.” While that is to Legursky’s credit, in many ways Legursky is the perfect poster boy for Pittsburgh’s “Plug and Patch” approach to offensive line building during the early part of the Tomlin era.

Doug Legursky saw action in 9 games for the Steelers during 2009, mainly serving as a reserve guard, but also blocking as a fullback for Rashard Mendenhall in the Steelers Monday Night victory over San Diego. In 2010, Legrusky saw extensive action, making starts for Trai Essex during the regular season, and stepping in for injured Maurkice Pouncey in the Steelers AFC Championship game victory over the New York Jets.

  • Legursky also started for the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

The Steelers intent in 2011 was to install Legursky as a starting guard, and Legursky did make several starts at guard, while also stepping in for Pouncey. In 2012 Legursky made 3 starts at guard and at center due to injuries to Pouncey and Ramon Foster. During the Steelers 2012 upset of Baltimore, Legursky started at Center while Pouncey moved to guard.

Legursky became a free agent in 2013, and the Steelers opted not to sign Legursky, despite an obvious lack of depth on the offensive line. Although they’d never admit it, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin doubtlessly felt pangs of buyer’s remorse on opening day vs. the Titans when Pounecy went down and Kelvin Beachum had to play center for the first time in his football life….

  • But Legursky was in Buffalo where he would make 11 starts during 2013.

Legrusky’s stint with the Bills only lasted one season, although he did catch on with San Diego, were he made two starts at center, before his season ended in injury. He was unemployed when Maurkice Pouncey was injured during the preseason, and returned to Pittsburgh to back up Cody Wallace.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Doug Legursky

Doug Legursky knows the Steelers offense. While he might not be starter material, his play at center has always been solid, and he can fill in at guard in a pinch. The Steelers rolled the dice with offensive line depth in 2013, and the result was Ben Roethlisberger playing some of his worst football under an unabated pass rush.

Doug Legrusky has played in 76 NFL games and made 30 starts; he’s also appeared in 6 post-season contests, and started two of them. Reserve offensive lineman with those types of resumes do not grow on trees and Legursky has always been on the roster fringe, he can only improve under Mike Munchak

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Doug Legursky

The math is pretty simple. Legursky is basically a center who can do spot duty at guard. So is Cody Wallace and the Steelers already have a significant salary cap investment in Wallace. Wallace is also better. With Maurkice Pouncey coming back, the Steelers can’t really afford to carry three centers.

Plus, it has been suggested that the Steelers might look at bringing Kraig Urbik back, another player who “got away.” Urbik is a guard who can also to duty at center, and is probably an upgrade over Legursky.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Doug Legursky

Legrusky’s return to Pittsburgh was a legit “feel good story” last summer, but it is hard to make the case that resigning Doug Legursky should be a high priority for the Steelers.

  • However, given the uncertainty the Steelers face at guard, an opening for Legursky might be found.

Should the Steelers be unable to keep both Ramon Foster and Kelvin Beachum, Legursky’s familiarity with the Steelers system and his position flexibility and his availability at the veteran minimum could tip the scales back in his favor.

But that presumes that the Steelers don’t find another guard in free agency or perhaps in the draft. The bottom line is, Doug Legursky can probably help the 2016 Steelers, but others can probably help more. And there’s a fair chance the he’ll still be available during the summer should the need arise.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Watch Tower: Deconstructing Bill Barnwell’s Steelers 2016 Off Season Analysis

With the Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 season over, Watch Tower focuses its light exclusively on deconstructing Bill Barnwell’s Steelers 2016 off season analysis.

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Bill Barnwell’s Grudging Respect for Steelers

In the interests of transparency, this isn’t the first time the Watch Tower has dissected one of Barnwell’s columns. And in fairness to Mr. Barnwell, he was probably more right on the Steelers contracts for Troy Polamlau and Ike Taylor that we cared to admit back then.

  • Barnwell recently focused on the Steelers 2016 season on ESPN in a 2,645 word ambivalent analysis piece.

The feel of Barnwell’s breakdown of the Steelers comes down to two words: Grudging respect, as captured by the second and third sentences of his column:

This isn’t the most successful run of the storied franchise’s history, with the controversial wild-card win over the Bengals serving as their first playoff victory since beating a Mark Sanchez-led Jets team in the 2010 AFC Championship Game. But they’ve consistently been in the swing of things in the AFC.

Barnwell feels compelled to balance his concession to the Steelers constant relevance in the AFC playoff picture by devaluing the validity of the Steelers most recent playoff victories and that sets the tone for his entire analysis. Yes, his task is to provide a sort of “Pro’s and Con’s” piece on Pittsburgh’s future prospects, but he almost reads like he’s channeling his internal Bob Smizik.

Barnwell on Steelers 2016 Hopes

Bill Barnwell praises the Steelers for what everyone else is praising them for: Exceeding expectations via more sacks and turnovers on defense and exploding on offense in spite of injuries to Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger and Martavis Bryant.

In doing so he cites any number of advanced saber metrics to document the Steelers offensive performance, and raises and important point – at least statistically – about the difficulty of sustaining the increase in turnovers.

  • There’s really not much to quibble about in Barnwell’s analysis of Steelers potential upside.

One might argue that the Steelers improvement in turnovers is due to something systemic, but Barnwell’s numbers are solid. The only real issue with Barnwell’s assessment of the Steelers upside, as that he seems to forget his own points when he examines the Steelers potential downside….

Barnwell on Steelers 2016 Fears

…And you can see that immediately in his first paragraph. Right after praising the young talent the Steelers have surrounded around quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Barnwell goes on to make a curious assertion:

The problem is that the Steelers have struggled to surround that young talent with the sort of solid depth that would raise Pittsburgh’s ceiling to that of a perennial Super Bowl contender.

Really? IT would seem that the Steelers depth is what allowed them to weather all of those injuries and put themselves a fumble away – made by a 4th string running back — from playing for the AFC Championship. Barnwell argues that the Steelers salary cap troubles are the main culprit behind their supposed depth issues. This was painfully true in 2013 and perhaps in part of 2014, but his supporting arguments just don’t jive:

This year, with injuries up on the offensive side of the ball, Pittsburgh’s inability to plug holes because of cap concerns became a bigger issue. Despite having one of the league’s most injury-prone quarterbacks in Roethlisberger, the Steelers had to save money on backups and paid Bruce Gradkowski and Michael Vick a combined $2.4 million, far less than even the Chase Daniels of the world get by themselves. They lacked badly-needed offensive line depth and were out of luck once Pouncey and left tackle Kelvin Beachum went down with season-ending injuries, leaving Pittsburgh with journeyman Cody Wallace and fascinating project Alejandro Villanueva in key roles for most of the season.

Where to begin….? First, the Steelers policy of keeping three quarterbacks and depending on experienced, veteran backups increasingly goes what most teams in the league do. Second, one of the reasons why the 2015 Steelers were so resilient was preciecely because Cody Wallace and Alejandro Villanueva proved to be such cost-effective backups.

  • Finally, how exactly does Barnwell conclude that Ben Roethlisberger is “one of the league’s most injury-prone quarterbacks?”

Yes, Roethlisberger did have to leave three games with injuries in 2015. But he only missed a handful of snaps in 2014 and did not miss an entire snap in 2013. Ben Roethlisberger has taken much more punishment than most of his peers – and he be one player who “gets old fast” but toughness, not fragility has been Ben’s hallmark.

Barnwell on Steelers 2016 Salary Cap

Barnwell devotes the last 1/3 of his critique of the Steelers to salary cap issues. The Watch Tower does not pretend to be a closet capologist, but Steel City Insider’s Ian Whetstone has looked at the Steelers situation and come to different conclusions. But if we accept that Barnwell perhaps has a point about the Steelers and Lawrence Timmon’s contract, he still appears to contradict himself.

Barnwell is highly critical of the Steelers secondary. So is Steelers President Art Rooney II, in so many words, so Barnwell’s critiques are on solid ground. Unlike Rooney, Barnwell names names, as he singles out the Steelers reliance on Antwon Blake and Will Allen. Then a couple of paragraphs down, he makes this assertion:

No fewer than six starters are hitting unrestricted free agency this offseason, and Pittsburgh can’t afford to lose them all. That includes three members of that secondary in Blake, Gay and Will Allen; they aren’t exactly stars by any means, but the only players in line to replace them are Cortez Allen and rookie second-rounder Senquez Golson, who combined to play one game in 2015 thanks to injuries.

Barnwell is right about the Steelers not being able to rely on Golson and Allen, but he undercuts his own consistency by critiquing the Steelers for relying on Blake and Will Allen and then turning around and critiquing them for being in danger of losing them.

His conclusion suffers from the same type of circular logic, as he tries to suggest moves the Steelers might make to free up salary cap space:

They can save $4 million by cutting Heath Miller, $1.8 million by releasing Shaun Suisham and $4.4 million by designating Cortez Allen as a post-June 1 release. That also leaves them without starters at three positions.

OK. First, Heath Miller is not going anywhere, 4 million dollar contract or not, but that misses the point. Shaun Suisham missed the entire 2015 season and Cortez Allen missed all but a handful of plays. Chris Boswell may very well have cost Suisham his roster spot, and Cortez Allen has not been considered a starter since mid 2014.

None of this is to say that Barnwell doesn’t make legitimate points. While the Steelers are no longer in salary cap purgatory, they still have a lot less room to maneuver than many of their competitors. Few people , including Barnwell himself, mentioned it, but few would doubt that keeping Brice McCain would have helped the Steelers secondary.

So it would be incorrect and unfair to write Barnwell off as a “knee-jerk naysayer.” But it also seems like Barnwell’s Steelers 2016 off season analysis suffers from a lack of objectivity on some level.

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Coaching Report Card + Special Teams and Unsung Hero Award

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who wonders if Mike Tomlin might be entering a new phase of his coaching tenure here is the Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Coaching and Special Teams Report Card.

steelers, report card, grades, 2015 season, coaching, special teams, unsung heros

Grading the Steelers 2015 Special Teams

2015 brought a decidedly mixed bag for the Steelers special teams. On the positive side, Chris Boswell was an unqualified success and in many ways the rookie saved the Steelers season. Antonio Brown showed he could still do damage as a punt returner. Danny Smith’s special teams also created a number of fumbles on kick returns, which is much needed.

  • There’s a flip side to the Steelers 2015 special teams, and it isn’t nearly as attractive.

Outside of Antonio Brown, the Steelers have no one to return kicks, with Markus Wheaton Jacoby Jones and Dri Archer both proving to be abject failures (at least Wheaton was a failure as a punt returner – he was OK returning kickoffs.) And while the Steelers special teams spared themselves from glaring disasters, a couple of scary returns were brought back on penalties. Likewise, Josh Scoobe was a disaster as a place kicker, and contributed to two of the Steelers losses.

On balance the Steelers special teams were slightly above average in 2015 – given the injuries to the offense, the Steelers needed more from the unit. Grade: C+

Grading the Steelers Coaches for 2015

Any discussion of the Steelers coaches in 2015 must begin with the defense, where Keith Butler embarked on a new era, tasked with succeeding the legacy of Dick LeBeau – no easy feat. Butler proved to be more than up to the task. The Steelers 2015 defense might have given up more yards in 2015 than it did in 2014, but it gave up fewer points, improved in sacks and takeaways – all with only minor adjustments for talent.

  • A closer look is perhaps warranted at the role of Steelers secondary coach Carnell Lake.

The Steelers banked heavily on the development of Cortez Allen and Shamarko Thomas, and both men were disappointments. The responsibility for this doesn’t of course only lie on Lake’s shoulders, but he is their position coach, and by all accounts, Lake pushed hard for the Steelers to draft Thomas. He’s also spoken glowingly of Antwon Blake, who while he might get scapegoated far too often for the unit’s troubles, clearly was not the secondary’s strong link.

Moving over to offense, it is now clear with 20/20 hindsight that one of Art Rooney II’s best moves was to force Bruce Arians out. Mike Tomlin reacted by bringing in Todd Haley, and Ben Roethlisberger has grown and matured as a result of it. Yes, Roethlisberger’s late season “stupid interceptions” are a cause for concern, but that is something that can be corrected.

  • The naysayers might argue, “Ah, but Haley had all the weapons at his disposal.”

Yes, and any coach needs to have good players first – and having them is no guarantee of success. Don’t believe me? Look at the difference in performance between the Steelers 1991 and 1992 offenses. The 1991 was a muddling and bumbling at best under Joe Walton; under Ron Erhardt in 1992 the same talent performed much, much better.

  • Todd Haley started 3 quarterbacks, lost his all pro running back and center, lost wide receivers to injuries and suspensions and still fielded one of the NFL’s most lethal units.

And finally, there’s Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. Art Rooney II showed his faith in Tomlin by extending his contract in training camp. Many in Steelers Nation questioned the move, clinging to the “He’s still only won with Bill Cowher’s players.” Yeah, whatever.

This is Tomlin’s team or Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s team. And Mike Tomlin has done pretty damm good with the group of player’s he’s assembled. It is one thing to mouth the words, “The Standard is the Standard” and/or “Next Man Up.” It is another thing to believe it, and yet another to get your locker room to accept it.

Yes, Mike Tomlin teams might still have legitimate issues with “Trap Games” but he’s proven himself to be an excellent head coach. Tomlin himself will tell you that any season that doesn’t end in a Super Bowl Championship is a failure. Fair enough. But 2015 probably represented his best coaching job. Grade: A

Steelers Unsung Hero of 2015

Everyone knows that Ben Roethlisberger took a lot of punishment during the early part of Mike Tomiln’s tenure as head coach. Debates raged over how much of that was due to “Ben being Ben.” Some of it undoubtedly was. But the Steelers, for whatever reason, employed a “Plug and Patch” approach to offensive line building, and it showed.

Roethlisberger, Brown, Wheaton, Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, Heath Miller, and DeAngelo Williams put together a lot of ESPN highlight material in 2015.

  • But none of their fireworks would have been possible without the quality offensive line play week in and week out.

Mike Munchak lost 40% of his offensive line, yet the unit improved from 2014 to 2015. One can only imagine how much more might have been accomplished had Maurkice Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum stayed healthy.

As it was, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Cody Wallace, Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva acted as a rock of stability for the Steelers offense, and for that the Steelers offensive line wins the Unsung Hero award for the 2015 season.

Part I of the Steelers 2015 Report Card graded the offense.
Part II of the Steelers 2015 Report Card graded the defense.

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Offensive Report Card

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who thinks his start students learned a valuable lesson in — namely how to win games – here is the Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Offensive Report Card, which grades the Steelers offense for the the 2015 season.

Quarterbackssteelers, report card, grades, 2015 season, offense, ben roethlisberger, antonio brown, deangelo williams
Everything in 2015 was supposed to hinge on Ben Roethlisberger’s health. Yet Ben Roethlisberger had to leave three games due to injury and missed four starts due to injury. The Steelers went 2-2 in those missed starts, and won 2 of 3 closes in Ben’s absence. Michael Vick didn’t have much left in the tank, but he put it all on the field in the 4th quarter vs. San Diego and without that effort, the Steelers miss the playoffs. Landry Jones provides a more interesting study. He showed himself to be a competent backup in the regular season, but struggled in the post season.

Ben Roethlisberger played extremely well in 2015, although his late season penchant for “Stupid interceptions” was worrisome. However, he protected the ball in the playoffs. Taken altogether, the Steelers quarterbacks had a very good 2015. Grade: B+

Running Backs
2015 was supposed to be the year Le’Veon Bell proved that the concept of “franchise running back” was not dead. And had Bell played for more than six games, he might have. However, suspension and injuy ruined his 2015 and the lion’s share of the Steelers rushing effort fell to DeAngelo Williams, who played far better than any 32 year old running back had a right to. Fullback Roosevelt Nix also proved he belonged in the backfield, as did Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman. Dri Archer was the group’s only disappointment, but that cannot bring this grade down. Grade: A

Tight Ends
There are more than a few whispers with Heath Miller could be a Steelers salary cap casualty. Word is “Heath is slowing a step.” Let’s hope that is idle chatter rather than legitimate leaks coming out of the South Side. The numbers don’t really suggest Heath Miller is slowing a step. His catches are down slightly, but his catches per-target are up. His average yards receiving is down, but that could be due to the presence of other weapons. Matt Spaeth did not figure much into the passing offense, but his blocking helped the running game. Jesse James didn’t play until mid-season, but did what was asked of him, and looks to have a bright future. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers
No disrespect to Cam Newton, but Antonio Brown deserved deeper consideration for NFL MVP. Antonio Brown’s performance is approaching that of a “Generational Player” – a special player like Joe Greene or Troy Polamalu who only comes along once a generation.

  • Below Brown, the Steelers situation at wide receiver is a little more muddled.

Martavis Bryant lost 4 games to suspension. He did play well early on, but struggled late in the year, only to bounce back in the playoffs. Markus Wheaton started fairly strong, and then struggled, but also finished the year on a strong note, although he did not step up quite as well in the playoffs. Darrius Heyward-Bey played extremely well in Bryant’s absence, and then again in the playoffs in Brown’s absence. Sammie Coates didn’t get much time during the regular season, but played very well in the playoffs. Grade: A-

Offensive Line
What a difference a little bit of depth on offensive line makes? The Steelers lost 40% of their starting offensive line, yet you wouldn’t have known it save for a few games and a few isolated plays. Cody Wallace filled in admirably for Maurkice Pouncey, and Alejandro Villanueva played incredibly well at left tackle for a man who was new to the position. David DeCastro continued to emerge as a the road grader the Steelers drafted him to be, while Ramon Foster quietly played well. Marcus Gilbert vindicated the extension the Steelers gave him. Grade: A

Part II of the Steelers 2015 Report Card series grades the Steelers defense.
Part III grades the Steelers coaches and special teams.

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Final Look at Steelers 2015 Regular Season Finish

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 regular season schedule has ended, and Steelers Nation is rightly focusing on the Steelers-Bengals AFC Wild Card matchup at Paul Brown Stadium. But before completely shifting focus to the Steelers 2015 post season, long may it last, Steel Curtain Rising offers a final look at the Steelers 2015 regular season finish.

  • The 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers post-Thanksgiving 6 game stretch promised to define their season.

The Steelers were playing on the road in 4 out of six contests and were playing 3 division leaders in addition to 3 AFC North rivals, the later games all coming on the road. With that in mind, we singled 6 players who needed to step up during the Steelers final six game.

So how did these six players do? Let’s take a look.

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Cornerback Antwon Blake

By Thanksgiving, Antwon Blake was already everyone’s favorite whipping boy in Steelers Nation, the pariah corner, much like William Gay was at this stage of his career (which is not to say that Blake will blossom the way Gay has.) Perhaps Blake takes more blame than he deserves, but there’s one undeniable fact:

  • Antwon Blake did not step it up during the stretch.

In fact, although Blake continues to start, Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler began working in Brandon Boykin at Blake’s expense. And Boykin’s entry into games has generally been good for the defense. And of course there was the awful missed tackle on third down in vs. the Ravens.

Place Kicker Chris Boswell

Chris Boswell has been a pleasant surprise for the Steelers after the place kicking nightmare that plagued the Steelers from the Hall of Fame game to the home loss to the Ravens. Yet, he missed his first field goal at Heinz Field in early November. While all kickers are going to miss, making kicks during winter in the AFC North is a must.

  • Chris Bowsell missed two kicks in the Steelers final six games.

The first miss came late in the game vs. the Colts, the second came in the first half vs. the Browns. The they from 47 and 48 yards away, by no means gimmies. He also made his other 12 kicks, three of which were from over 40 yards away, and one from 51 yards away.

Chris Boswell certainly stepped up during the Steelers 2015 regular season close.

Wide Receiver Markus Wheaton

Playing in the shadows of Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton is the Steelers forgotten receiver. And although Wheaton had a moment of glory in the Michael Vick led-4th quarter comeback vs. San Diego, he hit a midseason slump after that.

Looking at the Steelers final 6 games of 2015, we made this observation about Markus Wheaton:

The reality is that Ben Roethlisberger’s first three targets during the Steelers final 6 games are probably going to be Brown, Bryant and Heath Miller. But there will be times when those men will be covered and Ben Roethlisberger will look Markus Wheaton’s way.

That prediction rang true vs. Seattle, and Markus Wheaton delivered with a 200 yard receiving game. In fact, Wheaton soared during the season’s final six game, scoring four of his five touchdowns during that span. More importantly, Wheaton is coming down with the tough catches.

In a word, Markus Wheaton stepped up.

Center Cody Wallace

Cody Wallace got fingered, because several other sites that do film review critiqued his performances vs. the Raiders and the Browns.

Cody Wallace’s name was rarely heard during the Steelers 2015 regular season finish, and that’s a good thing.

Fullback Roosevelt Nix

Roosevelt Nix is the Steelers 2015 undrafted rookie free agent find and his stout play on both offense and special teams vindicated Mike Tomlin’s decision to keep this college defensive lineman turned NFL fullback on the Steelers 53 man roster.

Nix found his name on the “need to step up” list because often times, it is players who hold roster spots 46-53 that are difference makers down the stretch.

While Nix continued his stout play, prior to his injury, it is hard to say that he did anything out of the ordinary to “step up.” He played well until he got hurt, and the Steelers have since placed Nix on injured reserve.

Backup Defensive Lineman Daniel McCullers, L.T. Walton or Cam Thomas

Fortunately, Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon and Stephon Tuitt have stayed healthy and their play on the field has been excellent. The Steelers depth, or lack thereof, on defensive line was not tested during their 2015 regular season close.

But Daniel McCullers, L.T. Walton and/or Cam Thomas had better be ready, because that could change real fast in when the Steelers begin the playoffs in vs. the Bengals in the AFC Wild Card game at Paul Brown Stadium.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for Win over Broncos

Taken from the grade book of a teacher whose now seen his pupil hit it on 3 out of 4 on a 6 party pass-fail final, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Denver Broncos at Heinz Field.steelers, report card, grades, Denver Broncos

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger completed a mind-boggling 40 passes on a day when he threw 55 and that included 3 touchdown strikes. Roethlisberger faced pressure from the Denver defense, perhaps more than he’s seen lately, but he protected the ball. Down 14 points at the half, Ben Roethlisberger could do better than a 3 & out on their first try in the second half, but with Ben leading them, the Steelers offense stayed on an even keel, and first grabbed, then added to the lead. His first interception, however set up a Broncos touchdown, and his second gave them a chance to get back in the game. Grade: B

Running Backs
DeAngelo Williams played sparingly against the Broncos, and his numbers do not look impressive. Still, his second effort got the Steelers on the board to start the game and caught 5 passes for 30 yards. Grade: B-

Tight Ends
It was a quiet day for Heath Miller and the rest of the Steelers tight ends, as Miller only caught 3 passes in very short yardage situations and was only targeted on 5 more. However, Miller was used more to help fend off the Broncos pass rush, and he had a role in keeping Ben upright. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Is Antonio Brown human? Chris Thomas is one of the best corners in the NFL and had not allowed a touchdown in two years. Yet Antoino Brown smoked him. Twice. Brown’s two touchdown 18 catch 189 yard performance was simply the stuff of legends and in fact overshadowed strong performances by Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. Grade: A+

Offensive Line
Cody Wallace got flagged twice for holding and once more for unnecessary roughness. Marcus Gilbert had 1 false stat penalty. Alejandro Villanueva got flagged once for holding. That’s probably a tad bit more in pre-snap penalties than you’d like to see, but none were drive-killing offenses. The offensive line “impose its will” in the running game but, more importantly, it kept Ben Roethlisberger clean on all but 3 of his 50 pass attempts, and their pass protection improved markedly in the second half. Grade: B+

Defensive Line
Although Denver had respectable rushing averages, they never attempted to use the rushing game to establish a rhythm. Stephon Tuitt led Steelers defensive lineman with 5 tackles and Cameron Heyward was simply a monster. He may have only had two tackles, but one of those was for a loss, and he had a key sack forcing the punt that led to the Steelers go ahead possession. Steve McLendon also had one tackle for a loss. Grade: B+

https://twitter.com/steelers/status/679024207842443266/photo/1

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons sat out 17 of the Steelers 71 defensive snaps. What’s notable about this is that those are the only snaps he’s missed all season. Even taking those plays off, Timmons led the linebacking corps in tackles, and recorded the Steelers second sack. The real star of the show was Ryan Shazier, who pulled down an interception as the 2 minute warning approached and defended 3 more passes. Jarvis Jones had two tackles, Arthur Moats a passed defense and Bud Dupree 1 tackle. Grade: B+

Secondary
In the first half the Steelers secondary played some of its worst football of the season. In the second half, the Steelers secondary played some of its best football of the season. And let’s not forget that early in 1st quarter, Will Allen’s strip of Ronnie Hillman and Michael Mitchell’s recovery set up the Steelers 1st touchdown.

While the Report Card purist in me is tempted to upbraid the Steelers defensive backs for seemingly “forgetting” to cover Emmanuel Sanders (and Tim Tebow’s friend Demaryius Thomas), such a heavy hand is not warranted here.

On four critical third down situations in the 2nd half Will Allen, Mike Mitchell, Robert Golden and William Gay all ended drives by defensing passes. Brandon Boykin also had a pass defensed. Yes, it is true that some of those could and probably should have been interceptions, but as the saying goes “If defensive backs had hands, they’d be wide receivers.” The bottom line is the Denver Broncos didn’t score a point in the second half. After converting his first third down of the second half with 3:04 left to play Brock Osweiler threw 8 straight incompletions. Grade: B+

Special Teams
Chris Boswell was 2-2 on field goals and 4-4 on extra points. Jordan Berry was 38.6 punting, and benefited from some long bounces. Markus Wheaton did a decent job with kick returns, as did Antonio Brown on punt returns. So far so good.

However, Danny Smith’s special teams almost got caught with their pants down when the Steelers special teams failed to properly down a punt. Worse yet, on Denver’s penultimate possession, Jordan Norwood and Cody Latimer tag teamed for a 41 yard kickoff return with 3:24 remaining.

The return ultimately did not cost the Steelers, but such lapses are unacceptable. Grade: C-

Coaching
Interestingly enough, the attention to the Steelers second half turnaround tended to focus on the Steelers defense, and while that’s understandable, the offense needed to make adjustments of its own. That primary adjustment was giving Ben Roethlisberger the time he needed to throw, something which had been a challenge in the first half, and Mike Munchuak and Todd Haley deserve credit.

When asked, Mike Tomlin denied that the Steelers had done much differently on defense between the first and second halves except for execute. Perhaps that’s true, or perhaps he doesn’t facilitate film study for his rivals. The truth is that whatever Tomlin, Keith Butler and Carnell Lake told their secondary at half time, the defensive backs took it to heart.

  • Beyond that, Mike Tomlin praised his team for their mental toughness in the face of adversity.

The players certainly do deserve that praise, but it is Tomlin who establishes the culture that fosters that mental toughness. And that was a huge difference vs. the Broncos. Grade: A

Unsung Hero Award
There are a lot of candidates who could take this award, but we’re going to opt for two men’s whose contributions are perhaps most at risk for being overlooked. The Denver defense brought the best the NFL has to offer to Pittsburgh, and both Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant made tough physical catches early and often putting the Broncos on notice that the Steelers would contest their dominance, and for that they win the Unsung Hero Award for the win against the Denver.

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Los Steelers aplastaron a los Colts por 45 a 10 en el SNF

Un nuevo paso en el camino a la Postemporada

Los Pittsburgh Steelers iniciaron el partido contra los Colts sabiendo que perder no era una opción debido a que sus competidores por los dos lugares de comodines, Kansas City Chiefs y New York Jets, habían ganado y esperaban con sus respectivos 7-5.

De haber perdido, sobre todo teniendo en cuenta los rivales de las próximas dos semanas, el panorama se habría complicado aún más de lo que ya está.

  • Y el inicio del juego parece haber dejado entrever esa tensión, ese nerviosismo.

A los pocos pasos de comenzar, Jacoby Jones, (que realmente no parece estar a la altura del resto de sus compañeros y que fuera reemplazado por Antonio Brown luego de soltar el balón por segunda vez) sacudiendo el balón, titubeando al alcanzar a los dos primeros rivales, soltó el balón para entregarlo profundo en propio campo.

Ya temprano en el juego la defensiva se ponía a prueba, luego de haber sido foco de críticas durante la semana debido a su más que modesto desempeño la semana pasada en Seattle.
Matt Hasselbeck bajo presión lanzó su primera INT de la noche. El encargado de recibir el pase fue Jarvis Jones en la 1.

  • En la siguiente serie acerera, DeAngelo Williams soltó el ovoide resultado de lo cual indianapolis anotó sus primeros 3 puntos.
  • No habían transcurrido 3 minutos y ya se contaban tres turnovers y la mala noticia era que los Steelers habían entregado 2 veces el ovoide.
  • Sin embargo, en puntos, de 14 posibles, la defensiva había permitido sólo 3. Y el partido recién empezaba.

Big Ben, a su tiempo, arrasó el campo por aire, en particular con Jesse James quien se anotó con tres atrapadas, una de ellas de más de 20 yds.

Pero la defensiva aurinegra batiría nuevamente el parche cuando William Gay, defendiendo en zona, leyó de manera extraordinaria la jugada y desvió un pase que sería recuperado por el profundo Brandon Boykin. El resultado de esa acción fue un gol de campo del cada vez más confiable Chris Boswell de 51 yardas. Seis a 3 para los locales y ni siquiera había finalizando el primer cuarto: cuatro entregas de balón, 2 por equipo. No era el mejor comienzo para ninguno de los dos.

En el 2do cuarto, Matt Hasselbeck conectó 2 pases de veterano: el primero, largo y a la izquierda, para colocar a su ofensiva en la yarda 2 contraria y el segundo, por el centro, entre los LBs, para anotar 7 y pasar el frente por última vez en el partido.

La respuesta de Roethlisberger fue contundente: jugando sin reunión, con atrapadas claves de Martavis Bryant y Antonio Brown, conectó finalmente en la endzone con el receptor 84 para poner las cosas en su lugar.

  • Diez jugadas, 80 yardas, Ben 6/7 (71 yds), 1 TD. 2-pt convertion incluida
    10-14

Indianapolis despejó y Jacoby Jones volvió a soltar el ovoide, pero la situación fue salvada por Derrius Heyward Bey en propia yarda 40. La serie final de esta mitad, dentro de los 2 minutos finales, fue otra vez, totalmente aérea, teniendo que superar un 1er y 25 por una infracción infantil de Cody Wallace. Markus Wheaton hizo la atrapada clave en 2do y 10 ganando 27 yds y poniendo a la ofensiva en la 5. En 3er y goal, faltando 14” en el reloj Ben pasó al pilón derecho para que Wheaton estirara la diferencia a 11 puntos.

La primera mitad finalizó con Pittsburgh sumando 252 yds totales (33 por tierra y 219 por aire) mientras que los Colts sumaban apenas 114 (37-77).

  • Clara superioridad de los Pittsburgh Steelers.

Y esa superioridad se confirmaría en el inicio de la segunda mitad. Mientras la ofensiva de Indy era empujada fuera luego de 3 intentos, los Steelers convertirían otros 7 puntos a través de M. Bryant.

steelers en español, martavis bryant, steelers, colts
3 TD en las últimas 3 series. Veintidós puntos sin respuesta.
A partir de aquí se puede decir que el partido estaba decidido, más cuando el QB Hasselbeck dejó el campo por lesión.

Sin embargo se pueden destacar algunos puntos interesantes en los 2 cuartos restantes:

  • Debido a la ventaja obtenida en los 2 primeros cuartos pudo desarrollarse más ampliamente el juego terrestre: 125 de las 158 yds se avanzaron en la última media hora.
  • James Harrison produjo 3 capturas de mariscal con un fumble recuperado.
  • Antonio Brown devolvió una parada de despeje para TD demostrando la multidimensionalidad de este jugador.
  • Se limitó a 143 yds el número de yardas aéreas a la ofensiva visitante

Lo que queda del día

Hace 7 días las dudas sobre la defensiva se acumulaban en nuestras cabezas tanto que se puso en duda la posibilidad real de que los Steelers alcancen la postemporada. En realidad no es que esas dudas se hayan disipado, más bien quedó claro que si bien otro rendimiento es posible, esta defensiva es muy dependiente de la capacidad del QB rival. Matt Hasselbeck fue un rival de poco riesgo para esta defensiva.

  • Hay que destacar que los Colts apenas lograron convertir 3 de 14 terceros downs. Y de estos, se rechazaron 3 intentos de 2 yardas o menos, y 2 de 3 intentos de 4to down.

En la defensiva profunda coach Mike Tomlin tomó medidas correctivas: ingresó Brandon Boykin, quien participó en el 69% de los snaps, se anotó una INT y desvió 2 pases.

steelers en español, brandon boykin, steelers, colts
El desplazado, Antwon Blake, de participar en todas las jugadas en los últimos partidos, bajó ahora al 55% su participación con 2 tackles, sin INT ni pases defendidos.

  • De los 7 pases defendidos, 5 correspondieron a jugadores de la secundaria.

La presión sobre Hasselbeck fue incesante. Se lo capturó en 5 ocasiones (en realidad 4 a Hasselbeck y 1 a Whitehurst), siendo James Harrison el principal verdugo de mariscales visitantes, y se lo golpeó en 7 oportunidades. Las cargas se lanzaron principalmente por fuera, obligando a Hasselbeck a lanzar de manera prematura e imprecisa. La presión sobre la ofensiva rival tuvo protagonistas sobresalientes: Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, como siempre Lawrence Timmons, Cameron Heyward y James Harrison que parece interminable.

La asombrosa ofensiva Steelers

Hace uns semanas decíamos que daba la impresión de que esta ofensiva aún no había mostrado todo su potencial. Durante las primeras 12 semanas de este año:

  • Ben Roethlisberger completó el 18% de sus pases de más de 20 yds desde la línea de golpeo (más alto para la NFL desde 2011)

La ofensiva Steeler:

  • Completó 17 pases de 40+ yardas (mayor para la NFL)
  • Produjo 13 acarreos de 20+ yardas (empata mayor para la NFL)
  • Promedia 6.4 yds por jugada (más alto de la NFL)

Hay que tener en cuenta que esta ofensiva ha sido diezmada por las lesiones. No están LeVeon Bell, Kelvin Beachum, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Adams y ahora Heath Miller. El propio Ben comenzó y finalizó sólo 3 partidos durante este año.
Sin embargo, como suele decir Mike Tomlin “next man up” y los reemplazos están progresando partido a partido.

steelers en español, alejandro villanueva

Tal vez el caso más prominente es el del T Alejandro Villanueva, quien este domingo prevaleció en el duelo contra Robert Mathis y el de DeAngelo Williams quien es el N° 13 en la liga en cantidad de yardas acarreadas y 6° en promedio de yardas por acarreo (se debe poner en perspectiva el hecho de que en algunos de los partidos de este año, DeAngelo fue suplente de Bell).

steelers en español, deangelo williams, steelers, colts
La línea ofensiva contribuyó de manera superlativa para que Williams acarreara el domingo para 134 yardas y que Ben no fuera capturado ni tan siquiera una vez y fuera puesto a correr en apenas un puñado de oportunidades.

El TE rookie Jesse James está viendo más acción debido a la lesión de Heath Miller y vaya que lo está aprovechando: atrapó 3 de 5 pases para totalizar 30 yardas.

El plantel de receptores, la contracara de Ben Roethlisberger, marca la diferencia. Identifican y le dan el sello distintivo a esta franquicia que antaño basara su ofensiva en corredores brutales, como Franco Harris y Jerome Bettis.

Antonio Brown atrapó el 72% de los envíos, con 2 TD aéreos y 1 devolviendo un punt (el que quedará en la historia por un festejo insólito). Martavis Bryant 4 recepciones, 114 yds, 1 TD. Markus Wheaton 3 recepciones, 50 yds y 1 TD.

Por último, en 3er down también se mostró una sensible mejoría convirtiendo 8 de 13 intentos (61%) cuando la semana anterior en Seattle tuvieron éxito en el 45% de las oportunidades.

Dos Fines de Semana sin Lugar para el Error por los Pittsburgh Steelers

Si bien los Pittsburgh Steelers aplastaron a los Colts por 45-10, Pittsburgh solo ocupan el 7° lugar en la Conferencia Americana, actualmente fuera de la postemporada pero aún en carrera.

  • El desafío es que los próximos fines de semana los Steelers chocaran contra el 1° y el 2° de la Conferencia. Los Bengals y los Broncos (ambos 10-2) ya tienen asegurado su lugar en enero.

Cincinnati se presenta como el primer escollo a sortear. Es de imaginar que volver a Heinz Field con una victoria podría cambiar y potenciar el espíritu de cara al match frente a los Broncos.
El TE Tyler Eifert, el mayor anotador de TDs de los Bengals durante esta temporada, al momento de escribir estas líneas, aún está en duda para el domingo.

Cincinnati permite sólo 337 yds netas a la ofensiva rival (10° en la liga), 240 yardas aéreas por partido (13°) y es el equipo que menos puntos permite por juego en toda la liga (16.3 puntos/partido)
Será fundamental para Pittsburgh, mostrar como el domingo pasado, un equipo equilibrado. Con la ofensiva en todo su poder y una defensiva confiable, explosiva y capaz de obtener turnovers, considerando que los Bengals difícilmente entregan el ovoide (sólo 1 vez por partido, promedio)

Será un gran desafío para el equipo. Un duelo singular, sin dudas el juego más importante de la semana.

Y para los Steelers el más importante del año
Hay que confiar.

 

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Steelers Nation Gives Thanks in 2015 for the Steelers Understudies DeAngelo Williams, Will Allen, Cody Wallace, and Alejandro Villanueva

Thanksgiving is here and as always my thoughts turn to Pittsburgh because, for the first 21 years of my life, Thanksgiving either involved a trip to Pittsburgh or a visit from relatives from Pittsburgh.

Those days have long passed and 2015 actually marks the 14th consecutive year yours truly will spend Thanksgiving outside of the United States. Thanksgiving traffic could make the I-270/I-70/Pennsylvania Turnpike/Parkway circuit quite stressful, but it was a more manageable haul than Buenos Aires-to-Maryland.

As we have every year since 2009, Steel Curtain Rising takes stock of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and gives Steelers Nation something Steelers-related to give thanks for. And this year we’re giving thanks for “The Understudies” DeAngelo Williams, Will Allen, Cody Wallace, and Alejandro Villanueva.

 

pittsburgh, skyline, thanksgiving, 2015, dave dicello, steelers understudies

Pittsburgh, Thanksgiving 2015, photo by Dave DiCello

Steelers Thanksgiving 2015 “An Ode to Steelers Understudies”

Success in today’s NFL means preparing for the unexpected, which is, by definition, difficult. Unless you get really lucky, the question isn’t “If” a star player is going to injured, but “When.”

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers represent no exception.

The Steelers opened the 2013 season without their starting running back and their top two tight ends, and, by the third quarter, had lost their center, right cornerback, third down back and right inside linebacker.

  • ESPN.com argues that the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers have been hurt by more injures than anyone else.

ESPN might exaggerate, but at quarterback alone Pittsburgh has seen Ben Roethlisberger on the cart twice, and watched both Michael Vick and Landry Jones come out of games, never mind Bruce Gradkowski’s ten day journey from the PAP list to the IR list.

Fortunately, thanks to the role of understudies, the 2015 Steelers have been able to adapt and overcome.

Steelers Understudy DeAngelo Williams Isn’t Old, He’s Mature

A year ago Le’Veon Bell‘s injury left Steelers entering the playoffs with their pants down. Unfortunately Bell was injured again this year, but fortunately the Steelers have been ready thanks to DeAngelo Williams.

The NFL has always been a “young man’s game” but that statement is more true at running back now than it ever has been. Perhaps its appropriate to say that “26 is the new 30” for NFL running backs. Running backs just don’t play for very long. The Steelers know this. Their top three running backs from 2012 (Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, and Isaac Redman) were out of football by 2014.

When the Steelers signed him from the Carolina Panthers, DeAngelo Williams was 32, had nine seasons, and had rushed the ball one thousand four hundred and thirty two times. On paper, that would seem like a very risky proposition.

  • In just four starts, Williams is ½ way to 1000 yards, and his rushing average is actually a hair better than Bell’s.

In Bell’s absence, Williams just hasn’t held his own he’s helped move the Steelers offense forward. (Oh, yeah, and as the embedded Twitter video shows, DeAngelo Williams is a pretty good blocker too….)

Will Allen, the Under Appreciated Steelers Understudy

Has there been a more under appreciated Pittsburgh Steeler in recent memory than Will Allen?

You’d have to make a really strong case to convince me. We’ve told Will Allen’s story here before:

2015 was supposed to be Shamarko Thomas’ year to shine. The Steelers, in fact, let Will Allen hang in free agency until Troy Polamalu retired. Instead, the Steelers have benched Thomas and started Will Allen and Allen has been a source of strength, leadership and stability for the Steelers secondary.

Wallace & Villanueva: The Offensive Lineman No One Else Wanted

“There’s a reason why no one else wanted him….” That’s a stock response Steelers fans hear any time a fan ask “Why hasn’t Pittsburgh signed [insert player sitting at home] yet.” Sometimes it’s true. I confess to using it myself on more than one occasion.

But Kevin Colbert has a keen eye for seeing upsides on struggling player that other NFL general managers miss. And ten games into the 2015 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line is starting two of them.

In September 2013 things did not look good for Cody Wallace. 2009 saw him suit up for one game with the San Francisco 49ers who’d drafted him in the 4th round. Spent 2010 getting signed and cut by the Jets and Lions but never played for either. In 2011 he held practice squad and a roster spots with the Houston Texans. Tampa Bay picked him up in 2012 where he played in 8 game, but the Buccaneers cut him before the 2013 season.

  • Such moves generally signal the end for 29 year old offensive lineman who’ve drifted from team-to-team.

But Kevin Colbert saw something in Wallace he liked, brought him to Pittsburgh, and Wallace has started 16 games and counting for the Steelers. Yes, Wallace poor technique has been cited by those who know more than I do, and he earned a spot as one of 6 Steelers who need to step up. But Cody Wallace has generally been soild for the Steelers.

Alejandro Villanueva’s story is well known. Son of a Spanish immigrant who grew up an Army brat. Four year player at wide receiver, offensive tackle, and defensive tackle for West Point. US Amry Ranger who served multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan. And now, after one year on the practice squad, he’s the Steelers starting left tackle.

Villanueva struggled in his first start, and still has a lot to learn, but thus far he’s avoided being a liability.

Happy Thanksgiving Steelers Nation

So in 2015 Steelers Nation can give thanks for the Steelers Understudies, DeAngelo Williams, Will Allen, Cody Wallace and Alejandro Villanueva.

But, while the Steelers are important to me and the fact that you’ve read this far says they’re important to you too. But Steel Curtain Rising’s real Thanksgiving wish for everyone has nothing to do with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and to that end we sincerely hope that all of you reading this have no-shortage of non-football reasons tied to good health and that of your family and friends to give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving Steelers Nation.

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