Ross Cockrell Signs Restricted Free Agent Tender – Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

Dan Rooney’s passing might have consumed the attention of Steelers Nation for the better part of six days but the business of football continues. On Monday Steelers restricted free agent cornerback Ross Cockrell signed his one year tender, ending any possibility that he would defect away from Pittsburgh.

  • The news comes with the proverbial glass half-empty half-full catch.

On the one hand, Ross Cockrell has made tremendous strides since the Steelers claimed him off of waviers in August 2015. So it is good that to know that he his continues on his upward trajectory the Steelers will benefit, at least for another season.

Ross Cockrell, Ross Cockrell interception, Steelers vs Ravens

Ross Cockrell brings down his first interception in the Steelers September loss to the Ravens. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

On the flip side, there’s the simple fact that 31 other NFL teams, many of which are flush with salary cap space, didn’t think enough of his current talent or “upside” to part with a 4th round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to secure his services.

  • What’s a law abiding citizen of Steelers Nation to conclude?

It says here that Ross Cockrell returning to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017 is a good thing. When Ross Cockrell arrived in Pittsburgh, the common response was “Who?”

On the face of it, the fact that the Steelers picked a player who’d been waived in the first round of training cuts made it appear like the Steelers were continuing to try to fill their need at cornerback on the cheap, as they’d done with the Brice McCains, Antwon Blakes and Brandon Boykins.

  • But as Bob Labriola cautioned on Asked and Answered, its hard to judge a DB soley on tape because you don’t know what he’s being asked to do.

The wisdom came from the late Bill Nunn Jr., the legendary Steelers scout, and had Nunn lived to see Cockrell play, he’d have been proud, as Cockrell made two interceptions as a rookie and recovered the fumble that Ryan Shazier caused in the 2015 AFC Wild Card game against the Bengals, enabling Ben Roethlisberger’s heroic comeback.

The Steelers promoted Cockrell to starter in 2016, and while he did not come away with any interceptions, he did have 14 defensed passes, including a key one in the December win over the Bengals.

A lot of critics suggested the Steelers were low balling Ross Cockrell by only giving him an original round tender, and many suggested that this signified that they the franchise really didn’t regard him as starter material. That may be the case, but the Steelers actual risk factor was low, as they retained the right of first refusal.

The gamble they made with Cockrell really was no different than the ones they made with Emmanuel Sanders and Steve McLendon in 2013.

  • Both men returned to start, and both men remain starters in Denver and New York.

Ross Cockrell returning to the Steelers is a decidedly half full proposition for Pittsburgh. Had the Steelers lost him, they’d almost have been forced to take a cornerback in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft as Artie Burns has only played on year, William Gay is fading and newly signed Coty Sensabaugh remains unproven.  After that, the Steelers cornerback cupboard is pretty thin – unless you’re ready to count on Senquez Golson.

The Steelers should and probably will take a cornerback with one of their first 3 if not first 2 picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, but having Ross Cockrell back for a year relieves Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin of the need to reach.

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

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Return on Investment? Steelers Sign Knile Davis to as Kick Returner, Backup Running Back

Bargain hunting continued on Pittsburgh’s South Side Monday as the Steelers signed Knile Davis, a free agent running back who most recently played for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Knile Davis is listed as a running back, but the Steelers are eyeing him primarily as a kick returner, a specialist position which the franchise has struggled to fill for most of the Mike Tomlin Era.

Knile Davis, Sean Spence, Jarvis Jones, Steelers vs Chiefs

Sean Spence tackles Knile Davis as Jarvis Jones arrives a second too late. Photo Credit: USA Today’s Steelers Wire

To put the matter into perspective, the last time the Steelers had a kickoff returned for a touchdown as in the 2010’s game against the Tennessee Titans, when Antonio Brown took a reverse and ran it all the way in.

The only Steelers kick returners who’ve returned more than 10 kicks during Mike Tomlin’s tenure to remotely approach an average of 25 yards per return are Stephan Logan, Markus Wheaton, Chris Rainey, Emmanuel Sanders and Brown.

  • In just four seasons, Knile Daivs has already returned 73 kicks for a total of 1920 yards, for a 26.8 yard average for two touchdowns.

Given that a touchback now results in the ball being spotted at the 25 yard line, having a kick returner who can routinely better that marks a welcome addition to the return team. (For the record Stefan Logan and Chris Rainey were the only returners during the Tomlin era to average more than 25 yards.)

Now Knile Davis Impacts the Steelers Depth Chart @ Running Back

Le’Veon Bell remains the uncontested Alpha Male atop the Steelers running back depth chart, and the unsigned status of DeAngelo Williams might suggest that the he’s been replaced by Knile Davis. Davis would certainly like coaches to see it that way as indicated by his statement to reporters:

I feel like they are confident I can (complement Bell). I’ve had to fill in before. I’ve had 100-yard games in this league. I’ve done well in this league, and I’m prepared for whatever comes in the future.

That’s a little bold, but healthy nonetheless or the new arrival. However, if press reports are any indication, the Steelers primarily interest in Knile Davis is as a kick returner, not as a running back. Nonetheless, Fitzgerald Toussaint has been put on notice that he will need to defend his roster spot at St. Vincents next summer.

The Steelers tried to work Toussaint in at kick returner last year, but without much effect. And while Knile Davis’ 3.2 rushing average isn’t much to write home about it is better that Fitzgerald Toussaint’s career average of 2.9.

  • The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Knile Davis in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

He played in Kansas City for three seasons until the Chiefs traded him to Green Bay for a seventh-round draft pick in October 2016. But Davis didn’t remain a Cheesehead for long, as the Packers cut him after two games. He spent one day on the New York Jets’ roster before re-signing with Kansas City.

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

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Think Steelers Should Trade Antonio Brown? Then Follow Le’Veon Bell’s Example and Stop Smoking

Antonio Brown, the Steelers superstar receiver and social media celebrity, has come under fire recently for putting too much emphasis on his superstar status and for, well, being on social media too much.

Among Antonio Brown‘s many follies recently was his Facebook Live post in the Steelers’ locker room shortly after an exciting 18-16 victory over the Chiefs in the AFC divisional playoffs on January 15.

I can go on and on about Antonio Brown’s various transgressions that include your usual diva-like receiver tendencies of whining and complaining about not getting enough passes thrown his way, but if you’re reading this article, you probably know it all by now.

Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs Browns

Antonio Brown leads Le’Veon Bell at Heinz Field in Steelers 2014 opener. Photo Credit: Don Wright, AP via PennLive.com

As is often the case in the Internet Age, fans have been quick to call for the Steelers to trade Antonio Brown to another team. Not all of the fans, mind you,  but, relative to his status as perhaps the game’s top wide-out, enough to make it noticeable.

  • “Trade him for two number one draft picks!” some fans have written or screamed in recent days.

Fans are just crazy about the NFL Draft and draft picks. And any scenario that could involve Pittsburgh having multiple first rounders in this spring’s draft would be akin to counting down the days until Christmas morning for so many out there.

But if you think Antonio Brown, who has one year left on his current contract, would garner two first round picks in a trade, you are crazy. Given Antonio Brown’s lame-duck status, fetching even one first rounder might be little more than a pipe-dream.

However, that begs an even bigger question: even if you can garner two first round picks for Antonio Brown, why would you want to?

Why Antonio Brown is Worth More than 2 First Round Picks

First of all, contrary to what you always think every February, March and most of April, first round picks don’t always pan out.

Secondly, how can a first round pick (or even two) possibly best what Antonio Brown has and will probably continue to produce on the football field week in and week out?

I know what you’re going to say. Yes, Antonio Brown’s stats declined last year. He made 30 fewer receptions in 2016 than he did the previous year (106) for 550 fewer yards (1,284).

  • But to point that out as a criticism of Antonio Brown while not also mentioning the probable reason is rather disingenuous.

Given that the Steelers were missing Martavis Bryant for all of 2016, Markus Wheaton for all but three games and tight end Ladarius Green for all but six, it makes perfect sense that Antonio Brown’s numbers would see a swift decline from the year before.

Remember that offense that everyone envisioned, the NFL’s equivalent of the Death Star, complete with a plethora of aerial weapons for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to pick and choose how to obliterate opposing defenses? That kind of went up in smoke (pun intended) when Martavis Bryant was suspended for testing positive for marijuana for the second time in as many seasons.

Sammie Coates, Sammie Coates drop, steelers trade antonio brown

Sammie Coates drops a pass in the Steelers 2016 win over the Jets. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

You throw in the aforementioned injuries to some other targets–Green was supposed to be the downfield threat at tight end that would compensate for Bryant’s absence as the number two receiver–as well as Sammie Coates swift decline following a promising start to his second year, and Antonio Brown was destined to produce less in 2016.

Let’s face it, when you have Demarcus AyersCobi Hamilton and Eli Rogers (no offense to those men as they appear to be developing into a fine NFL receivers) as complementary targets, who do you think defensive coordinators are going to focus on stopping, them or Antonio Brown?

  • This is why No. 84 often dealt with double and triple teams in 2016.

This might also explain why Antonio Brown’s yards after catch (YAC) dropped from 587 in 2015 to 387 last year. Sure, it only makes sense that Brown’s YAC would decrease along with his overall yards, but it also illustrates the lack of room he had to work in after making most of his 106 receptions.

And even if Antonio Brown had benefited from being complemented quite nicely by Martavis Bryant, Marcus Wheaton, Sammie Coates and Ladarius Green in  2016, this does not mean his statistics wouldn’t have taken a dip. After all, Antonio Brown averaged 125 receptions a season between 2013-2015, a pretty historic run of productivity for a receiver from any generation–even one playing in the current era of pass-happy football.

Still Want Steelers to Trade Antonio Brown? Careful for What you Wish….

Again, fans are often quick to want to cut a player loose these days, even if his talents are all-world and his transgressions aren’t of the legal nature.

  • But, whether the fantasy football mentality or something else fuels this – careful what you wish for.

Let’s not forget, Pittsburgh’s franchise quarterback hinted at retirement mere hours after the Steelers 36-17 loss to New England in the AFC Championship game. It is believed that Ben Roethlisberger’s hints were mostly out of frustration, that he was tired of the likes of Antonio Brown and his antics.

However, despite an apparent friction between No. 7 and Antonio Brown, does anyone really think that the best way to entice Ben Roethlisberger into playing longer would be to eliminate his number one target, arguably the very best in the game at his position?

Yes, Antonio Brown is apparently a high maintenance member of the locker room and maybe a little more self-centered than most receivers (and that’s saying something), but this is the man who essentially saved the Steelers season, when, despite three defenders vehemently trying to prevent him from doing so, extended his arm over the goal line with nine seconds left to give the Steelers a pulsating 31-27 victory over the Ravens on Christmas Day, which clinched the AFC North title.

Brown is also the same man who had the presence of mind to keep running across the field late in the divisional round against the Chiefs, got himself open and clinched the victory by reeling in Roethlisberger’s pass on third and three.

Steelers young money crew, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace

Steelers “Young Money” Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Photo Credit: Tribune Review Blog

Fans have also been quick to point out that since Pittsburgh has produced a seemingly endless string of receivers in recent years–let’s not forget Antonio Brown was once part of the Young  Money trio that included Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders–he could be replaced, if not totally, then approximately.

But with 632 receptions in just seven seasons–including four-straight with 100 or more– Antonio Brown is quickly ascending up the record books of Steelers receivers  and could quite literally ellipse all of the records set by Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Hines Ward while he’s still in his early-30s.

  • Despite what you think of him, and despite his apparent need to grow up just a tad, there is only one Antonio Brown.

Part ways with Antonio Brown, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are a lesser football team.

I don’t think anyone is ready for that.

 

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Ryan Shazier Wins Steelers Thanksgiving Honors for 2016 – Happy Thanksgiving Steelers Nation

Thanksgiving has arrived!. Today may mark the 15th straight Thanksgiving that I have celebrated in Buenos Aires, for the first 21 years of my life, Thanksgiving either meant a trip to Pittsburgh or a visit from relatives in Pittsburgh.

  • Pennsylvania Turnpike notwithstanding, either event was a welcome occurrence, and truth be told, something I’ve missed as an adult.

During high school those Thanksgiving trips gave me the chance to read a week’s worth of accumulated Pittsburgh Press and Post Gazette coverage of the Steelers. In those pre-internet days, that was like Christmas come early.

The days of having to rely in imported printed copies Ed Bouchette to follow the Steelers are long over. For 7 years running now Steel Curtain Rising has been publishing an annual column highlighting reasons for Steelers Nation to give thanks. Here is how our Steelers Thanksgiving honors series has gone so far:

2009 – Saw Rashard Mendenhall win Steelers Thanksgiving honors
2010Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders, and Al Everest shared the honors
2011 Antonio Brown won Steelers Thanksgiving honors hands down
2012 – Attention turned to the emergence of Keenan Lewis
2013 – Stud in the making Cameron Heyward earned recognition
2014 – Honors went to Le’Veon Bell for his emergence as an All-Pro running back
2015 Steelers understudies earned Thanksgiving honors

Its also satisfying that even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight there’s no reason to regret any of our“ Steelers Thanksgiving honors” shout outs. Sure, Rashard Mendenhall might not have blossomed into the “franchise” running back he was picked to become, but Mendenhall played a huge role in getting the Steelers to the Super Bowl a year later.

Maurkice Pouncey has won Pro Bowl honors for each year he’s been healthy, Emmanuel Sanders is a first rate NFL wide out, and most fans would exchange Al Everest for Danny Smith as Steelers special teams coach. Antonio Brown is simply the best there is. Keenan Lewis did depart in free agency but honestly, have the Steelers had better play at cornerback since Keenan Lewis left?

Cameron Heyward has grown into the dominant player and leader on and off the field everyone thought he would be back at Thanksgiving 2013, and Le’Veon Bell is probably the most complete back in the NFL. And one year later, the 2015 contributions of DeAngelo Williams, Will Allen, Alejandro Villanueva and Cody Wallace look no less important to what the team accomplished a year ago.

With that in mind, we now turn our attention to this years Steelers Thanksgiving honors award.

Ryan Shazier Wins 2016 Steelers Thanksgiving Honors

It’s become cliché, but when the 2014 NFL Draft arrived the only question about the Steelers top choice was “Which cornerback will Pittsburgh take?” Of course the Steelers wanted Justin Gilbert (perhaps its good they didn’t get him), but when he wasn’t there, they shocked everyone (except Jim Wexell) by picking Ryan Shazier.

Given that the Steelers had Lawrence Timmons, and rising youngsters Vince Williams, Sean Spence and Terence Garvin, the moved struck many as a head scratcher.

  • Two and a half seasons later, no one who understands football should question the move.
ryan shazier, gary barnidge, steelers thanksgiving honors, steelers vs. browns

Gary Barnidge can’t hold on as Ryan Shazier lays in the wood. Photo Credit: Karen Schiely, AP via Akron Beacon Journal

Josh McCown of the Cleveland Browns certainly understands why Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau called Shazier’s number in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Sure Shazier has spent more time than you’d like to see on the trainer’s table, but football is a violent sport. Sure Shazier might trail C.J. Mosley, who the Ravens took 2 picks later, in terms of sacks an interceptions.

But in addition to his uncanny athleticism, Ryan Shazier has shown that uncanny playmaking ability that paves the way for greatness:

While a lot of fans are down on Shazier, the simple fact is that he’s only broaching the beginnings of what he can do. This kid still has plenty of upside.

So for 2016, Steel Curtain Rising awards its Steelers Thanksgiving honors to Ryan Shazier, as he give Steelers Nation reason to give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving Steelers Nation

Of course Thanksgiving is never been about football (although I do painfully remember the Thanksgiving day Massacre of 1983). It’s about things that are far more fundamentally important for life. Family, friends and faith.

  • Our sincere hope here at Steel Curtain Rising is anyone and everyone who reads this has reasons to give thanks that have nothing to do with either football or the Steelers.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in Steelers Nation.

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Looking @ the Steelers Thanksgiving Record – Can Pittsburgh Break the Turkey Day Curse?

The NFL is “honoring” the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 8th time by putting them in the national spotlight on Thanksgiving Day. Given the Steelers Thanksgiving record, one can imagine Art Rooney II saying a heartfelt “Thanks but no thanks” the next time the NFL offers them a turkey day slot.

Here is a look at the Steelers Thanksgiving record that has made for many a memorable turkey day that most of Steelers Nation Wish they could forget.

steelers thanksgiving record, steelers thanksgiving history, le'veon bell, le'veon bell concussion ravens, steelers ravens thanksgiving

Le’Veon Bell loses his helmet in the Steelers 2013 Thanksgiving loss at Baltimore. Photo Credit: Matt Hafley, Post-Gazette

Pre-Noll Era Steelers Thanksgiving Record 1-2

The Steelers played the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving Day in 1939 and 1940. The Pittsburgh Pirates, as they were still known then, lost to the Eagles on Thanksgiving in 1939 17-14. In 1940 the newly renamed Steelers had no better luck, losing to the Eagles 7-0.

The Steelers would have to wait another ten years, including their World War II stint as the Steagles, before playing on Thanksgiving Day. However, the NFL matched the Steelers up with the Chicago Cardinals on Thanksgiving day in 1950 and Pittsburgh prevailed led by Joe Geri’s 101 rushing yards, two touchdowns and 3 extra points.

1983 – The Thanksgiving Day Massacre

November 24th, 1983 @ The Pontiac Silverdome
Detroit 45, Pittsburgh 3

The 1983 Steelers had played the entire season without Terry Bradshaw, but despite that Cliff Stoudt combined with a defense that looked to be Super Bowl caliber had given the Steelers a 9-3 record and command of the AFC Central Division heading into their Thanksgiving Day game against Detroit. Detroit for its part was only 6-6.

As defensive coordinator Woody Widenhoffer admitted later, the Steelers weren’t prepared. And then some:

  • At the time, it was the Steelers worst loss in 36 years.

Cliff Stoudt threw 4 interceptions Mark Malone threw 1, Franco Harris gained 16 yards on 5 carries as both Harris and Walter Abercrombie’s combined totals were less than Frank Pollard’s. Meanwhile, Bill Sims looked like genetic fusion between Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, and Eric Hipple looked like Johnny Unitas.

The Steelers would lose the following week in Cincinnati. The week after it would take the last throws left in Terry Bradshaw’s arm to left them over the Jets as the Steelers stumbled into the playoffs where the LA Raiders quickly eliminated them.

1991 – Joe Walton Fails the Steelers. Again.

November 28th, 1991 @ Texas Stadium
Dallas 20, Pittsburgh 10

Considering that Dallas went to the playoffs and won a game and followed the next season with a Super Bowl Championship, one might wonder why this game was close at all. But it was.

  • And in many ways it symbolized all that was wrong with the Joe Walton era of the Steelers offense.

The Steelers still had a talented defense that had finished number 1 overall in 1990, led by players such as Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd and Carnell Lake. It still had the offensive core that had led the rallies that fueled the 1989 Steelers improbable run. But unfortunately, Chuck Noll’s last hire was his worst one, as he’d name Joe Walton his offensive coordinator and gave him total control.

The Steelers defense kept the Dallas Cowboys to 13 points until late into the third quarter, when Warren Williams narrowed the score to three.

  • Alas, Steve Beuerlein to Michael Irvin pass put the gave the Cowboys a 10 point lead.

And under Joe Walton’s offense, Neil O’Donnell couldn’t muster more than 167 yards, and no other skill player could break the 60 yard mark. In other words, in those days 10 points was far too much to overcome in a quarter.

1998 – The Phil Luckett Coin Flip Thanksgiving Day Fiasco

November 26th @ the Pontiac Silverdome
Detroit 19, Pittsburgh 16

For as bad as 1983’s Thanksgiving Day Massacre was, the Thanksgiving Day Coin Toss Disaster is standard by which every disappointment on the Steelers Thanksgiving record will be judged because it signified the end of an era.

The 1998 Steelers had had their ups and downs. Without a doubt, this Steelers team was missing something and Kordell Stewart clearly lacked the mojo he’d shown in the season before. But these 1998 Steelers had authored enough Tease Games – convincing wins over serious contenders – to give fans legitimate hope Bill Cowher’s boys could pull it together for a deep playoff run.

The scenario for the 1998 Steelers Thanksgiving Day game had all the trimmings for one of The Chin’s late season surges. The Steelers were fresh off a win at home over the division leading Jacksonville Jaguars and took a 7-4 record to Detroit. Jerome Bettis’ parents even had the entire team over for Thanksgiving dinner the night before.

  • It was not to be.

The Steelers played a sloppy game filled with blown coverages and easily catchable balls that receivers dropped. Nonetheless they opened a 13-3 lead in the third quarter, only to see the Lions kick a field goal, followed by a Charlie Batch to Herman Moore hook up that tied the score. Jacksonville added another 3 and the Steelers had to fight to get into position for a Norm Johnson field goal to tie the game.

  • Carnell Lake and Jerome Bettis approached midfield, called tails, the coin landed on tails but referee Phil Luckett awarded the ball to the Lions as Detroit’s captains struggled to suppress their laughter.
Jerome Bettis, Steelers Thanksgiving Record, steelers thanksgiving coin flip, phil luckett

Jerome Bettis clearly called tails, but Phil Luckett said he heard “heads” in the infamous Thanksgiving Day Coin Flip. Photo Credit: USA Today For the Win

The Lions got into scoring position thanks to another Herman Moore reception that came at Carnell Lake’s expense. A ticky tacky face mask penalty gave Detroit even more yards as they kicked the overtime field goal for the win.

The loss knocked the wind out of the 1998 Steelers sails, who would go on to lose their next 4 games. The Pittsburgh Steelers had been contenders since Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe began in 1992, but that era ended on Thanksgiving Day 1998 in Detroit.

2013 – The Tomlin Two-Step and the Failed 2 Pointer

November 28th @ M&T Bank Stadium
Baltimore 22, Pittsburgh 20

Outside of Pittsburgh, everyone remembers this game because of Mike Tomlin’s sideline two-step, but inside Steelers Nation this one was a heart breaker – not because the Steelers played poorly, but because they played so well. The 2013 Steelers had of course started at 0-4 and the 2-6 yet had clawed their way back to 5-6. A win vs. the Ravens would have restored the Steelers record to .500 and put Pittsburgh within striking distance of the AFC North title.

  • Alas, it was not to be.

The Ravens scored a quick touchdown, but the Steelers defense held Baltimore to field goals for the rest of the night. The Steelers offense stalled during the first half, but in the second half Le’Veon Bell and Emmanuel Sanders scored touchdowns, as Ben Roethlisberger connected with Heath Miller 9 times.

With time expiring the Steelers moved into scoring position:

  • Ben Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller for 19 yards and an apparent touchdown. Overturned on replay.
    Le’Veon Bell rammed it in from the one. Overturned on replay because his helmet slipped off as he was being concussed.
  • Two plays later Roethlisberger hit Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone…
  • ….but the two point conversion failed.

The Steelers tried an on-sides kick, but failed and the Ravens ran out the clock. While this loss was disappointing, it was Steelers-Ravens slugfest in the truest sense of the word.

Can the Steelers  break their Thanksgiving Day curse vs. the Colts in 2016? Time will tell.

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Did the Steelers Underutilize Matt Spaeth’s Pass Catching Skills? – No That’s Not a Trick Question Steelers Nation

If news of the Steelers releasing tight end Matt Spaeth surprised, the articles themselves were predictable: Each and every article, at some point, defined Matt Spaeth as a “blocking tight end.”

  • And the tape tells no lies: Matt Spaeth primarily played as a blocking tight end

But is it also fair to ask: Were Matt Spaeth’s pass catching skills underutilized? No Steelers Nation, that’s not a rhetorical question, but rather a serious one.

Matt Spaeth, pass catch, touchdown, steelers vs. packers, lambeau field

Matt Spaeth catches a touchdown @ Lambeau Field in 2014. (Photo Credit: Steelers.com)

When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Matt Spaeth in the 3rd round of the 2007 NFL Draft, the 6’7” 260 pound tight end promised to offer Ben Roethlisberger a tantalizingly tall target. And early on it looked like he would do just that. In his first four career games, Matt Spaeth caught four passes, and three of them were for touchdowns.

  • Despite his strong start, Spaeth’s role as a pass catcher never evolved, as the 6’7” tight end’s pass catching production peaked in 2008 at 17 catches on 26 targets.

Still, when Matt Spaeth was heading towards free agency in 2015, an analysis of his passing stats suggested the Steelers should call his number more:

matt spaeth, career receiving stats, spaeth pass catching, touchdown catches

Do numbers lie? Matt Spaeth caught most of the balls thrown his way.

  • Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley never got the memo.

During 2015, Steelers quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick and Landry Jones only targeted Matt Spaeth three times. For the record, Spaeth caught 2 out of three of those passes for 10 yards, but honestly that doesn’t tell us much. Nor, honestly speaking, does his career target-to-catch ratio of 63.2% suggest much because the sample is so small.

Still, using analysis done to document Heath Miller’s dependability in the passing game, you can see how Matt Spaeth compares to other Steelers pass catchers since 2005:

heath miller, career, reviving stats, targets to catches

Spaeth’s dependability as a pass catcher is on par with Antwaan Randle El and just below Hines Ward, while better than Jerricho Cotchery, Mike Wallace, Markus Wheaton, Emmanuel Sanders, Santonio Holmes, Martavis Bryant and Nate Washington.

Matt Spaeth “Just catches Touchdowns….”

While Spaeth’s pass catching production might fail to reach statistical relevance, it does tell us reveal something else:

  • Matt Spaeth excelled at catching touchdowns.

Matt Speath’s catch-to-touchdown ratio is 18.2%. In otherwords, almost one of ever five passes Matth Spaeth caught went for a touchdown. Only Martavis Bryant has been better and only three others have numbers in double digits. Yes, the small sample size perhaps distorts things a bit, but it does prove that when the ball got near Matt Spaeth when things were most important, he generally made a catch.

  • All of this begs the question: Why didn’t the Steelers target Matt Spaeth more in the passing game?

The easiest, and most likely correct answer, is that Spaeth dropped a lot of passes in practice. That idea is supported by the fact that Spaeth’s most prolific pass catching spell came during 2010, when he started several games for after Heath Miller suffered a devastating concussion vs. the Ravens. During that season, Speath only caught 9 of the 18 balls thrown his way, and didn’t score any touchdowns.

  • Still, if that is the case, why would the Steelers call Spaeth’s number so frequently in the Red Zone?

Steelers Nation will never know the answer for sure. But the numbers certainly suggest that Matt Spaeth’s pass catching skills were underutilized during his time with the Steelers. Even if that is true, that fact would fail to alter one fundamental fact: Matt Spaeth blocked incredibly well.

Although Le’Veon Bell dazzled as a rookie, his performance as pure rusher remained in consistent, and deep into December, Bell had still failed to break the 100 yard rushing mark. That change just before Christmas at Lambeau Field when Bell romped for 124 yards, which was also Matt Spaeth’s 3rd game back from injured reserve.

That’s no coincidence, although if you’re wondering, that Green Bay game also saw Matt Spaeth’s 2nd and final target of the season – which he caught for a touchdown….

…Steel Curtain Rising thanks Matt Speath for his service in Pittsburgh, and wishes him well on his next NFL stop and/or retirement.

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Will Steelers Free Agent Darrius Heyward-Bey Stay?

Pittsburgh Steelers free agent Darrius Heyward-Bey presents Pittsburgh with a good problem to have. The Steelers wide receiver has found a second wind in Pittsburgh, which both to his and the team’s credit.

Nonetheless, should he decide to return his spot on the depth chart is not clear, adding complexity to the decision to keep him in Pittsburgh or not.

[Editor’s note, the Steelers Resigned Darrius Heyward-Bey on March 7th. Click here for more.]

Capsule Profile of Darrius Heyward-Bey’s Career with the Steelers

The 2014 off season found the Steelers still navigating their way through salary cap purgatory which, among other things, prevented them from resigning Emmanuel Sanders, whom they expected to lose, and Jerricho Cotchery whom they wanted and expected to keep.

One of those receivers turned out to a prefect fit for Pittsburgh, the other was a disappointment. If, in April 2014, you’d had make a prediction on which would be which you’d have probably put your money down on Darrius Heyward-Bey because he was a number 7 overall pick who never caught more than 64 passes, whereas Lance Moore was one of those dependable, under the radar quality wide receivers.

During his first season in Pittsburgh, Heyward-Bey did little more than play on special teams, only getting targeted by Ben Roethlisberger 5 times and making 3 catches. In 2015 Martavis Bryant’s suspension created an opportunity for Heyward-Bey and he seized it.

  • He proved to be an incredibly reliable target for Roethlisberger and Michael Vick during the season’s first four games.

Against the San Diego Chargers, Heyward-Bey’s targets to catches ratio dipped, but he made back-to-back receptions, including a key 3rd down conversions on the Steelers final touchdown drive. Heyward-Bey’s role in the offense diminished as Martavis Bryant worked himself back into the line up, but when Bryant faltered late in the season, the Steelers turned to Heyward-Bay who delivered.

The Case for Darrius Heyward-Bey Staying a Steeler

While Darrius Heyward-Bey’s evolution as a wide receiver presents one incredibly strong argument for keeping him in Pittsburgh, has this video segment (available as of 2/29/16) from the Steelers season opening loss to the Patriots:

Darrius Heyward-Bey’s greatest contributions don’t come with the ball in his hands and are perhaps those that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

As Rebecca Rollett profiled on USA Today’s The Steelers Wire Heyward-Bey excels at special teams logging 6 and 7 special teams tackles in two seasons of duty. Moreover, Heyward-Bey has learned to channel his inner Hines Ward.

The Steelers did exceptionally well in runs over 20 yards, and as Dale Lolley of the Washington Observer-Reporter informs, Steelers coaches made no bones about who sprung those blocks down field for Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams: Darrius Heyward-Bey

When you look at the value he adds, the argument for the Steelers resigning Darrius Heyward-Bey is incredibly strong.

The Case Against Darrius Heyward-Bey Staying a Steeler

Unlike in 2014 and 2015, Darrus Heyward-Bey can likely command something above the veteran minimum. And while the Steelers do have more salary cap space than in previous years, they have extensions to think about for another of higher priority players.

  • There’s also the question of Heyward-Bey’s spot on the depth chart.

Antonio Brown is the Steelers number one receiver. Martavis Bryant showed in the Steelers 2015 playoffs that he can be a number 2 wide receiver. And if he flaters, Markus Wheaton provides another strong option. Looking at the Steelers playoff game vs. the Broncos, Heyward-Bey figured to be one who need to pickup the slack.

  • Heyward-Bey played well, but Sammie Coates made a very, very strong showing for himself.

The Steelers have to ask themselves if they really want to use that precious extra salary cap space to resign a 5th wide receiver, when the team has such obvious needs for backup defensive lineman and drastic need for an end-to-end improvement in the defensive backfield.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Darrius Heyward-Bey

In a perfect world, the Steelers would find away to keep Darruis Heyward-Bey in the fold. You’ve got to admire wide receiver who was top 10 pick for swallowing his pride, picking up his lunch pail and buckling up his chin strap to make a name for himself in the trenches.

  • Players like that contribute difference making plays on championship teams.

The Steelers will want him back, but their ability to keep him at a reasonable price could depend on how many people outside of Pittsburgh have noticed how much Heyward-Bey has grown.

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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Heath Miller’s Steelers Career – A Case Study in Dependability and Humility

Heath Miller’s surprising retirement prompted an out pouring of support from Steelers Nation. And so it should. Heath Miller was fundamental to the Steelers success during his 11 years in Pittsburgh, and he played a critical role in the Steelers championships in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII.

  • Heath Miller’s career also reinforces and important lesson for Steelers Nation.

My first reaction when the Steelers drafted Miller in 2005 was “huh?” That’s not terribly surprising. I’m the polar opposite of a “draft nic” so the fact that Miller lacked a combine or pro day pedigree didn’t factor into my “huh?” Instead, my thoughts were much more pedestrian.

  • The 2004 Steelers had finished 15-1 and lost the AFC Championship essentially because Ben Roethlisberger had begun playing like a rookie.

It is quite common to say, “X Team is a quarterback/running back/edge rusher/shut down corner away from the Super Bowl.” No one ever says “We’re a tight end away from the Super Bowl,” (unless you have Rob Gronkowski on your team, and he’s injured.)

But I was OK with the pick. Pittsburgh’s depth chart at tight end featured Jerame Tuman, Jay Riemersma, Matt Cushing, and Walter Rasby, and 1st round draft pick figured to be upgrade.

  • The 2005 Steelers AFC Divisional Playoff upset of the Colts highlighted just how wise Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher were to pick Heath Miller.

The Indianapolis Colts played 2005 as the “Team of Destiny” laying waste to everyone in their path, until Bill Polian ordered Tony Dungy to rest his starters late in the season. Then Tony Dungy’s son tragically took his own life. Anyone with even an ounce of human compassion was rooting for Dungy. On top of that, the Colts had spanked the Steelers on Monday Night Football during the regular season. No one gave the Steelers a chance.

Bill Cowher and the Steelers however, brought a decidedly different game plan when the returned to Indianapolis for the playoffs.

Instead of trying to pound the Colts into submission with Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis, the Steelers would hook their hopes to Ben Roethlisberger’s arm. Roethlisberger’s missed his first pass to Antwaan Randle El.

  • Roethlisberger completed his next pass to Heath Miller who took it 36 yards.
  • The next time he dropped back, he looked again to Miller for another 18 yards.

That took them to the Colt’s 28. 5 plays later the Steelers were up 7 points in a drive where they threw 7 times out of 10, and Heath Miller accounted for 54 of the team’s 84 yards.

In my memory, probably like those of most Steelers fans, Pittsburgh went up 14-0 on its first two drives. But it didn’t happen that way. The Steelers defense forced a quick punt, but on the next drive, the Roethlisberger threw an interception. But Dick LeBeau’s defense forced another 3 and out. Then the Steelers offense struck again. A 45 yard pass to Hines Ward put the Steelers in the Red Zone at the Colt’s 8. Bettis ran for one.

  • Then Roethlisberger dropped back, and found Heath Miller in the end zone for another touchdown.

That’s three targets to Heath Miller and three completions to Heath Miller and a touchdown to put the Steelers up by 14 in a game no one gave them a chance for winning. As it turned out, the 2004 had been “A tight end away from the Super Bowl” because throwing the ball to Heath Miller was one of the best bets Ben Roethlisberger has ever had.

Heath Miller an Incredibly Reliable Pass Catcher

Just how much will Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley and the rest of the Steelers offense miss Heath Miller? To answer that question, let’s look at just who Heath Miller has had to “compete” with to get Ben Roethlisberger to throw to him:

  • Hines Ward, a Super Bowl MVP and just 1 of 13 players to break the 1,000 reception barrier
  • Santonio Holmes, another Super Bowl MVP
  • Antonio Brown, who is easily the best wide receiver in the game today
  • Mike Wallace, one player who truly “could go all the way” on any given play
  • Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell, two freakishly talent players

An those are just the “major receiving threats” during Heath Miller’s time in Pittsburgh. Jerricho Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders, Markus Wheaton, Antwaan Randle El, Nate Washington and even Willie Parker were more than capable of doing damage when the ball was thrown their way. So just how did Miller stack up?

The numbers paint a pretty impressive picture:

heath miller, career, reviving stats, targets to catches

In 11 years, Heath Miller proved to be an incredibly reliable receiving target.

Thanks to saber metrics, we now not only know how many times a player has caught the ball, but we can also track how many times the quarterback tried to get it to him. To be fair, the ratio of catches to targets can be a little miss leading – if Ben Roethlisberger overthrows or underthrows Martavis Bryant 35 yards down the field, that counts as a target. But it’s a fairly reliable metric, and with each receiver having over 100 targets, the sample is fairly representative.

  • Heath Miller weighs in a number 2.

It might be tempting to suggest because, as a tight end Miller’s ran shorter routes and was less likely to be overthrown, but his yards-per-catch number is only one less than Hines Ward and not much further behind Sanders and Randle El

In a word, Heath Miller gave Ben Roethlisberger an incredibly reliable target.

Heath Miller’s Steelers Career – A Study in Dependability & Humility

Those statistics create a pretty accurate picture of Heath Miller’s contribution to the Steelers offense, but mere numbers always fail to do Heath Miller justice. What made Heath Miller special was the effort, dedication, and concentration that it took to create the catches that those numbers represent.

Neal Coolong of The Steelers Wire offered this video to explain why Miller is so beloved in Pittsburgh.

Miller made an incredibly difficult catch, knowing he was going to be KOed. He took a vicious hit that drew a penalty, and simply handed the ball to the official, without any jaw boning. Oh yeah, the catch also secured first down. If Lynn Swann set the standard in Super Bowl X for acrobatic “Lynn Swann” catches then perhaps tough, short-to-medium yardage receptions that convert third downs should be known as “Heath Miller catches.”

  • Even that, however, fails Heath Miller’s legacy.

Unlike the fullback, the tight end will not disappear from today’s game. However, “true tight ends,” ones that can both block like lineman and catch like backs or receivers are increasingly rare. Miller excelled at both.

  • It’s tempting to look at some of Miller’s lower-production games from 2015 and say, “Ah, see, he’s was losing a step.”

Heath Miller’s play was dropping off gradually, but Miller’s 3 catch game in the regular season vs. Denver and 2 catch effort in the playoffs vs. Cincinnati were more indicative of his primary role as a blocker in those games rather than as a receiver.

  • Blocking form the NFL’s invisible cadre, they generate no statistics to measure their accomplishments.

But as Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell reminded Steelers Nation, it was Heath Miller who held off Ray Lewis in the 2008 AFC Championship game just long enough to allow Roethlisberger to connect with Holmes and then Miller blocked for Holmes as he reversed field and took it 65 yards to the house.

  • A video tape review of similar “Big Plays” during the second Super Bowl era will doubtlessly reveal similar anonymous blocking assists by Miller.

You’ve got to figure that Heath Miller would have been a perfect fit for Chuck Noll’s Super Steelers, because anonymous is exactly how Miller would want it. And that’s what made Heath Miller a perfect fit for Pittsburgh in any era: Heath Miller’s Steelers career was a study in quiet competencies of reliability, dedication, and humility.

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Épico triunfo de los Steelers contra los Broncos en Heinz Field

Todo parecía una maldita broma.

Los Pittsburgh Steelers llegaban a este domingo ubicados en el puesto 7 para 6 vacantes a la postemporada y al último juego como local en temporada regular.
Delante de ellos se alzaba la primera defensiva de la liga en puntos y yardas totales permitidas y en yardas por aire, y tercera defensiva contra el acarreo.

Los Denver Broncos eran el último gran escollo, que “en teoría”, separaba a los Steelers de la postemporada. Los otros contendientes directos, New York Jets y Kansas City Chiefs, habían ya ganado sus partidos de manera relativamente sencilla y esperaban.

El inicio del partido no podía ser más auspicioso. Luego de la primera serie fallida de los locales, Denver cedía el ovoide por fumble alrededor de su propia yarda 20.
La ofensiva de Ben Roethlisberger no dejó pasar la oportunidad y se llevó 7 puntos.
Luego de eso… todo fue cuesta abajo para nuestra defensiva.

La rotación de la tierra

Comencemos por decir que en 5 series ofensivas, Denver anotó TD en 4 (en la primera cedió el fumble ya mencionado):

  • La 31° defensiva en yardas aéreas estaba justificando con creces el lugar que ocupaba.
  • Era un festival para el juego aéreo.
  • Brock Osweiler, pasaba y anotaba TD acarreando, lucía más como John Elway que como el QB que realmente es.

El ex acerero WR Emmanuel Sanders recibió un pase en la más absoluta soledad del backfield producto de la confusión entre LBs y profundos, y luego de 61 yardas anotó el segundo TD de su equipo. Antes de finalizar el 1er cuarto Sanders tenía 8 recepciones, 100 yds y 1 TD.

Todo en la defensiva era un caos. Conversaciones presurosas antes de cada snap, movimientos de idas y vueltas de los profundos, cambios de posiciones, marcación en zona con mucho espacio de colchón para los receptores, cargas infructuosas…
Y todo para nada. Osweiler distribuía el ovoide a discreción.

  • 295 yardas totales permitidas por la defensiva en la primera mitad, 88 de ellas por tierra.
  • Ocho de ocho conversiones de 3er down.

Todo era lisérgico.
El marcador estaba en 27 a 13 para Denver.

Si bien se mira era un juego de 2 anotaciones, no parecía tan terrible…
A menos que uno haya estado mirando el partido: una cosa era el marcador y otra muy distinta las alternativas del juego.

Big Ben y su ofensiva habían logrado mantener a distancia de tiro el marcador.
Pero se sabía que si Denver poseía el ovoide anotaría TD. Era una verdad natural: como la rotación de la tierra.

Steelers Contra los Broncos: Noche y día

Lo que sucedió y se dijo dentro de ese vestidor es para nosotros un misterio y sólo pertenece al equipo.

  • La cuestión es que que Osweiler tenía la posesión del ovoide al comenzar el tercer cuarto. Había que pararlos YA!
  • Y la marea cambió.

Primer pase desviado en 2do y 20 por Ross Cockrell, y primer punt del partido para Denver.

  • Los profundos se pegaron a sus marcas, ya no había receptores libres.
  • Sanders desapareció del juego. La ofensiva visitante se vio obligada a despejar una y otra vez.

Denver terminó el 3er cuarto con un sólo 1er down en 4 series. No convertiría ni uno sólo más en todo el partido ya que finalizaría con 9 de 17 intentos
Ryan Shazier tuvo su primer INT de su carrera, en un momento clave que valdría 7 puntos más en el marcador.

Big Ben siendo Big Ben, Antonio Brown siendo Antonio Brown.

tempRoethlisberger02_vs_Denver_12202015--nfl_mezz_1280_1024

Enorme. Pero, para mí, aún con sus más de 180 yardas y sus 2 TD, su logro quedó opacado por la resurrección de la defensiva.

tempBrownA07_vs_Denver_12202015--nfl_mezz_1280_1024

Cuando el partido se moría y parecía que al final teníamos amarrada la victoria, para terminar de destrozar nuestras coronarias, Ben lanzó una impensada intercepción que dió nueva vida a Denver que ya había fracasado en convertir un 4to down.

Menos de 2 minutos en la yarda 42 de Pittsburgh y perdiendo por 7, Osweiler tenía la oportunidad de empatar, transformarse en héroe e ir a OT.
Pero esa defensiva no estaba dispuesta a entregarse y cortó toda posibilidad de avance. Otro 4to down y fuera.

Increíblemente, los Steelers ganaron el juego más impensado de la temporada y de mucho tiempo:

IMG_20151221_192716

Los Pittsburgh Steelers remontaron un déficit de 17 puntos por primera vez desde 1997 contra los Colts.

Frases como “somos los Steelers y podemos ganar este juego y mucho más” dichas a medio tiempo, me parecían más bravuconadas de fans inflamados por el deseo que una posibilidad real.

  • No había sustento en la realidad para tal epopeya.

Se han cargado las tintas sobre Antwon Blake. Pero, si bien es cierto su bajo rendimiento y que no creo que deba ser titular, de alguna manera mantiene el favor del Coach Mike Tomlin. Es injusto, sin embargo, culpar sólo a él cuando lo que falló fue la defensiva entera.

Uno de los datos más llamativo, a mi juicio, es el número de pases defendidos. Los Steelers promediaban 4.23 pases desviados por partido. Así por ejemplo, contra los Bengals la semana pasada defendieron 5 pases, contra los Colts 8 y vs Seattle sólo 1.
En la primera mitad del partido no pudieron desviar ni tan solo uno de los 18 pases que lanzó Osweiler. Pero luego defendieron 10 pases. Y todo en una sola mitad!! Ryan Shazier fue el defensor más prolífico en este rubro con 3 desvíos, seguido de Will Allen con 2.

Coach Mike Tomlin se refirió a la remontada de la segunda mitad: Dijo que en el vestidor sólo le pidió a los jugadores que “dejaran de patearse el trasero”.

La sugerencia tuvo su efecto.

Enhorabuena.

El Dr. de Acero

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Steelers Beat Broncos 34-27, Comeback By Scoring 21 Unanswered Points

Ask Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin to reflect on what Pittsburgh has proven this far and he’ll likely cut you off and tell you “We’re still writing our story.” That’s true. The title to the latest chapter of this story says Steelers Beat Broncos 34-27, Score 21 Unanswered 2nd Half Points.

  • But what’s most important is how the 2015 Steelers wrote this chapter.

Glancing just at the score, one can quickly conclude that Pittsburgh’s win over Denver followed the script established long-ago for the 2015 Steelers – the Steelers offense goes into juggernaut mode while the Steelers defense slows the other team just enough to keep the Black and Gold ahead.

  • But that fails to capture what happened at Heinz Field on Sunday.

For the first 30 minutes the Steelers offense stumbled and its defense looked lost. During the second 30 minutes the Steelers reclaimed their status as a juggernaut while the defense looked like a Steelers defense should.

And if Mike Tomlin is to be believed, the mental toughness and trust in teamwork are the reasons why the Steelers mounted such a dramatic turnabout. And that’s a very good thing to be able to say 2 weeks away from the post-season.

Col Sanders Returns to Fry Some Defensive Backs

Given Antonio Brown’s stratospheric performances of the last several seasons, one can be forgiven for forgetting that as rookies, Emmanuel Sanders kept Brown on the bench. Indeed, heading into 2011, coaches looked to Sanders and not Brown to step up alongside Mike Wallace.

  • Alas, injuries kept Sanders on the bench for large parts of 2011 and 2012 as Brown exploded while Wallace waned.

When Emmanuel Sanders did get on the field he played well, and in many ways reminded me of a young Hines Ward. The Steelers front office didn’t share Steel Curtain Rising’s opinion and was ready to let Sanders depart for New England. Sanders stayed and put in a solid 2013, but the Steelers never seriously considered resigning him.

Sanders expressed no ill-will at having the door left open for him, but in Denver he did make some seemingly uncomplimentary comparisons between Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.

  • During the first half, Sanders played as if he wished to make Pittsburgh pay for letting him walk.

The combination of Brock Osweiler to Sanders made Roethlisberger to Brown appear tame by comparison. For much of the year, the Steelers secondary has made fantasy football owners happy only to come up big in the Red Zone and/or by producing turnovers at critical points in key games. In the first half vs. the Broncos, the Steelers secondary did neither.

  • Osweiler hit Sanders on eight of 9 tries for 139 yards. For good measure, Sanders also added 24 yards on a reverse.

On the opposite side of the field, the Steelers offense opened with a strong drive that culminated in a DeAngelo Williams touchdown, only to see Denver score four touchdowns on their next 4 possessions. The Steelers offense sputtered in response, settling for 6 points on two Chris Boswell field goals as an answer to the Denver Broncos 27….

The Steelers entered the day needing a win to keep pace in the AFC playoff race and they went into the locker room at half time facing a 13 point deficit.

Steelers Shut Out Broncos in 2nd Half, Score 21 Unanswered Points

Going into half time, Mike Tomlin told CBS that only adjustment the Steelers needed to make was to stop beating themselves. No where was was that more apparent than on third downs where Osweiler and the Denver offense had been perfect in the first half.

The Broncos got the ball to begin the second half, holding on to a 27-13 lead and their third down performance unfolded like this:

  • CJ Anderson runs 5 yards on 3rd and 20
  • Will Allen bats away a pass to Owen Daniels
  • Ben Roethliberger to Antonio Brown brings score to 20-27
  • Michael Mitchell keeps Osweiler from connecting with Andre Caldwell
  • Cameron Heyward sacks Osweiler
  • Ben Roethlisberger to Markus Wheaton brings the Steelers ahead 28-27
  • Robert Golden bats away a pass to Caldwell
  • Osweiler over throws Vernon Davis by a mile
  • Osweiler tries to hit Emmanuel Sanders but Ryan Shazier intercepts
  • After a 9 yard pass to Martavis Bryant and a 5 yard run by Williams, the Steelers convert turnover into touchdown on Roethlisberger-Brown hookup

With 3:04 remaining in the in the game, only after the Steelers offense had scored 21 points that the Broncos converted their first 3rd down of the second half.

The irony is, that Osweiler didn’t complete another pass the rest of the day, even though a Ben Roethlisberger interception at the 2:08 mark gave him a gift-wrapped chance to be a hero. He targeted Sanders on 3 of his final seven passes, but he over threw him once and saw Will Allen and William Gay defend the other two.

Steelers Beat Broncos, Stand Strong at 9-5

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won some big games and staged some dramatic comebacks under difficult circumstances thus far in 2015. But the comeback vs. the Broncos somehow has a different feel to it.

  • Denver came into Pittsburgh leading the NFL in no less than 7 different categories.

No one had scored 30 points on Denver all season, and the Broncos defense was only giving up 17 points a game. Those are Blitzburgh like numbers; defenses are not supposed to do that in today’s NFL. Moreover, with Osweiler calling the signals, the Broncos had knocked off the New England Patriots, who’d looked unstoppable.

  • For 30 minutes, the Broncos appeared poised to knockoff the Steelers too.

But Steelers didn’t let that happen. The Steelers succeeded because, as Mike Tomlin explained, “When things get bad, you can’t go mute and they didn’t.” Good communication, trust in teammates and mental toughness fueled the Steelers comeback.

You can pull a lot of impressive offensive and defensive statistics out of the Steelers victory over the Broncos. But it is those intangible three characteristics that cement Pittsburgh’s contender status.

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