Why Not to Freak Out Over Steelers Resigning Fitzgerald Toussaint + Browns Sign Chris Hubbard

The Pittsburgh Steelers made their first move of the 2018 free agent season, and much to the chagrin of Steelers Nation it saw the Steelers resigning  reserve running back Fitzgerald Toussaint to a reported one year deal. Free agency also claimed its first victim in Pittsburgh today as the Steelers lost Chris Hubbard, when Hubbard signed a 5 year contract with the Cleveland Browns for a reported $37.5 million dollars.

  • While both moves merit mention, neither exactly qualifies as “news.”

Fitzgerald Toussaint, James Wright, Steelers vs Bengals, Steelers Resign Fitzgerald Toussaint

Fitzgerald Toussaint returns a kick against the Bengals in 2016. Photo Credit: Steelers.comThe fact that the Steelers signed Fitzgerald Toussaint is perhaps a bit of a surprise, if only for its timing. Given that the Steelers called Stevan Ridely’s number as the “Next man up” behind Le’Veon Bell after James Conners got hurt against the Ravens, one might thing that resigning Stevan Ridley would be a higher priority.

  • And if Twitter reactions are any gauge, there’s not a lot of love in Steelers Nation for a new contract for Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Such reactions are understandable, but only to a point.

This site has taken heat for asserting that Fitzgerald Toussaint is a serviceable 3rd running back. But the truth is that the Steelers could do worse than Fitz Toussaint as a number 3 back. They could also do better. Perhaps they still will.

  • Since Toussaint was the Steelers first free agency signing, the easy conclusion is that the Steelers regard it as an important one.

But the easy conclusion isn’t necessarily the right one. Last year Greg Warren and David Johnson were among the Steelers first free agent signings, with Warren signing early and David Johnson signing right after the free agency started.

While details of the deal have yet to leak, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the Steelers signed Fitzgerald Toussaint for the veteran minimum, and if that’s the case he’ll certainly have to win a roster spot this summer on the field at St. Vincents and he would be ill-advised even to buy a non-refundable ticket to Latrobe.

Steelers Nation Says “Hail and Farewell” to Chris Hubbard

As our free agent focus profile of Chris Hubbard detailed, the prospect of Chris Hubbard resigning with the Steelers hardly even qualified as a theoretical possibility. Hubbard pulled himself up from an undrafted rookie free agent in 2013 and by 2017 had proven himself as a starter capable offensive tackle who delivered excellent protection to Ben Roethlisberger when called upon.

  • With all five of the Steelers offensive lineman playing under their second contracts, there hardly even a theoretical chance of bringing Hubbard back.

That’s unfortunate, because Chris Hubbard is certainly the kind of player you want on your team. Steel Curtain Rising certainly wishes Chis Hubbard the best, hopes he stays injury free and continues to play well… except for when the Browns play the Steelers!

Has Steelers free agency left you scrambling? Click here for our Steelers 2018 Free Agent tracker or click here for all Steelers 2018 free agency focus articles.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

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

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

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

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

James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are the Steelers Bettising James Harrison?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers Release Greg Warren, Highlighting Difference Between 2 Super Bowl Eras

And then there were two. “Real” football news can be quite rare in late May of any year, but the number of Super Bowl veterans on the South Side dwindled to two as the Steelers released Greg Warren, who handled the long snapping duties for the team since 2005, earning him rings in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII.

Although the Steelers kicked off their 2017 season by signing Greg Warren to their customary 1 year deal in February, Warren’s release is hardly a shock. The Steelers turned heads in the 2017 NFL Draft when they used their sixth round pick to draft long snapper Colin Holba of Louisville.

Greg Warren, Steelers Greg Warren Super Bowl Eras

Greg Warren tackles Solomon Patton early in the first quarter of the Steelers 2014 loss to Tampa @ Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Joe Sargent, Getty Images

The move was instantly panned by both professional journalists as well as bloggers (this site included), but Jim Wexell and other reporters informed that the Steelers had legitimate concerns about Greg Warrens durability. It would seem like those concerns were well founded, as Greg Warren himself related:

I would first like to thank the Steelers organization, coaches and training staff for their help and advice over the last few weeks. I had full intentions of playing this upcoming season, but in light of new information I’ve recently received from my doctors relating to a past injury, it has been determined that trying to compete in the 2017 season may be a risk to my long-term health. After discussing this with the Steelers, we have decided it would be in everyone’s best interest to release me at this point.

Signed in 2005, Greg Warren played in 181 regular season games, more than any other Steeler at that time, for coaches Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. With Warren’s release, only Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison remain as veterans from the Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII championship squads.

Greg Warren’s Release Highlights Differences Between Steelers 2 Super Bowl Eras

Let’s admit it, when you think of “Steelers Super Bowl Eras” the name of Greg Warren doesn’t jump out at you. If you’ve got a long view of things, the names Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and Jack Lambert spring to mind.

And you probably associate the Steelers second Super Bowl era with players like Jerome Bettis, Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward, Joey Porter, and perhaps Willie Parker. But Greg Warren has provided vital stability during his era, and highlights how different the Steelers second Super Bowl Era has been from the first.

  • Chuck Noll’s Super Bowl teams were drafted together, matured together, won Super Bowls together, and then got old together.

Unfortunately, for reasons that go well beyond the scope of this blog post, Chuck Noll, Art Rooney Jr., Dick Haley and Bill Nunn struggled to restock the Steelers roster, even after mediocre records improved their drafting position.

Steel Curtain, 1974 AFC Championship, Steelers vs Raiders, Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Dwight White, Ernie Holmes, L.C. Greenwood, LC Greenwood

Dwight White, Joe Greene, Ernie Holmes, Jack Lambert and L.C. Greenwood in the 1974 AFC Championship Game. Photo Credit: SI

This second era has been different, largely thanks to Dan Rooney’s wisdom, the Steelers were able to draft a franchise quarterback and add him to a team that was already Super Bowl ready.

Although only two seasons separated the Steelers last two Lombardi Trophy presentations, Mike Tomlin’s ’08 squad featured a number of new faces in important places compared to Bill Cowher’s ’05 squad. Thanks to Heath Miller’s retirement and Lawrence Timmons defection to the Dolphins, William Gay is the only other veteran from Super Bowl XLIII.

  • On a more personal level, Greg Warren’s retirement also underscores just how much perception of time evolves with age.

Born mere months before the Immaculate Reception provided the Big Bang that created Steelers Nation, I have no memories of Super Bowls IX or X. I do remember watching Super Bowl XIII but recall few details beyond my older sister asking “Who is that guy in the hat they keep showing” every time the camera focused on Tom Landry. I remember Super Bowl XIV better, and particularly John Stallworth’s game changing 60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go touchdown.

After that with my age not yet breaking double digits, I had difficulty understanding why the Steelers struggled in the early 1980’s, not wanting to accept my older brother’s explanation that “All the Steelers have are old guys and rookies.”

It was difficult to follow the Steelers growing up in suburban DC in the pre-internet age. And by the time I started following the Steelers seriously again during the 1987 season I was in high school, and I was shocked to see that Super Bowl veterans such as Stallworth, Mike Webster and Donnie Shell were still playing.

  • At time it seemed like several generations of football has passed since the last Super Bowl, when in fact less time separated the Steelers from their last Lombardi than does now.

Time most certainly does move faster as you age.

Bit contributor or not, Steel Curtain Rising Thanks Greg Warren for helping bring home One for The Thumb and then completing the Super Bowl Six Pack, and wishes him the best as he begins his “Life’s Work.”

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

ESPN Lays off Jerome Bettis. Why Not Park The Bus in Pittsburgh with the Steelers Radio Network?

Thanks to legions of millennia cord cutters, ESPN is laying off people by the droves. And unfortunately, Steelers Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis is the latest victim.

That’s sad but not surprising news for Jerome Bettis, who landed a job with NBC following his retirement after Super Bowl XL. Bettis provided commentary on NBC from 2006 until 2009 but the network did not renew his contract.

Jerome Bettis, Dan Kreider, Super Bowl XL, Jerome Bettis Super Bowl XL

Jerome Bettis at Super Bowl XL. Now that ESPN has laid him off, why not park The Bus in Pittsburgh? Photo Credit: Kathleen Galligan, Detroit Free Press

From their Bettis did a stint on NFL Network, before landing at ESPN in 2013. It is quite common for retired athletes to get into broadcasting, former Steelers Lynn Swann, Terry Bradshaw and Mark Malone have made careers out of it, but those men are the exception, not the rule.

  • Joe Montana only lasted a year at NBC Sports following his retirement. Hines Ward worked for NBC for a year.

Its been speculated that Jerome Bettis will return to the NFL Network and while, that might be a good place for him, dare we ask – Why not park the Bus in Pittsburgh again? Seriously.

Bettis is probably too big of a talent for WTAE, WPXI or even KDKA, but why not add Jerome Bettis to the Steelers broadcast team? Tunch Ilkin and Bill Hargrove do a fine job on their own (although let’s face it, it’s not the same without Myron, but no one could replace Myron Cope.) Bettis would provide a new element to the broadcast.

Bettis would also be the first African American to commentate for the Steelers Radio Network, and the added diversity could only widen the commercial appeal of the broadcast team.

  • Bettis could also join Ilkin and Craig Wolfley on doing video breakdowns for Steelers.com.

Jerome Bettis is one of the most popular Steelers in over a generation. Indeed, when he entered the Hall of Fame, Jerome Bettis had the distinction of having been the face of the franchise. Yet, the ten years have elapsed since Bettis began his “Life’s Work” and the only players who remain from his day are Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison and Greg Warren. And of course Bill Cowher followed Bettis’ lead a year later.

In other words, while popular and a fan favorite Jerome Bettis can still be counted on to provide objective commentary in the booth. So why not park The Bus in Pittsburgh?

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

ICYMI Steelers Draft Colin Holba, Long Snapper, in 6th Round (Yes, a Long Snapper)

The 6th round of the 2017 NFL Draft saw the Steelers draft Colin Holba, long snapper from Louisville.

And, no ladies and gentleman, if you didn’t spend the weekend glued to your TV or social media feed, that’s not a misprint. The Steelers spent a 6th round pick on a long snapper.

Steelers draft long snapper Colin Holba, Colin Holba

Steelers draft Colin Holba in 6th round, Long Snapper from Louisville. Photo Credit: Beaver County Times

The move created a firestorm on Twitter, from fans and pundits alike.

Later, admitting he was jesting, Jim Wexell offered this as a justification even after he’d learned that Steelers management does have concerns about Greg Warren’s durability:

Indeed, Kevin Colbert felt that Colin Holba was a “draftable” long snapper, so the Steelers took him. In case you’re wondering, draft analysts do rate long snappers, at least a few of them.

Writing on Steel City Insider, Jim Wexell quoted the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Bob McGinn who rated three long snappers going into the draft and rated Holba clearly above the rest of the pack.

Here in 2017, even Long Snappers have their own draft highlight reels:

If you’re like me, you’re still more than skeptical about drafting a long snapper in any round. Fair enough. But let’s close with a little wisdom from Jim Wexell:

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

It Is Time for Steelers to Beat Patriots in Playoffs and Climb Stairway to Seven

It is time for the Pittsburgh Steelers to beat the New England Patriots in the playoffs. While a Steelers win at Gillette Stadium won’t bring home another Lombardi, they must execute on this step to make another Super Bowl win a possibility.  When asked about the states in the game, James Harrison spelled out the Steelers situation perfectly:

Everything up to now is a waste if we don’t hold the Lombardi at the end of it. There’s only one successful team at the end of the year. That’s the one holding the Lombardi.

James Harrison’s Lombardi logic is both clear and indisputable. But there’s also an irony in it that raises the stakes for the overall franchise, if not for the men on the field. By beating the Patriots in the AFC Championship, the Steelers would be securing, for another year Chuck Noll’s historical legacy.

James Harrison, Steelers vs. Patriots, Steelers Patriots AFC Championship

Even blatant holding can’t stop James Harrison from strip-sacking the Patriots. Photo Credit: Jim Davis, Boston Globe

Preserving Chuck Noll’s Super Bowl Record

If press questions are any guide, no one on the South Side is focusing on this issue. Good. That’s the way it should be. As Mike Tomlin has stated time and time again, winning a Super Bowl for the sake of winning a Super Bowl remains the franchise’s sole focus.

  • That’s why, prior to Super Bowl XL, Dan Rooney told the team to disregard any “One for the Thumb” talk.

The message an mindset in the Steelers locker room going into the AFC Championship game against the Patriots hasn’t changed. Team’s falter when players, coaches and even front office staff get caught up in chasing records or legacies.

  • Fortunately citizens of Steelers Nation and their scribes don’t suffer those same limits.
Chuck Noll, Chuck Noll vs. Bill Belichick, Chuck Noll Super Bowl

A Steelers win against Patriots in the AFC Championship will preserve a tie for another year. Photo Credit: CBS Sports via Scoopnest

There’s not a lot to discuss here because the math is simple. Chuck Noll has four Super Bowl titles to is name. Bill Belichick, the man Chuck Noll beat in his final game, also has four Super Bowl titles to his name. If the Steelers beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship, then Bill Belichick’s Lombardi count remains frozen at 4 for another year at least.

  • Nietzsche argued that philosophers debated each other through the course of history.

Sports dynasties aren’t so lucky. Time renders comparisons between greats from different eras meaningless, if entertaining. But there are rare occasions when a franchise can defend its historical legacy against a modern threat.

  • Think of Don Shula gathering the ’72 Miami Dolphins for the ’85 Dolphins upset of the ’85 Bears.

The Steelers AFC Championship game against the Patriots presents a similar occasion, and it would be nice to see the team take a step at preserving Chuck Noll’s Lombardi legacy, even for another year. Enough said.

It’s Time for Steelers to Beat Patriots

Since their January 1998 AFC Divisional playoff win over Pete Carroll’s Patriots, the Steelers are 3-10 vs. the Patriots and 0-2 against New England in the playoffs. It is time for Mike Tomlin’s team to take the field at Gillette Stadium and pen a different story for Pittsburgh.


Bud Dupree, Tom Brady, Steelers vs. Patriots, Steelers Patriots AFC Championship, Bud Dupree sacks Tom Brady

Bud Dupree sacks Tom Brady in 2015 opener. Photo Credit: NFL.com, used on Spectrum News

  • The odds makers advise that favoring the Patriots is a smart move.

Given Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s record at home it is hard to argue. But this game also represents several firsts for the Steelers in their history against the Patriots:

  • The Patriots have never played against all 3 Steelers Killer Bees
  • James Harrison will start his first playoff game against the Patriots
  • Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons and Stephon Tuitt likewise will play playoff game against the Patriots

Bill Belichick undoubtedly has a plan to neutralize the combined threat of Le’Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. So be it. We already know that Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Cobi Hamilton and/or Jesse James must step up for the Steelers in the Red Zone.

  • Word is the interior of the Patriots line is weak, opening opportunities for Shazier, Timmons and/or Javon Hargrave to get pressure up the middle.

But Belichick knows this and is planning accordingly, just as he’s planning to counter the Steelers counter to beef up protection in the middle by brining Harrison and Bud Dupree on the edges.

  • The time for strategizing and speculation is ending and the moment for execution is about to begin.

Super Bowl windows take an inordinately long time to pry open, only to slam shut in the blink of an eye. Roethlisberger, Harrison, Timmons, William Gay and long snapper Greg Warren are the only Steelers who wear Super Bowl rings. Antonio Brown, Ramon Foster, David Johnson and Maurkice Pouncey are the only other members of the Black and Gold remaining from the Super Bowl XLV team.

  • The window is open for the Steelers to climb the Stair Way to Seven.

Its time for Pittsburgh to seize the opportunity. It’s time for the Steelers to beat the Patriots in the playoffs to win the AFC Championship and head to Super Bowl LI.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers Get Gronked: Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski Dooms Steelers in 27-16 Loss to Patriots

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered their week 7 match up against the New England Patriots without Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, Marcus Gilbert, Markus Wheaton and DeAngelo Williams and with Sammie Coates injured. The Patriots have looked unstoppable this season, and the Steelers had just laid a gigantic egg Miami.

  • Sounds like a recipe for a blood bath, doesn’t?

As it turns out, there’s a reason why we play games. No one gave the Steelers a chance and, in the end, they in fact lost the game. While this loss will carry consequences for the Steelers, it is entirely possible that the Steelers gained something, or perhaps potentially gained something important, the final score notwithstanding.

Steelers get Gronked, malcolm butler, steelers vs. patriots, antonio brown, landry jones interception patriots

Malcolm Butler intercepts a Landry Jones pass intended for Antonio Brown. Photo Credit: Pete Madia, Tribune-Review

It Would Have Had to Have Been Perfect….

No one should kid themselves. There’s a very good reason why the Vegas bookmakers have the Patriots as Super Bowl favorites. As much as we might hate to admit it, the New England Patriots play quality football and they play it consistently. One criteria would have been sufficient to any scenario that would see the Pittsburgh Steelers upset the Patriots with Landry Jones under center:

  • Perfection.

If the Steelers were going to win this one, they would have had to have been absolutely perfect. No, that doesn’t mean 100% completions of passes, a series of no-hitter 3 and outs on defense, and every run gaining a first down. But it would have meant the Steelers would need to execute at all times – as Jim Wexell titled his pre-game article “Do. Your. Job.

The truth is that Steelers Nation saw glimpses of that, and that’s why Pittsburgh gave the Patriots a run for their money.

  • The Steelers offensive line provided incredible protection for Landry Jones,
  • Likewise the line was opening holes, early on, for Le’Veon Bell
  • Todd Haley smartly exploited the Patriots playing to stop the run, and got the ball to Antonio Brown
  • The Steelers defense held Tom Brady & Co. check, for the game’s first 40 minutes or so
  • Greg Warren, of all players, was up field and recovered a fumble
  • Jarvis Jones played with gusto, stripping the ball and making several plays behind the line of scrimmage

Those are the types of plays that allowed the Steelers to stay in a game which they had no business winning. Unfortunately, the Steelers couldn’t play consistently enough across the line. The Steelers suffered 10 penalties for 85 yards – 85 yards which the offense needed and/or the defense did NOT need to yield to the Patriots.

  • The Steelers also gave back a touchdown because of a penalty
  • They also missed two field goals

That´s 13 points left off the board in a game that the Patriots won by 11. The Steelers were also in field goal range when Landry Jones threw his first interception in the end zone. Those are 16 points which never made it to the board for the Steelers.

You simply can’t fail to capitalize on those opportunities when you’re playing the New England Patriots, not matter who your quarterback is, let alone when your second string is starting. But even taking that into consideration, the Steelers STILL could have found a way to beat that Patriots, except for one minor detail.

Steelers Defense Gets Gonked (Again.)

Rob Gronkowski is perhaps one of the biggest difference makers in the NFL and has easily earned a spot alongside the JJ Watt’s and Antonio Brown’s as an undisputed best at his position. Yet for 2 and ahalf quarters, Keith Butler and his defense found away to keep the ball away from Gronkowski.

In the next series, the Steelers got good pressure on Tom Brady and momentum seemed to have shifted in Pittsburgh’s favor….

It only took Brady 5 plays on the Patriots next poession to find Rob Gronkowski and they made the Steelers pay. The Steelers answered with a field goal, but as soon as the Patriots got the ball back Brady waited three plays before hitting Gronkowski on back to back plays, including a spectacular 37 yarder right through the center of the Steelers defense.

  • And that, ladies and gentleman, was the story of the game.

Tom Brady and Rob Grownkowski can do their damage very quickly. To beat the Patriots, you must either find a way to shut them down completely or you have to play flawless football everywhere else.

  • Leaving the kind of plays the Steelers left on the field and only stopping them for 3 and a half quarters worth of football simply doesn’t cut it.

The Steelers defense, to their credit, managed to force 3 and outs during the Patriots next two drives. While the Steelers could and did hand the ball to Bell, they were now in a position of needing to scores, and with Antonio Brown out and then back at less than 100% that simply wasn’t going to happen.

(Note to Mike Tomlin, don’t have Robert Golden cover Rob Gronkowski by himself again next time.)

Reminder of Another Game, Played a Long Time Ago

Mike Tomlin, to his credit, doesn’t do “moral victories.” Never has and hopefully never will. But watching this undermanned Steelers team scrap against the almightly New England Patriots brought to mind another game.

Back in 2005, a fully healthy Pittsburgh Steelers team traveled to Indianapolis and played a Colts team that looked even more unstoppable than the 2016 Patriots. And the Steelers hung with this team until the beginning of the 4th quarter.

  • The Steelers of course lost that game to the Colts, by the score of 26 to 7.

But when the Steelers broke down the game tape, point by point, they concluded that the difference in that game came down to mental and execution errors, not differences in talent.

  • The 2016 Steelers 27-16 loss to the New England Patriots calls to mind the 2005 regular season loss to the Colts.

Hats off to the New England Patriots. They beat the Pittsburgh Steelers fair and square no ifs, ands or buts. Make no mistake about it, this loss will hurt the Steelers, and probably eliminates any chance they have of getting home field advantage over the Patriots, should Pittsburgh make the playoffs.

But if a Steelers team missing four starters and several key backups can offer a serious challenge to the Patriots, then the Pittsburgh has legitimate hope for something more, should they earn the opportunity for a rematch.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers 2016 Roster Analysis – Depth Primes Pittsburgh to Win

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 opening day roster for their Monday Night Game against the Washington Redskins appears to be set. While Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin could decide to add a tight end, put Senquez Golson on IR and sign a cornerback or make some other move, the Steelers brain trust has pretty much cast their die.

  • There are a lot of interesting stories and subplots, but any Steelers 2016 roster analysis must focus on it depth.

Indeed, while Pittsburgh is hardly bullet proof, the Steelers 2016 roster boasts of far greater depth than the team has seen since their last serious Super Bowl run. Seriously. Think back just three years. Prior to the Steelers 2013 opener, no less Bob Labriola compared the Steelers offensive line depth to walking a tight rope without a net.

  • Just 11 plays into the season, the Steelers fell off that tight rope.

And the bleeding didn’t stop stop with Maurkice Pouncey’s season-end injury. Before the game was over the Steelers had lost their starting inside linebacker and number two running back for the season, and their starting corner for the next several games. Worse yet, although Mike Tomlin would never admit it, the men taking their places were not “starters in waiting.”

This year things are different. Yes, certain areas of the Steelers depth chart are uncomfortably weak, but this Steelers 2016 roster analysis finds the Black and Gold rich in depth in several key positions.

steelers 2016 roster analysis, ben roethlisberger, antonio brown, le'veon bell, steelers triplets

Steelers 2016 Roster Analysis reveals depth primes Pittsburgh to win. Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Quaterback

Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones and Zach Mettenberger

Clearly, the Steelers will not contend for a Super Bowl should Ben Roethlisberger suffer a serious injury. But Landry Jones evolution as a quarterback has shown him to be a serviceable backup, and Zach Mettenberger has “upside” that neither Bruce Gradkowski or Bryn Renner could hope to offer.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Running Back

DeAngelo Williams, Daryl Richardson, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Roosevelt Nix (fullback); (Le’Veon Bell suspended for first 3 games)

A year ago the Steelers went with Bell, Williams and two fullbacks plus Dri Archer whom they held onto until it was clear no one would trade for him. And they ended up starting practice squad running backs in the playoffs. Word is that either Fitzgerald Toussaint or Daryl Richardson will be gone once Le’Veon Bell’s suspension ends.

Perhaps, but the Steelers are at least starting the season with a running back depth chart that’s three deep, which is smart.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Tight End

Jesse James, David Johnson and Xavier Grimble; (Ladarius Green is on PUP)

The future is now for Jesse James. As a rookie James showed promise catching the ball, but has struggled in blocking. James had better grow up quickly. David Johnson provides veteran depth, but is a blocker at this point. Xavier Grimble’s performance has been boom-bust.

The bottom line is, the Steelers depth chart at tight end is extraordinarily weak. Guys will need to grow up fast, or Todd Haley must creatively devise a way to cover this deficiency.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Wide Receivers

Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Eli Rogers

Who needs Martavis Bryant? OK, that’s perhaps overstated, but the emergence of Eli Rogers and the development of Sammie Coates should compensate for Bryant’s loss. Clearly, Antiono Brown is the best class of the group, and the class of his position in the NFL.

Like Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers cannot weather a serious injury to Antonio Brown.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Offensive Line

Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster, Alejandro Villanueva, Cody Wallace, Ryan Harris, B.J. Finney and Chris Hubbard

The Steelers boast four proven starters in Pouncey, DeCastro, Gilbert and Foster. Alejandro Villanueva still must prove himself, but should he falter, the Steelers have Ryan Harris, who is fresh off of a Super Bowl start. Cody Wallace gives the Steelers a solid backup at the interior positions.

Hopefully neither B.J. Finney nor Chris Hubbard will need to play significant snaps.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Defensive Line

Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, Ricardo Mathews, Dan McCullers and L.T. Walton

Assuming the injury to Javon Hargrave isn’t serious, the Steelers defensive line depth is better than it has been in several seasons. Ricardo Mathews showed in preseason that he can play nose and defensive end, and Daniel McCullers size makes him an attractive option. L.T. Walton also has the look of an up and comer.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Outside Linebacker

James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats and Anthony Chickillo (Bud Dupree on injured reserve)

Bud Dupree’s injured reserve designation puts a damper on this one. The fact is that the Steelers were counting on him to become the pass rusher they drafted him to be. Still, Arthur Moats has shown he can get the job done, and Jarvis Jones made flashes during last year’s post-season that few fans seemed to notice. Anthony Chickillo has done everything the Steelers have asked of him. Which is good, because he will be asked to do more.

Finally, James Harrison enters his final year. If things go well, Harrison will be a situational player. Either way, the Steelers are very wise to keep him on the roster.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Inside Linebacker

Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, L.J. Fort, Tyler Matakevich and Steven Johnson

Timmons, Shazier and Willaims give the Steelers 2016 roster three starter capable inside lienbackers, with Steven Johnson and L.J. Fort providing valuable depth.

Tyler Matakevich reminds people of Jerry Olsavsky. Jerry O was another late-pick inside linebacker who wasn’t strong enough, big enough or fast enough, but made a career in being good enough. Tyler Matakevich will get a chance to prove the same.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Cornerback

William Gay, Ross Cockrell, Sean Davis, Justin Gilbert and Senquez Golson

Clearly any Steelers 2016 roster analysis must conclude that cornerback remains the weakest link on Pittsburgh’s depth chart. William Gay gives the Steelers a proven, veteran presence. Ross Cockrell played well in 2015, but remains untested as a starter. Sean Davis is a rookie, and Justin Gilbert has been a bust given his draft status.

  • And the Steelers are holding out hopes that Senquez Golson can return.

Keep in mind that Golson has had all of 1 and a half padded practices on his NFL resume. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin went all in on the youth movement at secondary. The fact that Brandon Boykin and Cortez Allen remain unemployed tells us that the rest of the NFL agrees with their decision to subtract them from the roster.

It remains to be seen if Carnell Lake and Keith Butler can transform subtraction into addition.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Safety

Mike Mitchell, Robert Golden, Sean Davis, Shamarko Thomas and Jordan Dangerfield

Mike Mitchell leads the group, and if he plays at the level he played in 2015, the Steelers should be OK. Robert Golden finally has his time to shine, after playing behind Troy Polamalu and Will Allen. Shamarko Thomas most likely holds a spot on the Steelers 2016 roster because he’s a good special teams gunner.

Jordan Dangerfield showed he can play in preseason, and Sean Davis is good enough to work at Safety and corner.

Steelers 2016 Specialists

Greg Warren, Long snapper
Jordan Berry, Punter
Chris Boswell, Place Kicker

This time a year ago the Steelers were on their third of what would be four place kickers and had just traded away Brad Wing. There’s been little news about any of the Steelers specialists and let’s hope it remains that way.

Steelers 2016 Roster Analysis – Depth Primes Pittsburgh to Win

The Steelers 2016 roster has its weak spots at tight end and at cornerback, but at just about every other spot on the depth chart boasts a deep enough bull pen to support a serious Steelers Super Bowl run.

And that’s not something that has been true in recent years.

Buckle your chin straps Steelers Nation, the Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have built the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers to win.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers Nation Speaks: Steelers Free Agency 2016 Poll Results Complete

In the end, Brandon Boykin got a lot of love from Steelers Nation. Or at least this corner of it. As the Steelers 2016 pre-draft visits have begun, Steel Curtain Rising has taken down its Steelers free agency 2016 poll. While it is possible, perhaps even probable the Steelers will make move free agent moves before convening training camp in Latrobe at St. Vincents, the organization’s focus has clearly shift to the draft.

steelers 2016 free agents, steelers nation, votes, william gay

Steelers Nation voted on Steelers 2016 Free Agents

  • But over the last 45 days or so, Steelers Nation has had a chance to vote on what they think Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin should be doing.

Brandon Boykin was the third most popular Steelers free agent, William Gay was first with 51 votes and Ramon Foster was second with 46, followed by Boykin’s 41. The Steelers resigned William Gay and Ramon Foster, but let prance to the Carolina Panthers. Darrius Heyward-Bey came in fourth, whom the Steelers also resigned.

No one outside of that group got more than 30 votes. Almost as many people wanted to see Kelvin Beachum protecting Ben Roethlisberger (25), as want to see Bruce Gradkowski back him up (24). No one else got more than 20 votes.

  • The next highest vote getter is somewhat of a surprise: Doug Legursky who got 19 votes.

Steel Curtain Rising sung Legursky’s praises when he first reached free agency in 2013 and warned the losing Legursky could carry consequences (it did) and scolded the Pittsburgh media for not even bothering to cover it when he signed with the Buffalo Bills. Nonetheless, this site did not call for Legursky’s return to Pittsburgh, but a good chunk of our readers have.

Both remain unsigned and at this point will likely stay that way until after the draft. The Steelers may still bring back Will Johnson, but word is Will Allen will not return. Steelers long snapper Greg Warren also got 18 votes, although the Steelers had already resigned Warren before the voting began.

Below Warren and the Wills, only Antwon Blake and Terence Garvin found double digit support in Steelers Nation, with Michael Vick, Byron Stingily, Clifton GeathersCam Thomas, Jordan Todman and David Nelson (who?) all polling in single digits.

Of the group above, only Jordan Todman has signed elsewhere, and the Steelers are not likely to resign any of those players. Steel Curtain Rising thanks everyone who voted in our poll, and encourages you to vote in our Steelers 2016 Draft Needs Poll.

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. 

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers 2016 Free Agent Tracker

The start of NFL free agency is underway, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have been busy. In an effort to keep Steelers Nation (as well as ourselves) head from spinning too much, we bring you Steel Curtain Rising’s annual Steelers 2016 Free Agent Tracker.

Steelers 2016 Unrestricted Free Agents

Antwon Blake
Signed by Tennessee Titans

Brandon Boykin
3/28Signed by Carolina Panthers.

Bruce Gradkowski
Byron Stingily
Cam Thomas
Clifton Geathers
Darrius Heyward-Bey
Steelers resign Darrius Heyward-Bey to 3 year contract

David Nelson
Doug Legursky
Greg Warren – Signed to one year extension
Jordan Todman
3/18Signed by the Indianapolis Colts

Kelvin Beachum
3/15 – Signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Michael Vick
Ramon Foster
3/9Steelers resign Ramon Foster to 3 year contract.

Robert Golden
Steelers resign Robert Golden to 3 year contract.

Sean Spence
3/16Signed by Tennesse Titans

Steve McLendon
3/15Signed by the New York Jets

Will Allen
Will Johnson
William Gay

3/8 Steelers resign William Gay to 3 year contract

That is a LONG list of unrestricted free agents, although only a handful fall into the category of ones the Steelers will want back that will draw interest from other teams. With that said, two of the Steelers free agents that opponents are most likely to target are charged with protecting Ben Roethlisberger….

As we have every year, Steel Curtain Rising will offer free agent profiles on each, and we will update their status as it changes.

Steelers 2016 Restricted Free Agents

Terence Garvin
 – Not tendered restricted free agent offer by the Steelers.
3/17 – Signed by the Washington Redskins

Per the 2011 CBA, restricted free agents have more than three seasons and less than four seasons of accrued seniority.

The Pittsburgh Steelers can retain the right of first refusal, or the right to match any competing offer, by offering the corresponding tender. The Steelers could, theoretically, offer higher tenders to get draft picks as compensation should the restricted free agent sign an offer and the Steelers decline to match. (See Emmanuel Sanders in 2012.)

Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Exclusive Rights Free Agents

Chris Hubbard, resigned
Roosevelt Nix, resigned
Ross Cockrell, resigned
Kelvin Palmer, released
Mitchell Van Dyk, released
Rob Blanchflower, released

Per the 2011 CBA, exclusive rights free agents are players who have less than 3 years of seniority accrued and therefore the Pittsburgh Steelers retain exclusive rights.

The Steelers have already resigned Chris Hubbard, Roosevelt Nix, and Ross Cockrell and in turn they have already released their rights to Kelvin Palmer, Mitchell Van Dyk, and Rob Blanchflower all of whom were on placed on the waived/injured list and whose rights reverted to the Steelers when no one else claimed them.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!