Steelers Report Card for Vikings Win – The Yin & Yang of Under and Over Achievement

Taken from the gradebook of a teacher struggling to understand the yin-yangish overachievement-underachievement dynamic of his new class here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 2017 home opening win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Steelers vs Vikings, Tyler Matekevich, Steelers stop fake punt,

Tyler Matakevich stops a fake punt attempt to Blake Bell during the Steelers win over the Vikings. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger struggled to find rhythm early as evidenced by the Steelers 4 first half punts, although he did throw two touchdown passes and made a vertical strike downfield. On the day, Ben Roethlisberger 23 of 35 for 243 no interceptions and no sacks. He threw a few questionable passes, but none had any negative consequences. Grade: Bsteelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers 2017 season

Running Back
Tony Defeo authored this site’s admonishment not to fret over Le’Veon Bell’s hold out, and we stand by that. But Bell’s ineffectiveness as both a running and a pass catcher makes it hard to not think that a little more bit of practice in July and August would have made for a little more of “perfect” in August. Le’Veon Bell improved against the Browns and appeared to run stronger as the game continued but he’s nowhere near his ’16 level. James Conner had one carry for 9 yards. Grade: C

Tight Ends
Xavier Grimble had one pass thrown to him that was caught but negated by a penalty. Jesse James got the starting nod, and was in sync with Roethlisberger early on catching four balls on 5 targets. However, Jesse James appeared to struggle as a blocker at times. He must improve there. Grade: C+

Wide Receivers
Has Mike Zimmer unlocked the key to shutting down Antonio Brown? That’s probably going to far, but it did take several quarters for Antonio Brown to get in a grove, although he did draw a key pass interference penalty. As did Martavis Bryant, who made the Vikings pay for progress towards shutting Brown down with a touchdown and a 51 yard field flipping play that set up another. JuJu Smith-Schuster made 3 catches, threw a key block, although he had 3 penalties called on him. Eli Rogers helped keep drives alive in the second half. Grade: B+

Offensive Line
While they might not be the Purple People Eaters, the Vikings have a strong front seven and the Steelers offensive line did an adequate job of giving Ben Roethlisberger protection, although pass protection did break down on a number of occasions. Two weeks into the season, their run blocking is remains below par. The Steelers have invested the salary cap space in their offensive line to get road grading quality run blocking, and that is not happening. Grade: C-

Cameron Heyward, Cam Heyward, Steelers vs Vikings, Steelers 2017 home opener, Case Keenum

Cam Heyward pressures Case Keenum in the Steelers 2017 home opening win over the Vikings. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Defensive Line
Can you imagine how good the defensive line would have been last year had Cam Heyward not gotten hurt. Against the Vikings, Heyward acted as a one man wrecking crew. His stats might appear modest, but he disrupted and/or stopped cold everything Minnesota tried to do. His counterparts also also had quiet days on the stat sheet, but don’t be fooled, this unit played well. Grade: B+

Linebackers
T.J. Watt didn’t have a sack, but did end a drive with a batted down pass. In contrast, Bud Dupree had also batted down a pass and did register a sack, as did Vince Williams later in the game. T.J. Watt couldn’t finish the game due to a groin injury, but Anthony Chickillo stepped in and the Steelers didn’t miss a beat. Ryan Shazier led the linebackers in tackles, and defensed a pass. Grade: B+

Secondary
Artie Burns made a heads up play behind the line of scrimmage, showing just how fast he’s developing. Mike Hilton led the team in tackles and got a lick in on the quarterback. Sean Davis was second on the team in tackles, but has been figured as the one who lost containment on the Minnesota’s long run. You didn’t hear Joe Hayden’s name much and that’s good for a corner often. Grade: B+

Special Teams
Specials teams isn’t the difference maker it once was. The extra point has become so rote that the NFL had to change the rules. They’re doing the same on kick returns. But if that’s the case, the truth is that a big special teams play can dramatically shift the momentum of a game.

A week ago Tyler Matakevich caused a big special teams play with a blocked punt, and against the Vikings he prevented another by stopping a fake punt.

While Chris Boswell was perfect as a punter, and Jordan Berry was solid, the coverage units did allow longer than you’d like returns (although they did down a punt at the Vikings on). Eli Rogers likewise attempted to field a punt he needed to fair catch, and JuJu Smith-Schuster returned one kick he probably should have downed. Grade: B-

Mike Tomlin,

Steelers head coach Mike Tomiln. Photo Credit: CBS Sports

Coaching
While it is true that Keith Butler’s defense really hasn’t been tested by a marquee offense yet, that doesn’t change the fact that his unit still had a strong outing. It true that Minnesota did have one touchdown drive that looked easier than it should, but the Steelers defense got off the field on third down, harassed the quarterback and shut down the run.

  • If Todd Haley’s game plan was easier to understand in week two, his unit’s execution remains uneven.

Early in the game, the Steelers offense couldn’t sustain drives and seemingly needed two long pass interference plays to set up touchdowns. In the second half, the Steelers found more rhythm but had to settle for four field goals. Le’Veon Bell and the offensive line do not appear to be on the same page.

In his post-game press conference, Mike Tomlin seemed to acknowledge that the Steelers remain a work in progress, something which he has been saying since the summer. You can argue that this shouldn’t be the case for a team that finished one game short of the Super Bowl, but credit the coach for understanding where his team is, and ensuring that his player execute sufficiently well to win. Grade: C+

Unsung Hero Award
For ten years Steelers Nation got accustomed to seeing number 94 as one of those defenders who would always appear in same camera frame as the ball. That number of course belonged to Lawrence Timmons who acted as a force for stability and consistency during his tenure in Pittsburgh.

  • Timmons has of course moved on, and now there’s a new number 94.

Tyson Alualu now wears number 94 and it was plenty visible on Sunday afternoon, as Alualu played well enough Stephon Tuitt’s absence wasn’t really felt. Mike Tomlin preaches that “The Standard is the Standard” and that the “Next Man Up” should be capable of a winning performance. Tyson Alualu breathed life into his coach’s credo, and that’s why he’s the Unsung Hero of the Steelers win over the Vikings.

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Key Positive from Steelers 26-9 Win over Vikings? Contributions from New & Unexpected Faces

The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Minnesota Vikings 26-9 in their 2017 home opener in the franchise’s first game in the Steel City without Dan Rooney. Defeating any NFL opponent by a two-touchdown margin represents an important achievement.

But the overall outcome doesn’t change the fact that rustiness remains for the 2017 Steelers to shake off. Nonetheless, a week after their Above the Line but Below Par win over the Browns, the Steelers leave the Vikings game with one decidedly positive take away: The difference makers came from new faces and/or names we haven’t heard in a while.

Martavis Bryant, Steelers vs Vikings, Terence Newman

Martavis Bryant scores his first TD of the season against the Vikings. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Referee Eddie Morelli for MVP Anyone?

Steelers Nation entered the 2017 season with the expectation that the Black and Gold would dominate, particularly on offense with the return of the four Steelers Killer Bees, Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant.

A quick look at the statistics suggest the Steelers did just that:

  • They finished the game with a 14-point advantage
  • Pittsburgh dominated time of possession, 34:22 to 25:38
  • The Steelers closed the day with an almost 100 total yard advantage over the Vikings
  • Danny Smith’s special teams came up with another big play

All of those are positives indeed, but the truth is that twin pass interference penalties fueled the Steelers only two touchdown drives. The Steelers reached the Red Zone on two other occasions, but were forced to settle for Chis Boswell field goals both times, and the rest of the afternoon’s scoring for Pittsburgh came off of longer attempts made by Boswell.

  • Capitalizing on inopportune penalties is as important as executing on any the other fundamentals of football.

The Steelers did that, to their credit. But as the second half progressed, and Minnesota’s secondary stopped making such costly downfield gaffes, it was hard to escape feeling that, where it not for those two first half penalties, we would have been watching another afternoon where the Steelers need Chris Boswell to save the day as he did on the road against the Bengals and in the playoffs against the Chiefs.

  • That was understandable, perhaps even excusable last season when Ben Roethlisberger was throwing to his numbers 4, 5 and 6 wide receivers.

But 2017 was supposed to be different. Thus far, it has not been. It is easy to point the finger at Le’Veon Bell’s hold out, and he clearly hasn’t gotten back into the groove he was in a year ago. But to be fair to Bell, the Steelers run blocking hasn’t been as sharp as it was during the latter half of 2016.

Steelers Defense Rises to Occasion Against Vikings

While far from flawless, the play of the Steelers defense was far more consistent. To be certain, the Steelers didn’t have to face the hot hand of Sam Bradford, but Keith Butler has no choice over who unit plays, they can only respond.

And against Case Keenum, Butler’s boys responded in the affirmative:

  • T.J. Watt defended a pass, helping force a punt
  • Bud Dupree disrupted by getting his first sack of the season and defending another pass
  • Vince Williams helped end another drive late in the game with a sack
  • Cam Heyward and Artie Burns also dropped ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage
  • The Steelers held the Vikings to 0-3 on fourth down conversion attempts

To be clear, this wasn’t the type of Steel Curtain or Blitzburgh dominating performance of yesteryear. The Vikings did make it look a little too easy on their one scoring drive. But to be fair, save for that Minnesota touchdown series, the Steelers defense essentially shut down the Vikings ground attack.

Key Positive Take Away? New Faces Step up for Steelers

Two games into the 2017 season sees the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves at 2-0, but both “Above the line” performances leave the feeling that the men in Black and Gold left a little something on the field, particularly on offense. That was true in the Steeles win over the Browns, and its is still true after their home win against the Vikings.

  • But the Steelers made some important strides this weekend.

A week ago, the story of the Steelers offense was the Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown rampage through the Brown’s secondary (with assists from Jesse James in the Red Zone.) This week the Vikings managed to keep Brown contained at least until Ben Roethlisberger found a way to get Brown the ball in the second half.

  • But the Steelers showed that when that happens, Ben Roethlisberger and Martavis Byrant can and will make teams pay.

They did so twice, and both times the drives ended in touchdowns for the Steelers. And if the Steelers 50/50 performance in the Red Zone left a little to be desired, for the second straight week Todd Haley showed that he can still score touchdowns with his secondary weapons, with this week’s strike coming JuJu Smith-Schuster.

  • Against the Vikings, the Steelers defense told a similar, if not quite as dramatic story.

Did anyone notice the absence of Stephon Tuitt? No, and that’s because Tyson Alualu has stepped in and delivered. Likewise, everyone assumed that should something happen to T.J. Watt, James Harrison would step in. Word is that Watt suffered a groin injury, but it wasn’t Deebo off the bench, but Anthony Chickillo who came in on the right side.

  • Be honest, when the Vikings mounted their final shot at contesting the game’s outcome, you begged to see James Harrison in the game, didn’t you?

Yours truly certainly did. But the Steelers stuck with Anthony Chickillo and while Chickillo might not have made any Splash plays, the Steelers defense held the Vikings, and won the day.

Bill Cowher used to argue that the NFL season is akin to a 16-round fight. That’s an apt analogy (perhaps too apt given what we now know about CTE) except that, at least in September and October, there’s no such thing as a knockout punch.

The Steelers started 2017 2-0, they’ve done it without suffering any major injuries and they’ve gotten contributions from both familiar and new faces. Two games into the season, you can’t ask for much more than that.

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Vote Steelers Game Ball Winners for Victory over Vikings

Its that time again Steelers Nation. While they might not have earned any style points, the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled out a 26 to 9 win over the Minnesota Vikings, giving themselves 2-0 start to the 2017 season, and a victory in their home opener on a day that was dedicated to the late Dan Rooney.

Steelers vs Vikings, Steelers game balls vikings, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo

Bud Dupree celebrates his first sack of 2017 as Anthony Chickillo looks on. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Here’s how the results panned out:

Steelers Vikings Game ball results, Martavis Bryant, Cameron Heyward

Martavis Bryant, who scored the Steelers first touchdown and authored its biggest play of the day wins the first slot on the ball, followed by Chris Boswell, who accounted for all of the Steelers offense following Pittsburgh’s 14-0 start. Referee Eddie Morelli’s also gets a (sort of) tongue and cheek nod, given that two pass interference calls set up the Steelers only two touchdowns, while they were generally penalizing someone on every other play.

Ben Roethlisberger also earns a slot. While this wasn’t a marquee game for Number 7 by any stretch of the imagination he did settle down in the second half and got the chains moving, although he wasn’t able to direct the Steelers into the end zone. Antonio Brown also gets a nod, because well, because he made some tough catches.

  • JuJu Smith-Schuster scored a touchdown on his first NFL touch — you can’t argue for a much better start than that.

On defense, Vince Williams leads the ballot, for recording a sack and being around the ball. Bud Dupree, who also registered a sack also gets a nod, as does Cam Heyward, who might not have made any fantasy owners happy, but was his usual disruptive self. Ryan Shazier wins a ballot slot, after another strong afternoon, as does Tyler Matakevich who made his second big special teams play in as many weeks.

  • Remember, however, this is YOUR Steelers game ball poll, and you are by no means limited to these choices.

Think that Le’Veon Bell deserves a game ball? Write his name in. Ditto Jesse James. Think that Sean Davis and/or Mike Hilton, T.J. Watt or perhaps Anthony Chickillo deserve deserve game balls? Then write their names in, or better yet, write their names in and state your case in the comments section.

Thanks  for voting. Be sure and check out Steel Curtain Rising’s full analysis of the Steelers win over the Vikings.

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“Pases de Pantalla Chotos a Bryant” – Steelers Football Meets Argentine Lunfardo

It is said that you really reach fluency in a second language when you feel comfortable enough to joke around in it. I can attest to that reality. After 4 or 5 years of living in Argentina, that I was able to call (and this was before caller ID reached universal status) and greeting them with “Hola, gallego“* and delight in their utter inability to figure out who I was.

The Steelers struggles against the Browns gave me the chance to turn the paradigm on its head:

  • Does an imported foreign institution finally gain cultural currency when the locals can apply slang terminology to it?

A few days after the Steelers narrow win over the Browns, I WhatsApped my friend, and sometime site writer, Gustavo Vallegos, El Dr. de Acero, asking what another friend, who is a notoriously harsh critic of the team at times, had thought of the game. HE hadn’t heard from our friend, but offered his own criticism:

“lo que me preocupaba, cuando empiece el partido con estos pases de pantalla a Bryant chotos con no avanzaba ni dos yardas….” 

For those of you who don’t read Spanish, what Gustavo is talking about is the Ben Roethlisberger to Martavis Bryant bubble screen passes, and the entire Todd Haley horizontal offense the Steelers tried to mount, instead of trying to pound the ball with Le’Veon Bell or hit Bryant and Antonio Brown downfield.

But the key word there is “choto….”

Martavis Bryant, Martavis Bryant bubble screen, Steelers vs Browns

Martavis Bryant, catching one of the bubble screens thrown to him in the Steelers win over the Browns. Photo Credit: ESPN.com

Choto” is a very Argentine word, and is likely exclusive to the dialect of Spanish spoken in the Rio de la Plata. What does Choto mean….

…Well, this is a family friendly site, so any translation needs to be made with care. “Choto” means to, hum, let’s say a certain piece of the male anatomy that’s short, and one that comes up short at shall we say in opportune times. “Gallego,”* which in certain contexts can be highly disrespectful also has much more affectionate, and playful uses.

  • There’s no such lighter side to labeling something or someone as “choto.”

And that’s the beauty of this anecdote. There’s no real English translation of “choto,” there’s no single English word or expression that carries the exact cultural or linguistic weight. Yet, “choto,” very much describes the play of the Steelers offense, save for Antonio Brown and Jesse James, on Sunday against the Browns.

With all that said, I realize this could quite well be the linguistic equivalent of a “You had to be there” type of moment. If so fair enough. But if you can’t quite fully grasp the linguistic side of it there’s something else that you should be able to hang your hat on….

 

Steelers Fans Buenos Aires, #SteelersWorldWide, Steelers Nation Argentina, Steelers Argentina

Steelers fans gather in Buenos Aires for #SteelersWorldWide Photo

The Steelers Nation’s colony in Argentina might be small, but the porteños are making Steelers football their own!

*Taken literally a “gallego” as an immigrant or a descendant of an immigrant from the province of Galacia, in Spain; colloquially saying “Hola gallego” is sort of like saying  “What’s up hoss?” albeit it comes with an affectionate barb, because the stereotype of a gallego is someone who is always a half step-behind the times.

And if you want to follow an Argentine who does really know something about Steelers football, follow:

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Were Rusty Steelers Struggles Against Browns Due to Preseason Philosophy?

Why were the Pittsburgh Steelers so rusty in their 2017 opening win against the Cleveland Browns

Well, chalk it up to Mke Tomlin’s approach to preseason football this past summer. To cut to the chase, scroll down about. Otherwise enjoy our Uruguayan interlude…

Steelers vs Browns, Le'Veon Bell

The Browns gang tackle Le’Veon Bell in the Steelers 2017 opener at Cleveland. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune Review

Steelerless Sunday and an Uruguayan Interlude….

Watching NFL football on tape delay can be a curious experience. Today, despite on-demand viewing’s dominance , the NFL has defended its Appointment Viewing turf. Football fails to excite when you know the outcome, and its getting really hard avoid spoilers. Unless…

…You live outside the United States, as yours truly has done, well for a long time. So I found myself spending my 12 wedding anniversary in Montevideo, Uruguay which happened to coincide with the Steelers 2017 opener against the Browns.

As the weekend evolved, it became clear that my wife would be tied up at a translation Congress for most of Sunday afternoon….

…Which opened the door to watching the game! (Note to Steelers fans who got or will get married from September to early February – I once tried to combine a wedding anniversary dinner follow by “meeting the guys to catch the end of the game” and, as the old faux SNL commercial goes: Bad Idea.)

But I was free on Sunday afternoon. Alas, Google searches in English and Spanish could not confirm any locale in Montevideo that showed NFL games. El Dr. de Acero gave me his NFL Game Pass login credentials, but they didn’t work. So, spent the chilly, rainy September Sunday in Montevideo unable to watch the Steelers unwilling learn of the result, plowing through Peter Carlin’s biography of Bruce Springsteen.

After all, I’d be able to watch the game, commercial free, in less than 12 hours when I was back home in Buenos Aires…

…Except that my Monday morning boat ride home turned into a Monday evening boat ride home, thanks to storms on the Rio de la Plata (take that Lake Eire! I guess) so as it was, I couldn’t see the Steelers against the Browns until 11:00 pm that night.

Rusty Steelers Struggles Against Browns Due to Preseason Philosophy?

As stated above, NFL football on tape delay can be a curious animal. Thanks to heavy rains in the porteño capital, DirectTV informed me that part of the program I’d taped (the game) hadn’t recorded.

So by the time I got to an image I could see, the game had barely started, the Steelers were ahead 7-0, and Chris Boswell was kicking off to the Browns. Wow! The Koolaid of the return of the Steelers Killer Bees sure does give you a nice sugar high!

While I’d assumed that Juju Smith Schuster had probably returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, surely this was a sign that the offensive juggernaut created by Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant was going to treat Steelers Nation to a season opener in Cleveland somewhat akin to 1999’s 43-0 opening day Browns beating.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened. Instead, the best recent Steelers-Browns comparison comes from 2014’s Chuck Noll Day victory. But even that analogy falls short, because that was an afternoon of extremes for Steelers.

  • Against the Browns the Steelers offense simply sputtered, while Pittsburgh’s defense punished itself with penalties.

Chalk most of the Steelers defensive woes to over aggressiveness; while set up the scores that kept the Browns in the game, does anyone here want to gentle the aggressiveness out of T.J. Watt, Ryan Shazier or Cam Heyward?

Neither do I.

The offensive side of the ball is much harder to excuse, especially because the Steelers offense looked like a group of guys who hadn’t played together for well, about 232. Which is accurate, because you could probably sum the total time the Steelers starting offense (with James Conner filling in for Le’Veon Bell, of course) played together in preseason an not break single digits.

  • While I’m too young to be a grumpy old man, perhaps there’s cause to call me a curmudgeon and I unapologetically remain a preseason football apologist.

OK, the game has changed. Salary cap realities force coaches to use preseason more strategically. A season ending injury to Terry Bradshaw or Lynn Swann would have been just as devastating to Chuck Noll’s Steelers on the field, but it wouldn’t have amounted to a dead money drag on the team.

And let’s be fair. This isn’t Mike Tomlin’s first rodeo, and all of the Steelers starters on offense, save for Roosevelt Nix, are playing on their second NFL contracts. These guys have experience and don’t need the reps.

But its hard not to notice that the one guy who surprised everyone with his shine was Jesse James, a player to saw extensive action in the exhibition season. On the flip side, Maurkice Pouncey got hit with a couple of holding calls, and Lon Ledyard of Steel City Insider pointedly called out Marcus Gilbert and David DeCastro’s play.

  • OK, Antonio Brown didn’t play much in preseason either. Joe Hayden didn’t play at all (for the Steelers at least).

Unfortunately, accurate preseason snap counts aren’t available (yet.) The “Hard Hitting Analysis” thing to do would be to go back, look at preseason summaries, and get a rough idea of who played and how much, but that falls outside of this this is a stream of consciousness type article.

So be it. The workday beckons. The Steelers had their NFL equivalent of a warmup game against Appalachian State and they won it. But it says here that such opening day rustiness could have been avoided with a slightly different approach to preseason football on the part of Mike Tomlin and his staff.

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Steelers Open Up 2017 Campaign With Narrow 21-18 Victory Over Browns

They say a win is a win, but after watching his team’s sloppy performance in a 21-18 Week 1 victory over the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday, I’m not so sure Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin would agree with that sentiment.

Just how sloppy was the performance? In addition to posting just 290 yards in total offense, the Steelers committed 13 penalties for an astounding 144 yards–including several personal fouls on the defense and three holding calls on offense that wiped out what could have been momentum-building drives.

With the way the game started out, however, it looked like it would be a cake-walk for the visitors.

After the Steelers forced a quick three-and-out, second-year inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich raced up the middle virtually untouched to block the Browns punt, and it was recovered in the end zone by outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo to give the Steelers a quick 7-0 lead.

T.J. Watt, Steelers vs Browns, T.J. Watt 1st interception

T.J. Watt after his first interception in his rookie debut. Photo credit: The New York Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, the Steelers offense struggled right out of the gate, netting minus-six yards on its opening drive.

Cleveland quickly responded, by marching 68 yards on 12 plays and tying the game on a one-yard touchdown run by rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who made his first start on Sunday.

Pittsburgh’s vaunted offense, led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell, seeing his first action after holding out all of training camp, continued to struggle, only gaining 41 yards through a quarter-and-a-half of action.

However, facing a second and eight from the 11-yard line, late in the second quarter, Pittsburgh’s offense got a bit of a spark, when Brown managed to hold on to a deflected pass and raced 50 yards down to the Browns’ 39.

Five plays later, the Steelers took a 14-7 lead on a four-yard strike from Roethlisberger to third-year tight end Jesse James. 

The Steelers offense continued to go backwards on the opening drive of  the second half, netting negative eight yards, following a sack on Roethlisberger.

The Browns responded by driving 53 yards on seven plays and cutting Pittsburgh’s lead to four points on a  Zane Gonzalez 24-yard field goal to make it 14-10.

The Steelers then drove 75 yards on six plays and went ahead 21-10 on James’ second touchdown catch of the day, this one for two yards.

The drive was aided greatly by a 41-yard pass interference penalty on Browns’ cornerback Jamar Taylor, who was called for grabbing the arm of Brown on a deep sideline pass.

Pittsburgh’s defense appeared to stymie the Browns on their next offensive possession. However, after an incomplete pass on third and 18, cornerback William Gay was called for unnecessary roughness on a hit to receiver Ricardo Louis.

As for the flag, it came in very late, and even though Louis was forced to the sideline for a medical evaluation, replays seemed to show Gay contacted the receiver with his shoulder and didn’t lead with his helmet.

Later in the drive, following yet another unnecessary roughness call–this time on rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt following a sack by Chickillo–Kizer lofted a short pass down the left sideline that was picked off by Watt, who jumped high in the air to corral the football, before returning it 17 yards.

Unfortunately, despite the offense marching to the Cleveland 29-yard line early in the fourth quarter, the Steelers couldn’t salt the game away, and a Roethlisberger pass intended for receiver Martavis Bryant was intercepted by Browns’ safety Derrick Kindred.

Late in the game, the Browns drove 73 yards on eight plays and inched to within three points, thanks to a three-yard strike from Kizer to receiver Corey Coleman on fourth and two, followed by a two-point conversation by running back Isaiah Crowell.

But facing a second and 12 from their own 18-yard line, the Steelers were able to put the final nail in the coffin, thanks to Brown, who, while being triple-teamed, jumped up to secure a 38-yard pass from Roethlisberger at the 2:28 mark.

Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson challenged that Brown didn’t maintain possession of the catch all the way through the tackle and lost said challenge, leaving his team with zero timeouts, and Pittsburgh ran out the clock to start 1-0 for the second-straight year.

For the day, Brown caught 11 passes for 182 yards, while James pulled in six passes for 41 yards and those two touchdowns.

Roethlisberger completed 24 of 36 passes for 263 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

As for Bell, he carried 10 times for just 32 yards 10 times for just 32 yards, as  10 tiems for Pittsburgh could do very-little on the ground.

On the defensive side, the Steelers allowed a respectable 237 yards and recorded a rather robust seven sacks–including two apiece for Watt and Chickillo.

Next up for the Steelers is their 2017 Heinz Field debut against the Vikings next Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.

 

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 Roster Shaped by Coates and Cockrell Trades, Haden Signing

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 Roster is almost fully in focus as Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert made a flurry of moves to get their roster to the league mandated 53 man limit. And in doing so the Steelers dynamic-duo showed that they were once again unafraid to venture outside their comfort zone, including:

  • trading Sammie Coates and a 2019 7th round pick to Cleveland for a 2018 6th round pick
  • trading Ross Cockrell for an undisclosed draft pick

While trading a player in lieu of cutting them isn’t terribly unorthodox, it hasn’t been the Steelers standard operating procedure, especially when it comes on the heels of the Vance McDonald trade and the signing of Joe Haden. Beyond that the Steelers made a number of cuts which count as surprises:

Mike Hilton, a training camp and preseason sensation, also made the team as the Steelers will keep 7 cornerbacks.

Steelers 2017 roster, Ben Roethlisberger, Martavis Bryant

Hopefully, Ben Roethlisberger cheering as Martavis Bryant takes off will become a familiar sight. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

Steelers 2017 Roster by Position

Quarterbacks (3)
Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, and Joshua Dobbs.

No surprises here.

Running Backs (4)
Le’Veon Bell*, Terrell Watson, James Conner and Roosevelt Nix

Terrell Watson’s power rushing pushed veterans Fitzgerald Toussaint and Davis off the team. Note, Le’Veon Bell doesn’t officially count against the 53 man roster yet.

Wide Receivers (6)
Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Eli Rogers, Justin Hunter and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

No surprises among the first four. Keeping Justin Hunter around will make Ben Roethlisberger happy, and DHB makes team largely because of special teams.

Tight Ends (3)
Vance McDonald, Jesse James and Xavier Grimble.

Jake McGee played well in preseason, but will likely head to practice squad. This site’s got a soft spot for underdogs, making it tough to see David Johnson go.

Offensive Line (9)
Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Chris Hubbard, B.J. Finney, Jerald Hawkins and Matt Feiler.

9 offensive lineman might seem a little high, but if the Steelers 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 season painfully proved, you can never have enough good offensive lineman.

Defensive Line (6)
Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, L. T. Walton and Daniel McCullers.

A late push by McCullers saves his roster spot. On paper, this is the deepest defensive line Johnny Mitchell has ever had to work with – and he’s been coaching despite being given every chance. Assume he’ll be back on the practice squad.

Outside Linebackers (5)
Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, James Harrison, Anthony Chickillo and Arthur Moats.

Keeping 5 outside linebackers might seem like a luxury, but remember Arthur Moats has position flexibility to move inside in a pinch.

Inside Linebackers (4)
Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort.

If Shazier stays healthy, this group should be OK. Still it looks a lot less athletic with Timmons in Miami.

Cornerbacks (7)
Artie Burns, Joe Haden, William Gay, Mike Hilton, Cam Sutton, Coty Sensabaugh and Brian Allen.

It almost seems like the Steelers are trying to use quantity to compensate with quality issues…

Safeties (4)
Mike Mitchell, Sean Davis, Robert Golden and Jordan Dangerfield.

To the naked eye this looks good for the Steelers. However, Mike Mitchell has been injured for most of cap, Jordan Dangerfield got injured in the final preseason game, and Robert Golden is not a long term starter.

Specialist (3)
Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry, Kameron Canaday.

It seems that Kameron Canaday and not Colin Holba is the heir Greg Warren.

Finally, to the surprise of no one, the Steelers cut Senquez Golson, their 2nd round draft pick from the 2015 NFL Draft whose NFL career at this point consists of a handful of training camp practices. When fans have asked Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola about whether Golson would return to the practice squad, his stock answer is that he needs to be healthy enough to practice first.

  • Beyond signing their practice squad, the Steelers will also likely need to make another move as Le’Veon Bell does not yet count against their 53 man roster.

There’s a good chance that the Steelers will create space for Le’Veon Bell by putting Cam Sutton on IR, but the Steelers have hardly been predictable of late.

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Steelers Trade for Vance McDonald. Does “Varsity” Tight End Mean Trouble for Xavier Grimble?

With the clock ticking on Ben Roethlisberger‘s career and therefore the franchise’s Super Bowl window, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert looked at the team’s tight end depth chart, found it wanting and took action.

  • The Steelers traded a 4th round pick form the 2018 NFL Draft to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for tight end Vance McDonald and a 5th round pick in 2018.
Vance McDonald, Vance McDonald Trade, Steelers trade for Vance McDonald

New Steelers tight end Vance McDonald advances the ball for the 49ers against the Broncos. Photo Credit: AP via Yahoo Sports

When asked what led the Steelers to make such an uncharacteristic move so late in the season, Mike Tomlin refused sugar coat his assessment of his Tight Ends:

The guys hadn’t been consistently varsity enough for our comfort. It’s as black and white as that. They’ve had some moments positively and had some moments negatively, and so we were in the market for a guy that was NFL-capable. McDonald is that.

Jesse James ears are burning brightly. When the Steelers drafted James in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft the Pennsylvania native wasn’t regarded as Heath Miller’s heir apparent, a move made clear by the Steelers rapid signing of Ladarius Green to start free agency in 2016.

Nonetheless, James started for most of the 2016 season while Ladarius Green remained injured, and generally played above expectations, including making key catches in the game winning drive of the Steelers Christmas win over the Ravens. When the Steelers cut Green in June, James WAS the heir apparent, but his performance in training camp and preseason hasn’t been consistent.

  • But if Jesse James ears are burning Xavier Grimble’s  hands are likely the ones to tremble thanks to this move.

Grimble spent parts of 2014 on the Patriots and 49er’s practice squads, and then served a full internship in 2015 on the Steelers practice squad. While Grimble made the final 53 man roster, his performance was inconsistent down the stretch, despite having ample opportunity to prove himself in Green’s absence. Word is that Grimble has been inconsistent for much of the summer, and McDonald’s arrival could signal a visit form the Turk for Grimble.

Mike Tomlin has not commented how Vance McDonald’s arrival impacts the rest of the tight end depth chart, nor would he commit to using McDonald in any specific way, explaining that the Steelers first signed Darrius Heyward-Bey as a wide receiver, not realizing his ability on special teams.

The San Francisco 49ers drafted Vance McDonald 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft, taking him six slots after Le’Veon Bell. During his first four season in the NFL, Vance McDonald has started 30 games and appeared in 48, while catching 64 passes for 391 yards for seven touchdowns.

In addition to Grimble, James and McDonald, the Steelers also have veteran David Johnson along with Jake McGee. The Steelers cut hopeful Phazahn Odom shortly after acquiring McDonald.

Welcome to Steelers Nation, Vance McDonald.

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Steelers 2017 Salary Cap is Offensively Lopsided. And That’s a Good Thing.

Steelers 2017 training camp starts in 34 days and perhaps the only bit of football drama that will pass between now and then is whether the franchise comes to a long-term agreement with Le’Veon Bell. But even if they don’t one thing is certain:

  • At 101 million dollars, the Steelers will field the NFL’s most expensive offense.

As Steelers Wire’s Simon Chester details, seven of the Steelers top 10 salary cap hits will come on offense. To the naked eye, spending over 60% of your salary cap on half of your team might seem like an unfavorable imbalance.

  • But its not, and in fact shows that things are, in many respects, going according to plan.
Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs Dolphins playoffs, Steelers 2017 salary cap offense

Ben Roethlisberger throws to Le’Veon Bell in Steelers 2016 playoff win vs. Miami. Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images via Zimbo

The Steelers 2017 salary cap structure follows the franchise’s rebuilding effort that has been in the works since Super Bowl XLV. Salary cap mechanics can get tricky, but you don’t need to be an accounting or math wiz to understand what’s going on here.

All of the Steelers projected starters on offense, outside of Jesse James, Roosevelt Nix, Martavis Bryant, and Alejandro Villanueva are playing on their second or third contracts. And by the time the season starts, Villanueva might have his own long term deal.

  • On defense the difference is stark.

The only projected starters playing on second contracts are James Harrison, Cameron Heyward and Mike Mitchell. William Gay, Coty Sensabaugh and Arthur Moats are also well removed from their rookie contracts, but their contracts are relatively cap friendly.

As soon as the 2011 lockout ended the Steelers giving second (or third) contracts to Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and Willie Colon. Management invested heavily in keeping the core of players together who’d brought Pittsburgh into 3 Super Bowls in six years.

  • Unfortunately, the plan failed.

But, for as frustrating as 8-8 seasons might have been, the Steelers invested wisely in building their offensive line to protect Ben Roethlisberger and in populating their skill positions with weapons to complement Antonio Brown. It is safe to say that by 2014, the Steelers had enough championship caliber talent on offense to make them viable contenders.

That’s a question that Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler’s boys can only answer on the field – as spreadsheet calculations will never drive Tom Brady into the turf on third and long.

But the key to winning in the salary cap era is to get the most bang for your salary cap buck, and one of the best ways to do that is to draft players who can start delivering that bang while they’re still playing on their rookie contracts. Cam Heyward did that. Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt have done that. Sean Davis, Artie Burns and Javon Hargrave showed signs that they can do that. God, willing T.J. Watt and Cam Sutton will do that.

Their ability to keep doing that this season forms the key part of any road map that leads Lombardi Number Seven to Pittsburgh in 2017.

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All Eyes on Jesse James as Steelers Cut Ladarius Green

Sometimes, things just don’t work out. Such is the case with Ladarius Green and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers 2016 off season began with the retirement of Heath Miller. Faced with the task of replacing Heath Miller’s legendary dependability in the passing game, the Steelers acted swiftly by signing Ladarius Green on the first day of free agency.

Even after Martavis Bryant’s suspension, Ladarius Green promised to give the Steelers a viable weapon to compensate. Then Green sat out OTA’s due to his ankle. Then he began training camp on the PUP. Then conflicting report arose detailing Ladarius Green’s ongoing concussion symptoms.

Ladarius Green, Steelers cut Ladarius Green, Vontaze Burfict, Steelers vs Bengals

Vontaze Burfict tackles Ladarius Green in what would be his final game with the Steelers. Photo Credit: Kohl, USA Today via Steel City Insider

As fate would have it, Ladarius Green didn’t see the field until mid-season, but he made almost an immediate impact. Then he suffered another concussion against Cincinnati and his season was over. And now we know, so was his career with the Steelers.

Ladarius Green’s Career with the Steelers = “Good While It Lasted”

Ladarius Green’s Pittsburgh Steelers career consisted of 6 games, 2 starts, 18 catches for 304 yards and one touchdown. With Bryant out and Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey ailing, the Steelers offense struggled to find a receiver capable of taking heat off of Antonio Brown.

  • By the time the Steelers late season run was in full swing, it looked like Ladarius Green’s emergence might alter that equation.

18 catches for 304 yards might not sound like much, but in the Steelers Thanksgiving win over the Colts, their win over the Giants and their road victory over the Bengals, Ladarius Green proved to be a difference making, flipping the field at critical moments in all three games.

Just when it seemed like the Steelers might have found the vertical threat that neither Eli Rogers, nor Sammie Coates, nor Cobi Hamilton could provide, Ladarius Green suffered another concussion as he went over the middle to make another clutch catch on the road against the Bengals.

Fans speculated that the Steelers might part ways with their tight end. This site suggested that the Steelers day one signing of Davidy Johnson suggested the Steelers were questioning Green’s return.

  • Yet, Kevin Colbert affirmed that Ladarius Green was in the Steelers plans for 2017.

The Steelers deed of not to pick a tight end during the 2017 NFL Draft seemed to confirm their words. Clearly the calculus has changed.

Jesse James’ Baptism by Fire Begins in Earnest

With Ladarius Green gone, all eyes turn towards Jesse James who now becomes the incumbent starter at tight end.

Jesse James, Steelers Jesse James, Steelers vs. Bengals, Jesse James touchdown

Shawn Williams can’t stop Jesse James from catching a touchdown in the Steelers 2016 win over Cincinnati @ Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Don Wright, AP via PennLive

Jesse James was the Steelers 5th round draft pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and it says here that since picking him, Jesse James has done everything the Steelers have asked him  today. While 2016 certainly didn’t represent a breakout season for James, he did come up with clutch catches on any number of occasions, including the Steelers Christmas Comeback over the Ravens.

Nonetheless, when reviewing the Steelers depth chart at tight end most fans and analysts have tended to couch their critiques of the Steelers Depth Chart at tight end with comments like, “Jesse James had a good second season. But….”

  • Very soon, Steelers Nation will see if Jesse James can erase those “buts.”

Behind James, the Steelers have David Johnson who’ll work in as a number 2 tight end, and Xavier Grimble playing as the number 3. Undrafted rookie free agent Scott Orndoff is also expected to push for a roster spot.

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