Steelers Trade for J.J. Wilcox from Buccaneers, Bolstering Safety Depth

How much value can you squeeze out of a sixth round draft pick? A lot apparently.

A year ago the Steelers traded their 6th round pick of the 2018 NFL Draft to the Cleveland Browns to acquire Justin Gilbert. When the Steelers 2017 roster was assembled, it was done in part by trading Sammie Coates to the Cleveland Browns for that self-same 6th round pick (they also gave Cleveland their 2019 7th round pick).

Steelers trade for J.J. Wilcox, J.J. Wilcox, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Steelers vs. Cowboys

The Steelers now will hope J.J. Wilcox has better luck covering running backs not named Le’Veon Bell. Photo Credit: Joe Sargent, Getty Images via Zimbo.com

A day later we find the Pittsburgh Steelers trading their 6th round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for safety J.J. Wilcox and Tampa’s 7th round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

When the Denver Broncos cut safety T.J. Ward (apparently the initial “J.” is in vogue in Pittsburgh) speculation mounted that the Steelers would sign him, but he instead signed with the Buccaneers, making J.J. Wilcox expendable.

  • The Steelers need depth at Safety.

Starting free safety Mike Mitchell has been injured all summer and his status for the season opener is unknown. Reserve safety Jordan Dangerfield injured himself in the Steelers final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. Robert Golden has been healthy, but his play at safety has been spotty at best. William Gay will also play safety some this season, but he’s untested at that position (not to mention on the wrong side of 30 for a defensive back.)

J.J. Wilcox appeared in 58 games for the Cowboys, and made 38 starts, logging 5 interceptions and forcing two fumbles by Pro Football Reference’s count. While the trade for J.J. Wilcox is official, he does not formally join the Steelers roster until Labor Day. At the time the Steelers will have to make two more roster moves, to make way for Wilcox and Le’Veon Bell.

While it is unlikely that J.J. Wilcox will start immediately, unlike Joe Haden, he could see playing time sooner rather than later. The Steelers 2017 secondary will have a very different look from its 2016 counterpart as with Ross Cockrell in New York, William Gay playing a new position, and two new faces added at the tail, tail end of the 2017 off season.

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Watch Tower: Steelers Press Coverage on Ben Roethlisberger Antonio Brown Tension, AFC Championship Aftermath & More

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 season came to an abrupt and ugly end in New England and the Watch Tower focuses its lights on the aftermath of that game, including coverage of tensions between Ben and Brown, coverage of the post-AFC Championship blame game and the Justin Gilbert story.

Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Antonio Brown pouting, Ben Roethlisberger Antonio Brown tension

Ben Roethlisberger embraces Antonio Brown at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Joe Sargent, Getty Images via BTSC

Aditi Kinkhabwala has the Press Corps Pouting Again…

The end to the Steelers season often times signals the beginning of some of most interesting stories about the team. This is a well-established tendency. Think of how stories of Bill Cowher banishing Kordell Stewart from QB meetings or getting into shouting matches with Tommy Maddox only broke after the games stopped.

In recent seasons, a new twist has accompanied the trend:

  • Namely that if you really want a story to get everyone’s attention, filter it through NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala.

After all, it was Aditi Kinkhabwala who’d implied that she’d somehow predicted/foreseen Jack Bicknell’s dismissal after 2013, sparking a social media firestorm with Dejan Kovacevic. In 2014 she managed to get Steelers Nation talking about the groin injury Mike Mitchell had played through during the entire season, despite the fact that Allan Robinson had broken the Mitchell injury story in late October of 2014.

And now of course Aditi Kinkhabwala started the Steelers 2017 season by dropping this bomb buy suggesting Antonio Brown hung his head and “pouted” after DeAngelo Williams scored his first touchdown.

The substance of the story was immediately debunked by video evidence – Brown had in fact blocked on the play and was seen raising his arms in celebration after the score. But Kinkhabwala story had its impact as a quick Google search for “Antonio Brown pouting” confirms.

Interestingly enough, while one of Kinkhabwala’s reports remains available on the NFL Network’s site, the other displays other videos, such as this one of Tyler Matakevich’s NFL Combine workout:

Aditi Kinkhabwala Antonio Brown, NFL Network Antonio Brown, Tyler Matakevich NFL Combine

The url would lead you to think that this would be on Aditi Kinkhabwala’s story about Antonio Brown, but it doesn’t….

A later check of the link displayed highlights of one Le’Veon Bell’s more impressive rushing efforts against the Giants. While could be due to a technical glitch, taken at face value it does not speak well to NFL Networks confidence in the veracity of the story.

And the story might have died there, but this one had legs….

Of Ben and Ron, Antonio and Dale

The impact that the relationship reporters has with his or her subject and the coverage that person receives has long been one of the Watch Tower’s pet interest in an effort to find evidence that supports or disputes the groundbreaking work Elliot King and Michael Schudson did on the subject in the 1980’s.

  • And to that end, we can perhaps learn from the apparent tension between Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown.

The story begins with the fallout from Antonio Brown’s infamous Facebook Live post following the Steelers AFC Divisional Playoff win against the Chiefs, in discussing Brown’s contrition following the incident the Observer Standard’s Dale Lolley confided:

I like Brown. I’ve gotten to know him as well as a member of the media can know a player in these days of million-dollar contracts and internet stars. I’ve been a host of his radio show the past three years.
We’ve had talks about things other than football. About his family. About my family.

While Lolley certainly did not excuse Brown’s video, he did invite readers to see things from Brown’s perspective, which is understandable given the relationship between the two. The role that the relationship between Brown and Lolley became all the more interesting after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook made the case for trading the Steelers Antonio Brown by dropping this bomb:

The distractions are a real problem. Brown’s three excessive celebrations penalties early in the season were bad enough. But there was the incident in the first Miami game when he jogged back to the line of scrimmage, delaying his teammates from running their 2-minute offense. In more than one game, when he wasn’t happy with how he was being used, he frequently ran the wrong patterns, either because of a lack of focus or — worse — intentionally. It happened a week ago in the AFC championship. That’s inexcusable.

The enormity of Ron Cook’s report did not go unnoticed.

Nor was the fact that he didn’t source his information. Clearly Cook wasn’t going to break confidentiality and out the player or the coach who spilled the beans on someone else. But he also failed to provide any anonymous credit by attributing the report to “A league source” (generally a code word for an agent) or “a member of the locker room” or “someone inside the Steelers organization” (a coach or front office staffer.)

Antonio Brown, Byron Maxwell, Steelers vs Dolphins, Ron Cook Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown’s effort in the Steelers 2016 loss to Miami recently came under fire. Photo Credit: Lynne Sladky, AP via wsoctv.com

The same day Cook’s article ran, Dale Lolley countered the argument in favor of trading Brown by reminding everyone that Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t always the ideal teammate, or citizen, and cited several verifiable facts to refute the argument that Brown is somehow a bad teammate.

A few days later, Lolley took things a step further observing:

Then, it was Roethlisberger, through his personal mouthpiece, taking shots at Brown, suggesting that Brown ran the wrong routes on purpose to sabotage the team. Please. Might there be times when Brown runs the wrong route? Sure. He probably does it just like every other receiver in the game. Might there also be times when Roethlisberger calls the wrong play? Absolutely. [emphasis added]

To the naked eye, it might seem as if Lolley is making a jump by assuming that Ben Roethlisberger is Ron Cook’s source. By Ron Cook hosts Roethlisberger’s radio show, and the two are known to have a close relationship.

Indeed, long before this story was born, a credentialed member of the Steelers press corps shared with the Watch Tower that, to the chagrin of other reporters, Ron Cook frequently gets exclusive access to Ben Roethlisberger after games.

  • What to make of all of this?

From a media analysis standpoint, on the surface it looks like Ben and Brown are conducting a surrogate war of words using journalists as proxies, although to be to Dale Lolley, his suggestion that Roethlisberger perhaps calls the wrong play at times is presented as just that a suggestion.

There’s of course nothing wrong with reporters relying on relationships and exclusive access to write compelling stories – in fact, that’s their job. But the Watch Tower hasn’t seen such great contrasts in a major Steelers story since perhaps Stanley Druckenmiller’s attempt to buy out the Rooney brothers.

Fans care the most about the football angle of the story as they should. Art Rooney II has made clear the team isn’t interested in parting ways with Brown, which means that Mike Tomlin must find a way to keep 2 of his 3 Killer Bees happy.

AFC Championship Game Aftermath

Steelers Nation took the Steelers (latest) AFC Championship loss to the Patriots like a sucker punch to the get. The beating was thorough with the Steelers not so much as failing to get on Mike Tomlin’s moving train as being hit by it.

  • Logically, there was a lot of Monday Morning Quarterbacking that followed.

Most of the coverage centered on the ease with which Tom Brady tore up the Steelers zone defense followed by venting on the Steelers unwillingness and/or inability to counter by playing man defense.

Troy Polamalu, Wes Welker, Steelers vs Patriots, Steelers Patriots 2011, Steelers Patriots man defense

Troy Polamalu brings down Wes Welker in Steelers 2011 win over Patriots. Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images via NY Times

Fair enough. Only a fool would argue that the Steelers defense has done anything but get embarrassed by Brady. Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola offered a counter view. While conceding that the Steelers defense earned its share of rightful criticism, Labriola added another element to the equation:

Because defeating the Patriots doesn’t happen with defense, as the Houston Texans learned in the Divisional Round. Sack Brady, harass Brady, intercept Brady, but if you don’t have the offense to score and possess the ball and compete in time of possession, eventually Tom Brady will get enough done to beat you….

Any vision of the Steelers winning this game had them showing themselves capable of taking a punch from the Patriots, but then also gathering themselves and hitting back.

Labriola then pointed out any number of areas where the Steelers offense fell short, from Sammie Coates dropping his first pass, while also highlighting the failings of Cobi Hamilton and Eli Rogers. A few days later, Labriola also reminded the Twitter defensive coordinators in Steelers Nation that Tom Brady actually had a pretty good game in 2011 when the Steelers surprised him by playing man defense, arguing that the key to the win was the offense’s production.

  • It’s true that “Rooney” is the name that is stamped in the signature block of Bob Labrolia’s pay check, he also offered a perspective that needed to be offered.

Over on Steel City Insider, Jim Wexell offered his readers something unique as well. Three days after that game, in his State of the Steelers he offered readers about as close to a fly on the wall review of what had happened in Steelers practices the week before the as a beat reporter can without risking his credentials.

The Watch Tower won’t steal Wexell’s thunder, but he offered enough insight to make both the optimism going into the game, and the ultimate disappointment understandable. He also detailed some unorthodox, albeit, unsuccessful plans to pressure Brady.

Avoiding the Salary Cap Charge for Gilbert

As everyone knows, the Steelers cut Justin Gilbert just months after trading a 6th round pick to acquire his services. One silver lining is that the Steelers would not be on the hook for the remainder of Justin Gilbert’s contract, which would have been guaranteed due to his draft status.

  • The question is why?

Simon Chester, resident salary capoligist at The Steelers Wire, sprung into action and wrote a piece that seemed to indicate that Gilbert had been suspended by the Browns, thus voiding the guarantee on his deal.

That seemed to make sense, but a day later Jeff Hartman and Flip Fisher of Behind the Steel Curtain got Ray Fittipaldo on the record, who broke the story for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, on the record explaining that the Steelers had ensured that they would not be responsible for any guarantees beyond the 2016 season. Cleveland, it would seem, had agreed to pick up the rest of his contract.

BTSC earns Watch Tower kudos for going the extra mile to add extra clarity to the top story of the week.

Going Deep Down Shifts

A week or so after the AFC Championship an ominous “Farewell Cruel World” headline appeared on Rebecca Rollet’s Going Deep: An Introspective Steelers Site. Now in the interests of full disclosure, yours truly is a part-time contributor to the site, but had gotten no heads up about this, but the headline’s implication appeared to be unmistakable.

However, clicking on the link didn’t announce that the site was closing its doors, but rather that:

…Going Deep is Going to Stop producing daily posts for a while, probably for most of the off-season. Much as we enjoy writing about and thinking about the Steelers, it’s just too difficult to come up with content of substance when nothing much is happening. And since the whole point of this site was to provide content of substance, it leaves us in a bit of a bind.

From the perspective of someone who has blogged about the Steelers since 2008, sometimes it is actually easier to find things to write about during the off season (an observation BTSC founder Michael Bean once expressed) the truth is that there isn’t much going on at this point.

Let’s be honest. When Rebecca launched the site in 2015 with the aim of publishing something everyday without chasing headlines (i.e. no articles about a former Steelers practice squad player’s Instagram tirade) yours truly was skeptical she could pull it off.

  • But she did it, largely by herself and kept it going for a year and a half. That’s enough to earn her Watch Tower Kudos.

She also earns Watch Tower kudos for deciding to shift things down to keep her focus on quality and not quantity. In a Steelers blogesphere that is littered with sites that can be known to publish articles that debate the grades the Steelers get in someone’s mock draft, its refreshing for the Watch Tower to shine its lights on someone moving in the opposite direction.

 

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Kevin Colbert & Mike Tomlin Cut Losses Quickly: Steelers Cut Justin Gilbert

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin believe in cutting their loses quickly as the Steelers cut cornerback Justin Gilbert just months after trading a 2018 6th round pick to acquire Gilbert’s services from the Cleveland Browns.

Going into the 2014 NFL Draft, cornerback was the Steelers most urgent area of need, and by all accounts Justin Gilbert was the player Pittsburgh’s brain trust was targeting. But the Cleveland Browns got him first, picking him 7th and making him the first defensive back drafted that year.

Justin Gilbert, Tyreek Hill, Steelers vs Chiefs, Steelers cut Justin Gilbert

The Steelers Justin Gilbert tries in vain to tackle Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs. Photo Credit: Pittsburgh 247 Sports.

3 months later Justin Gilbert got infamously burned in a couple of Ben Roethlisberger to Markus Wheaton hook ups the Steelers 2014 season opener against the Cleveland Browns. Ironically, that’s probably the most anyone in Pittsburgh has seen of Justin Gilbert since then.

By Pro Football Reference’s count, Justin Gilbert participated in a just 1.05% of the Steelers defensive snaps this season, suiting up in the secondary during the Steelers regular season win over the Kansas City Chiefs and their regular season loss against the New England Patriots. Theoretically, Gilbert should have given the Steelers kick return game some juice, but Gilbert only 3 kicks during the regular season with those attempts coming against the Chiefs and Patriots.

Gilbert did run for long returns of 32 yards in the regular season and 26 yards during the post season, but clearly Steelers Special Teams coach Danny Smith didn’t see enough of a spark to lobby Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert into keeping him on the roster.

Impact of the Steelers Cutting Justin Gilbert

On the face of it, Justin Gilbert’s release is a surprise, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. Keith Butler’s defense struggled early during the 2016 season, but you can trace the unit’s turn around to increased playing time by Sean Davis, Artie Burns, Javon Hargrave and James Harrison. Justin Gilbert remained a spectator through it all. When the Steelers needed to add a 6th defensive back, Robert Golden and/or Jordan Dangerfield got the call as opposed to Gilbert.

  • Nonetheless, the Steelers decision to cut Justin Gilbert thins out an already sparse spot on their depth chart.

Artie Burns and Ross Cockrell will return to training camp as their starting cornerbacks, with William Gay penciled in as their slot cornerback. While William Gay had a solid season in 2016, he will be 32 next season and cornerback in the NFL is a young man’s game. Senquez Golson will arrive in Latrobe with a shot at the Steelers slot corner position but, given injury history that 2015’s 2nd round pick has had, it would be a mistake to bank on contributions.

  • The Steelers also have reserve cornerback Al-Hajj Shabazz who spent time on both their active rosters and practice squad in 2016.

In a nutshell, cornerback was already a Steelers priority for the 2017 NFL Draft and its priority status just got a bump.

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Struggling for Answers: Steelers Report Card for (latest) AFC Championship Loss to Patriots

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who watched his students soar through the second semester and on through the first 2 preliminary exams only to come crashing down to earth during the 3rd prequalification exam, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the latest AFC Championship loss to the Patriots.

Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Rogers, Steelers report card patriots AFC Championship, Steelers vs Patriots, Steelers Patriots AFC Championship

The Steelers simply lacked answer in their AFC Championship loss to the Patriots. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Quarterback
For the record, Ben Roethlisberger threw 47 times and connected on 31 of them, for one touchdown and one interception. Given the injury to Le’Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger was forced to take a lot on to his shoulders, and the force of his leadership was clearly evident on the field. Likewise, at one point Roethlisberger 13 consecutive passes.

  • Yet there were two other plays early in the game where the wide receiver was forced to play defensive back.

It is true that Ben Roethlisberger didn’t get much help from his receivers as he had at least two drops in the end zone. There were other catchable balls that receivers failed to land. While that’s not his fault, the game called for Ben Roethlisberger go the extra mile, and deliver passes that made his wide outs look better than they were. Ben didn’t quite reach that level, and it was what would have been required of Roethlisberger for a win. Grade: B-steelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers vs patriots,

Running Backs
Injuries limited Le’Veon Bell to 6 carries meaning he never got a chance to get revving. The Steelers plan had been to ride Bell as far as he would take them, and that wasn’t very far in the playoffs. DeAngelo Williams stepped in and ripped off some impressive runs early, but was ineffective after that, although he didn’t have help from the line in the Red Zone. DeAngelo Williams did score the team’s first touchdown and he caught all 7 passes thrown his way, which raises his mark. Grade: B-

Tight Ends
David Johnson had 1 catch for one yard, while Jesse James had another strong playoff performance bring in 5 passes for 48 yards and almost scoring a touchdown. He also did well in the blocking game. While there’s not much to fault the Steelers tight ends, the group also didn’t do anything to stand out when the outcome remained in doubt. Grade: B-

Wide Receivers
The Patriots did their best to bottle up Antonio Brown and kept him under 100 yards. Still, Brown caught 7 of 9 balls thrown his way, and showed off some excellent cornerbacks on one of the incomplitions that came his way. Moreover, Brown played with the passion and demeanor of a champion.

  • Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of his counterparts.

Sammie Coates had a horrible game, dropping the first pass the Steelers threw in a play that could have set the tone for the entire game. Coates also dropped another catchable pass in the end zone. Eli Rogers caught 7 of 9 passes, but his fumble essentially put the game out of reach for the Steelers. Inexcusable in a playoff game. Cobi Hamilton too had a case of the butter fingers, and negated his own touchdown pass by stepping out of bounds. A rookie mistake, and a costly one. Grade: C-

Offensive Line
On the positive side, the Steelers offensive line kept Ben Roethlisberger spotless for almost the entire game. However, the offensive line’s run blocking, especially at the goal line at the end of the first half, left a lot to be desired. The Steelers could have sent a resounding message by punching it in before the second half, instead the offense traveled backwards.

Victory in this game would have meant the line giving a little something extra. Something the line didn’t have. Grade: C

Defensive Line
Javon Hargrave dropped Tom Brady on New England’s second 3rd down in what could have been a tone setter, but that was the high water mark of the defensive line’s achievement. The Steelers did contain LeGarrette Blount, but the Patriots overpowered them on Blount’s rugby-like 18 yard maul. The Steelers didn’t blitz much, which left it to the line to get pressure Stephon Tuitt hit Brady once, but that was it. L.T. Walton and Hargrave all had tackles for losses, but the line ultimately didn’t deliver. Grade: C-

Linebackers
For the record, Lawrence Timmons led the team in tackles with 14 and dropped two people behind the line of scrimmage. Ryan Shazier was next with 7, followed by Bud Dupree with 5, James Harrison with 4 and Jarvis Jones with 3.

  • None of those numbers mask the fact that this was a rough day for the Steelers linebackers.

The unit didn’t pressure Brady and couldn’t defend his short passes. The Steelers needed more from what is the strongest unit of their depth chart and didn’t get it. Grade: F

Robert Golden, Chis Hogan 1st touchdown Steelers AFC Championship, Chris Hogan, Steelers vs Patriots, Steelers Patriots AFC Championship

Chris Hogan scores a touchdown as Robert Golden, well, watches. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune Review

Secondary
Sean Davis had a garbage time sack and a hit on Tom Brady. Artie Burns had 6 tackles including a very physical one which sent his man back several yards. But the real number for the Steelers secondary in this game is zero. As in zero passes defensed, zero interceptions, zero sacks, zero forced fumbles. The simple fact is that Tom Brady picked apart the Steelers pass defense, and he made it look easy.

Some of that is just Brady being good, but at other times this unit seemed to go out of its way to help him. Grade: F

Special Teams
Chris Boswell missed an extra point, and while that didn’t have any impact on the game’s outcome, it confirmed that this was not an evening where the Steelers would get any breaks. On the positive side, Antonio Brown had one punt return for 1 yards. Sammie Coates also looked competent as a kick returner, although Justin Gilbert did not. The Patriots only returned one kick for 18 yards. Jordan Berry’s punting average of 38 yards looks OK, but is 10 yards below his counter parts. Special teams wasn’t a liability for the Steelers in this loss, but it didn’t provide anything extra. Grade: C

Coaching
If the Steelers first series of the game offers any indication, Todd Haley’s base game plan was to alternate between feeding the ball to Le’Veon Bell on and trying to make the Patriots pay for focusing on stopping him by throwing downfield.

  • That type of strategy only works if Bell doesn’t get hurt and receivers don’t drop passes that they should catch.

The Steelers of course couldn’t overcome Bell’s loss, but those lie in errors of execution as opposed to being rudderless without Bell.

On defense, Keith Butler had the unenviable task of breaking some horrendous defensive history against Tom Brady on the second biggest stage that the NFL has to offer. Ever since the game ended there’s been a firestorm over why Butler and Mike Tomlin didn’t shift to the man-coverage approach that worked during the 2011 upset of the Patriots.

  • You’ll find no such second guessing here.
Mike Tomlin, James Harrison, Steelers vs Patriots, Steelers Patriots AFC championship game

Mike Tomlin and James Harrison leave the field after the Steelers latest AFC Championship loss to the Patriots. Photo credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune-Review

The Steelers had the NFL’s most experienced defense in 2011. In 2016 they had one of the younger NFL defenses. Trying to learn a new scheme in the heat of the playoffs simple wouldn’t have worked. If Tomlin’s post game comments are any guide, he and his staff considered and ruled out the option. A wise move even in 20/20 hindsight.

  • Which doesn’t let the Steelers coaches off the hook.

Mike Tomlin is right that the gravest errors were execution errors – it is hard to imagine that whatever play was called on Chris Hogan’s first touchdown play envisioned EVERY Steelers push rusher getting COMPLETELY blocked AND allowing Hogan to have HALF of the end zone to himself.

But regardless whether its execution, game planning or preparation, Mike Tomlin and his staff are now 1-6 against Tom Brady with no sign that they’ve got any viable answer to offer against the NFL’s best quarterback. Until Mike Tomlin finds those answers, the Pittsburgh Steelers will remain also rans. Grade: F

Unsung Hero Award
Determining the Unsung Hero for this game is hard, because so few Steelers did anything to stand out. We’ll give our nod to Antonio Brown. While mistakes and struggles defined the night for Steelers other Steelers receivers, Antonio Brown like Ben Roethlisberger gave it his all, with tough catches, impressive runs after the catch and excellent improvisational defensive back skills on one bad pass. For that Antonio Brown is the Steelers Unsung Hero for the latest AFC Championship loss to the Patriots.

 

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6 Changes in Pittsburgh Since the Steelers Last Win vs Ravens

The Pittsburgh Steelers Christmas Day show down with the Baltimore Ravens has turned out to be everything the schedule makers hoped it to be: A contest to determine the AFC North champions.

While the Steelers are taking a superior 9-5 record and a six game winning streak into the game, they’re also fighting another inconvenient truth:

  • The Steelers last win vs Ravens came 784 days ago.

Yes, the Ravens arrive in Pittsburgh with their own four game winning streak vs. the Steelers.

For the record, the Steelers last win against the Ravens came on November 2nd, at Heinz Field on the night that Joe Greene joined Ernie Stautner as the only Pittsburgh Steeler to have his number retired. A lot has changed in Pittsburgh since the Steelers last win vs. the Ravens.

james harrison sacks joe flacco, james harrison, joe flacco, steelers last win vs ravens

James Harrison sacks Joe Flacco in the Steelers November 2014 win over Baltimore. Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images via Baltimore CBS Local

1. Keith Butler Replaces Dick LeBeau at Defensive Coordinator

This represents what is likely the biggest change since the Steelers last win against the Ravens. Following Super Bowl XLV, Dick LeBeau did what he could to compensate for the declining talent on defense and kept the Steelers competitive on the defensive side of the ball in 2011 and 2012.

  • Yet, but 2013 the talent deficiencies could no longer be swept under the rug.

Statically the Steelers defense dropped further in 2014, although those numbers mask a late season surge by the Dick LeBeau’s defense over the final four games of the season. Mike Tomlin nonetheless decided to make a change following the season when it appeared that Keith Butler would finally accept a defensive coordinator promotion rather than wait for LeBeau to retire.

  • During his first year, Keith Butler fielded a bend but don’t break type defense.

If yardage totals rose, they were off set by an increase in sacks, turnovers, and Red Zone play. After a slow start in this season, the 2016 defense is showing a lot of similar characteristics.

Advantage: Steelers

2. Steelers Scrap Their Secondary and Start Over

When you look at the Steelers defensive backfield depth charts from 2014 and 2016 side by side, the sea change really strikes you:

steelers secondary depth chart, steelers defensive backs depth chart, steelers depth chart defensive backfield

The Steelers secondary has changed a lot since 2014…

First, the Steelers are carrying 3 fewer defensive backs now than they were 2 years ago. Some of that was dictated by age – even the most wild-eyed optimists knew that Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu were nearing the end when 2014 started.

  • But it also appears that the Steelers were perhaps trying to substitute for quality with quantity.

The complete makeover says that their attempt failed. Of the 12 defensive backs the Steelers had on their roster the last time they beat the Ravens, only 3 remain. Yes, that number is three, because Shamarko Thomas is now exclusively a special teams player whereas Robert Golden occupied that role 2 years ago.

But gone or Antwon Blake, Brice McCain, Ross Ventrone, Cortez Allen, and Will Allen who the Steelers have replaced with Justin Gilbert, Artie Burns, Ross Cockrell, and Sean Davis.

Going into the Christmas game vs. the Ravens, the Steelers secondary looks to be improved since their last win.

Advantage: Steelers

3. Le’Veon Bell Establishes Himself as an Elite Back without a Backup

OK. This one involves a little slight of hand. Le’Veon Bell’s breakout game vs. the Tennessee Titans came two weeks after the Steelers last win over the Ravens. But that is the moment he lost his backup, when LeGarrette Blount decided to go AWOL.

  • Since then, the Steelers have struggled to find someone to back up Le’Veon Bell.

No, no one is forgetting DeAngelo Williams, but due to injuries and suspensions, you can count the number of games Williams and Bell have played in together in single digits. Williams is returning from an injury and is expected to dress, but he hasn’t played since loss to the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

Advantage: Steelers, unless Bell gets hurt….

4. A Carousel of Receivers has Started Opposite Antonioy Brown

Antonio Brown was already an All Pro and then some the last time Pittsburgh beat Baltimore but injuries and suspensions have forced the Steelers to play musical wide receiver since then.

Martavis Bryant had announced his presence two games earlier and was expected to usurp Markus Wheaton as the Steelers number 2 wide receiver, but that hasn’t happened thanks to Martavis Bryant’s issues with addiction.

Darrius Heyward-Bey was basically just a special teams player when the Steelers last triumphed over the Ravens, but since then he’s emerged as a legitmate downfield threat, gotten promoted to the number 2 WR slot only to get hurt. Sammie Coates has had shots at the Steelres number 2 WR slot, but has failed to grasp them due to injuries and inefficiency.

Mike Tomlin has said that Darrius Heyward-Bey might play against the Ravens on Christmas, but at this point it looks like Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton will have serve as Ben Roethlisberger’s 2nd and 3rd choices downfield.

Advantage: Ravens

5. Heath Miller Has Hung It Up

Heath Miller has since retired since the Steelers last win against the Ravens. For the record, Miller only caught one pass in that game, but it went for 14 yards, so it probably resulted in a third down.

The Steelers of course brought Ladarius Green in to replace Heath Miller but lost Green for the first half of the season due to injury. Green has been making his presence felt since then, but is in the NFL’s concussion protocol. Given his history with concussions, it is not likely he will play.

Advantage: Ravens

6. Steve McLendon and Brett Keisel Have Moved On

The fact that Brett Keisel has retired since the Steelers last victory over the Ravens surprises no one, but Steve McLendon’s departure perhaps does. By 2014 it was clear that Steve McLendon wasn’t going to be Casey Hampton, but he didn’t need to be and he appeared to have a long future in Pittsburgh ahead of him.

However, the Steelers made a salary cap calculation not to invest in a nose tackle, and moved one.

Stephon Tuitt has replaced Brett Keisel and Javon Hargrave has replaced Tuitt. Normally that would give the Steelers a strong duo, but Stephon Tuitt is nursing a knee injury. And with Cam Heyward out for the year, that is not good.

Advantage: Ravens

There you have it. Pittsburgh has seen a lot of changes since the Steelers last win vs. the Ravens. Some of them offer promise for the Christmas day show down, others favor Baltimore.

What does that mean?

Probably that the Steelers-Ravens Christmas Day game will come down to who can hit the hardest – just as any good Steelers-Ravens game should.

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2 Insights Revealed by Mike Tomlin Starting James Harrison over Jarvis Jones

If you’re a citizen of Steelers Nation and your register a pulse, you know that Mike Tomlin has promoted James Harrison to the starting rotation at outside linebacker at Jarvis Jones expense.

James Harrison, Mike Tomlin, starting James Harrison

Mike Tomlin and James Harrison leave the field following the ’15 Steelers loss to the Seahawks. Photo Credit: Stephen Brashear, Getty Images

Football is a young man’s game and anytime a 26 year old gets jerked in favor of a 38 year old, the career prospects of the 26 year old are dimming fast. Steel Curtain Rising holds no ill will for Jarvis Jones and has in fact been rooting for him to prove the naysayers wrong. And, if he’d failed pressure the passer in any meaningful way, Jarvis Jones had made strides and was making himself known in the running game.

But the Steelers loss to the Cowboys made a couple of facts unmistakably clear:

  • Anthony Chickillo and James Harrison are the Steelers best (healthy) outside linebackers
  • Jarvis Jones whiffed on the most important play of the season

Immediately after the game, a number of commentators singled out Jarvis Jones as the main culprit on Ezekiel Elliot’s 32 yard scamper. That was hard to see from the conventional angles, but this shot posted by Steel Dad is revealing:

The Steelers defense suffered multiple breakdowns on this play starting with but not limited to Ryan Shazier slipping. One might also ask why Keith Butler left the middle of the field so completely open. But Jarvis Jones had the primary responsibility for protecting the gap that Ezekiel Elliot shot through.

All NFL coaches talk a good game about “Keeping the top 53 and starting the best 22,” and Mike Tomlin is no different. But the truth is that all coaches sometimes sacrifice on the field production in the name of player development.

  • 1st, in starting James Harrison, Mike Tomlin is signaling that Jarvis Jones no longer gets preference in the pecking order because of his draft status.
  • 2nd, by starting James Harrison, Mike Tomlin is affirming his commitment to fielding players that give the Steelers the best chance to win.

When asked about the issues afflicting the floundering 2016 Steelers, Mike Tomlin’s “Popcorn” response got panned by the critics. But the truth is that Mike Tomlin doesn’t have many options available to him to jump start the defense. Unlike Bill Cowher in 1995, he can’t simply bench Alvoid Mays, move Carnell Lake to cornerback and start Myron Bell at safety.

But shifting James Harrison to the 1st rotation at outside linebacker at the expense of Jarvis Jones was one move Tomlin had open to him. He is wise to make that move.

On Sunday against the Browns we’ll see if it makes a difference.

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Steelers Report Card for Loss to Patriots

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who shies away from grading on effort but sometimes just can’t help himself, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the Pittsburgh’s loss to the Patriots.

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Jarvis Jones’ play stood out vs. the Patriots, particularly early on. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

 

Quarterback
So, we ask to all of those Landry Jones skeptics out there, do you know understand why Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert kept him on the roster after rough preseasons in 2013 and 2014? No, Landry Jones did not make any forget he wasn’t Ben Roethlisberger. Yes, Landry Jones interception cost the Steelers dearly, and no he wasn’t able to rally the Steelers late. But Jones played as a competent and generally confident quarterback, and if he couldn’t carry his team, he certainly was not a liability. Grade: B-

Running Backs
Can you imagine Le’Veon Bell playing in a fully healthy Steelers offense? Less than a year removed from a serious injury, Le’Veon Bell is once again playing the type of football that could revive the concept of a “franchise running back.” Bell carried the ball 21 times for 81 yards, often times making something out of nothing. He also caught the ball 10 times and was a threat every time he touched the pigskin. Grade: A-steelers, report card, grades, steelers vs. patriots, coaching, special teams, unsung heros

Tight Ends
Jesse James caught two passes on two targets and is not shying away from his blocking assignments, even if no one confuses him for Heath Miller. David Johnson had a catch. Xavier Grimble had 5 targets but only managed two catches on five targets. Grade: B-

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown caught 7 passes for 106 yards despite suffering a quad injury late in the third quarter. He also ran for 13 yards on a reverse. Brown has been criticized for not making more effort on the interception in the end zone, although replays show that Malcolm Butler had pretty good positioning. Darrius Heyward-Bey had one excellent touchdown catch and another excellent touchdown catch and run that was negated by a questionable penalty. He was also penalized twice for offensive pass interference – both were questionable calls. Cobi Hamilton had 3 catches on 6 targets and if he continues to play at this level the Steelers may have difficulty putting him on the practice squad. Sammie Coates had one catch for four yards.

The Steelers wide outs made some good plays, but they didn’t make quite enough of them, evidenced in part by the fact that Landry Jones held the ball for an extremely long time at times, only to use his check off receivers. Grade: C+

Offensive Line
The Steelers offensive line’s performance against the Patriots offers a mixed bag. On the one hand, the New England Patriots hardly touched Landry Jones providing him with end-to-end excellent pass protection throughout the game. Unfortunately, their run blocking was not as consistent. At times, particularly early in the game, Le’Veon Bell had plenty of room to run. At others, Bell’s tenacity and ingenuity transformed losses into 2 or 3 yard gains. While it is probably safe to say the Steelers offensive line won the battle of scrimmage, their victory fell fall short of imposing their will, which is what was needed in this game. Grade: C

Defensive Line
Stephon Tuitt made his presence known by stopping LeGarrette Blount cold not once, but twice for no gain, but failed to make any impact plays beyond that and Blount gained most of his yards rushing in his direction. Ricardo Mathews staged somewhat of a comeback, if you can call it that, in that gave up far fewer yards than he did last week. The Steelers defense have now given up back to back 100 yard rushing performances, which unfortunately does not seem as out of character as it once did. And the Steelers defensive line failed to pressure the passer. Cameron Heyward might be out, but the Standard is not being upheld. Grade: D

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons led the Steelers with 12 tackles including one for a loss. However, he also made several tackles after seeing his man give up long gains. Vince Williams and Ryan Shazier split time although neither man set themselves apart. The same can be said for Anthony Chickillo, Arthur Moats and James Harrison, although Moats did get a hit in on Tom Brady. There were many plays when LeGarrette Blount reached the second level and hammered his way through to achieve long gains. The linebackers must bear responsibility for that. Grade: D

Secondary

Artie Burns had better develop Deion Sanders like coverage abilities, because right now he has a Deion Sanders like aversion and ability to tackle. This was not a good day for the Steelers secondary. Tom Brady was 7-12 on third down and New England had 21 first downs. The Steelers might have won the battle for time of possession, but it did not feel like it. Sean Davis was supposed to help Robert Golden on run coverage but failed to do so. It was a rookie mistake, and one that cost the Steelers. Likewise, William Gay had a shot at stopping Blount on his touchdown, but missed. The Steelers secondary must improve. Grade: D

Special Teams
The Steelers gave up one long punt return, but Steven Johnson negated that, and Greg Warren made a heads up play in recovering it that could have changed the course of the game. New England got no where on its single kick return. In contrast, Fitzgerald Toussanit and Justin Gilbert both made solid kick returns.

While those positives are real, the special teams grade must reflect Chris Boswell’s 3/5 on field goals. In all fairness to Chris Boswell, the wind was clearly a factor at Heinz Field and had he made his last kick, it would have set the record. But his first missed kick of 42 yards should have been made. Two successful kicks would have dramatically altered the game’s dynamic.

The Steelers needed a spark from their special teams, they got one with the forced fumble, but the missed kicks balance that out. Grade: C

Coaching
You do not contest a game against New England Patriots deep into the third quarter and come within 11 points of winning as short handed as the Pittsburgh Steelers were without good preparation.

Todd Haley’s game plan figured to lean heavily on Le’Veon Bell, and he did not disappoint. However, the Patriots, as expected, loaded the box, and Haley was ready to take advantage. Credit both Haley and Jones for finding a way to get Antonio Brown the ball. Mike Munchak also deserves credit for preparing his offensive line, and giving Landry Jones the time he needed to throw.

Keith Butler also deserves credit for his part in ensuring the Steelers were competitive. Yes, the Steelers defense failed to contain Rob Gronkowski when it counted. Yes, they gave up far too many rushing yards. But they also forced the Patriots to punt five times, and forced a number of three and outs.

  • At the end of the day, it wasn’t enough.

The Steelers still missed too many tackles and failed to get pressure on Brady save for the first series of the second half.

Mike Tomlin’s pregame planning and assessment was right. The Steelers couldn’t rely on Landry Jones to win the game for them, and they’re game plan reflected that. When the Steelers performed well, their focus was evident. Still, too many penalties and too many missed opportunities took their toll. To win this game, the Steelers needed to stay on edge from start to finish, and too many times they fell off that edge.

Nonetheless, the Steelers comportment on the field and their comments off of the field show a team that expected to win and believed they were capable of doing so. How many teams in a similar situation would have embraced that attitude? The Steelers did, and that is to Mike Tomlin’s credit. Grade: C

Unsung Hero Award
Early on, VERY early on, their was one player who clearly showed up with an intention of winning this game. This player showed that by forcing a fumble on the Patriots first play from scrimmage, making a beautiful tackle from behind the line of scrimmage, and by flying around all over the field. While his game wasn’t flawless, Jarvis Jones set the tone early for the Steelers and for that he wins the Unsung Hero Award.

 

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Steelers derrotó a Redskins en el debut de la temporada 2016

En el primero de dos juegos de MNF, se inició para los Pittsburgh Steelers una nueva temporada. Un año 2016 del que se esperan grandes logros: postemporada seguro. Jugar el Super Bowl, por qué no? Y ganarlo… vaya, será posible?

Steelers derrotó a Redskins, Steelers, Redskins

James Harrison derrotó a Matt Jones de los Redskins. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Este año el equipo cuenta con casi todas las herramientas con las que cualquier franquicia soñaría contar: una ofensiva letal con línea completa, sin lesionados; un ataque terrestre de lujo, un pateador infalible (o casi), un cuerpo de linebackers bien nutrido que combina experiencia y juventud con talento y una defensiva profunda con nuevas apuestas, aunque sea este, a priori, el talón de Aquiles del equipo.

Para los Steelers, el primer obstáculo en la carrera hacia el 7° Trofeo Lombardi, eran los Washington Redskins, equipo que aunque con un modesto 9-7, había ganado en 2015 la división Este de la Conferencia Nacional. En muchos ítems, este equipo había sido mejor que el promedio de los equipos, excepto su ataque terrestre que, realmente no había funcionado en la campaña pasada.

Pittsburgh viajó a Fedex Field con algunas bajas: el retirado TE Heath Miller, los suspendidos WR Martavis Bryant y RB Le’Veon Bell y los lesionados TE Ladarius Green, LB Bud Dupree, WR Markus Wheaton y el recién llegado CB Justin Gilbert.

De manera que el Coach Tomlin probó con fuego de partido inaugural a Eli Rogers, desafió al joven Jesse James a combatir contra la memoria de su antecesor Miller y retó a Sammie Coates a revertir sus inconsistencias de pretemporada.

Una defensiva que se dobla, sí. Pero no se rompe

Los visitantes, luego de un primer cuarto errático, se hicieron del control del partido, a ambos lados del ovoide.

Durante el Monday Night Football, esta fue una defensiva que se dobló. Pero que no se quebró. Casi nunca. Sólo en una oportunidad: en la única serie de anotación de 7 puntos que permitieron.

Esa serie, que acercó a los locales en el marcador a sólo 8 puntos de déficit, fue el momento más preocupante de la defensiva acerera. De hecho, la defensiva, permitió 3 jugadas seguidas de más de 16 yardas. Anoche se dejó ver uno de los puntos débiles del equipo dirigido por el Coach Keith Butler, hecho sobre el que venimos insistiendo desde hace varias temporadas desde Steel Curtain Rising en español: el tackle. Se falló sobre todo en el primer contacto, lo que permite yardas adicionales que cuestan, en general, partidos.

Pero es junto decir a continuación que permitieron sólo los pases cortos y que mañató a los Redskins para convertir sólo el 30% de sus terceros downs y cerró la puerta a la única vez que fueron por el 4to down, cuando Robert Golden detuvo a Chris Thompson a pulgadas de la línea de 1er down.

El hombre de la noche fue, claramente, Ryan Shazier quien desvió un pase en la zona de anotación para evitar un TD, interceptó otro, provocó un fumble y produjo 6 tackles. Lamentablemente, más tarde, tuvo que dejar el campo de juego por una lesión en su rodilla sobre la cual, hasta el momento de escribir estas líneas, no hay informe oficial por parte del equipo.

La línea defensiva tuvo un desempeño mediocre en lo que respecta a la presión del QB, a quien francamente nunca llegaron, pero tal vez esto deba ser atribuido al muy buen juego de la línea ofensiva local. Seguramente hay un trabajo que hacer para el terceto Tuitt-Hargrave-Hayward, sobre todo teniendo en cuenta que en solo 6 días enfrentarán a una ofensiva más poderosa como es la de Cincinnati, con un mariscal de campo de mucha mejor calidad que Kirk Cousins.

Los tres frontales defendiendo la corrida, con el debido apoyo de los linebackers, limitaron a Washington a tan solo 12 acarreos para 55 yardas. Otra vez, pensando en el futuro inmediato, el domingo se enfrentarán al desafío de intentar limitar a números similares al dúo Jeremy HillGiovani Bernard.

“Imparables y letales” Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

http://gty.im/603551390

Ben Roethlisberger: 27 de 37; 300 yardas; 3 TD
Antonio Brown: 8 atrapadas de 11 intentos; 126 yardas y 2 TD
DeAngelo Williams: 26 acarreos para 146 yardas, 2 TD por tierra y 6 atrapadas de 9 para 28 yardas por aire.
Eli Rogers: 6 de 7 para 59 yardas y 1 TD
Jesse James: 5 de 7 para 31 yardas
Sammie Coates: 2 de 3 para 56 yardas

  • En 3er down convirtieron el 64% de los intentos
  • Dos de 2 en 4to down
  • En 9 series ofensivas despejaron sólo en 2 y Big Ben lanzó una intercepción  En las 6 restantes, anotaron
  • En zona roja tuvieron una efectividad del 100%

He ahí lo producido por la ofensiva acerera.

Lo que son capaces de hacer Big Ben, Brown y Williams no es sorpresa para nadie. Sin embargo debe hacerse un párrafo aparte para los restantes tres de este cuadro de honor.
Comenzando por Eli Rogers.

Con las ausencias de Bryant y Wheaton, se necesitaba de una performance como la que tuvo este chico de 1er año. Una atrapada en 3er down, otra en 4to y un TD que requiere de una concentración particular, esto es: atrapar un balón que uno no espera y que requiere de superar la sorpresa, primero, y activar el cuerpo de la forma necesaria para quedarse con él. Todo ello después de ser “responsable” de una intercepción a la que pudo, evidentemente, dejar atrás rápidamente. Este joven parece tener una fortaleza mental singular. Para quien escribe estas líneas fue el jugador de la primera mitad.

Jesse James ya había demostrado algo en la temporada pasada. Debe reemplazar a Heath Miller, un bloqueador y receptor fuera de serie, de lo mejor que hubo en la liga, y que además tenía una conexión particular con Roethlisberger.

Sin embargo, el puesto no le quedó grande. Para nada. Bloqueó correctamente (sólo basta ver su bloqueo a la carrera en el 2do TD de Williams) y atrapó pases decisivos. Deberá disputar el puesto con Ladarius Green cuando este esté recuperado, pero siempre es bueno contar con dos candidatos para un solo puesto. Tengo para mí que Jesse James, será un digno reemplazo de Heath Miller.

Para el final, Sammie Coates. Luego de una pretemporada errática, y puesto en campo debido a la lesión de Wheaton, cumplió con una más que digna actuación, con una recepción de 42 yardas contra la disputa de un defensivo. No tuvo errores mentales, atrapó casi todo lo que le enviaron. Qué más se le puede pedir a un WR?

Pasó la semana del debut de temporada. Se necesitaba de una victoria como esta. Inapelable. Que envía al resto de la liga un mensaje que no deja ambigüedades:

“Aquí están los Steelers. Somos contendientes al Super Bowl y vamos a ir por él. Tendrás que anotar muchos puntos si quieres vencernos. Somos la piedra en el zapato de todos los demás”.

El Dr. de Acero

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Steelers Sign Running Back David Cobb to Practice Squad, Waive Cameron Stingily; Grant to Buffalo

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin continue to teak the Steelers roster ahead of Pittsburgh’s 2016 season opener vs. the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football. Their latest move saw the Steelers sign running back David Cobb to the practice squad.

  • To make room for Cobb, the Steelers waived Cameron Stingily.
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Steelers sign David Cobb to their practice squad. Photo Credit: Associated Press, used on Titans.com

The Minnesota Vikings originally drafted David Cobb in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but parted ways with the running back after a disappointing rookie season that saw Cobb gain just 146 yards on 52 carries. All told, Cobb appeared in 7 games and made one start. Cobb spent training camp with the Tennessee Titans.

Drafted players generally aspire to do more than secure a spot on a practice squad, but injuries to Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams prompted the Steelers to start practice squad running backs in their last three playoff games.

The move likely spells the end of Cameron Stingily in Pittsburgh. Cameron Stingily joined the Steelers as part of their 2015 undrafted rookie free agent class, only to get injured in the Hall of Fame game. The Steelers brought him back in May, right after the 2016 NFL Draft, and word was that Stingily had lost weight and reported in excellent condition.

However, during the Steelers 2016 preseason, Cameron Stingily struggled, rushing twice for a net zero yards.

Doran Grant to Buffalo

The Pittsburgh Steelers really meant when they cut Doran Grant this time. A year ago the Grant made the Steelers inital 53 man roster, only to get cut to make way for two waiver wire pickups, causing a firestorm in Steelers Nation. Grant of course returned to the practice squad, and eventually the regular season roster.

Doran Grant headlined the Steelers 2016 roster cuts, but many expected the Steelers to resign him after putting Senquez Golson on injured reserve. Instead, the Steelers opted to put Bud Dupree on IR and bring Steven Johnson back.

  • Grant nonetheless had practice squad eligibility and their were other moves the Steelers could have made to free a spot in the 53 man roster.

Instead, the Steelers opted to allow rookie first round pick Artie Burns and new arrival Justin Gilbert to vie for the 4th cornerbacks slot. Doran Grant has signed with the Buffalo Bills practice squad.

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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.

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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.

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