7 Keys to Winning a Seventh Steelers Super Bowl in 2017

The Steelers 2017 season has finally arrived. When the Steelers kickoff their 2017 season opener against the Cleveland Browns, 232 days will have elapsed since their (latest) humiliating AFC Championship defeat at the heads of the New England Patriots.

Added the desire to wash that bad taste out of Steelers Nation’s collective mouth, comes the reality that the Roethlisberger retirement clock “officially” began ticking in the off season.

While the 2017 season might not be a franchise “Now or Never” moment, Ben Roethlisberger’s career is nearing its end. With that in mind, here are 7 Keys to a Seventh Steelers Super Bowl in 2017.

Seventh Steelers Super Bowl, Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Mike Tomlin

Mike Tomlin, Antonio Brown & Ben Roethlisberger at Cleveland in January 2016. Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images via Zimbo.com

1. Keep Ben Roethlisberger Healthy

This is a no-brainer. Landry Jones deserves more respect than he gets, but he’s no franchise quarterback. The Steelers have struggled without Big Ben in 2015 and 2016. 2017 will be no different.

Ben Roethlisberger must stay healthy for the Steelers to win Lombardi Number 7 in 2017. Period.

2. Find a Way to Keep from Tolling the Bell Too Much

Le’Veon Bell is easily the best running back in the NFL, and he makes the Steelers offense truly dynamic. If all works out well, if Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant both stay healthy and play to their potential, the Steelers shouldn’t need to lean on Le’Veon the way they did in 2016.

  • The Steelers need a healthy Le’Veon Bell to win a Super Bowl.

There’s a reason Le’Veon Bell’s first playoff apperance led to a Steelers AFC Champion trip.  As previously discussed, limiting Le’Veon Bell’s carry count is simple on paper, but tremendously complex to execute in the heat of a game.

  • Nonetheless, the Steelers must find a way to use James Conners and Terrell Watson to spell Le’Veon Bell.

Chuck Noll didn’t need to do it with Franco Harris, he split carries between the halfback and the fullback. The franchise talked about spelling Jerome Bettis during his prime, but really couldn’t make it happen (anyone remember George Jones? No? Point made).

Todd Haley needs to be the offensive coordinator who threads this needle.

3. Get There with Four

Keith Butler’s mantra as defensive coordinator has been “Get there with 4.” “There,” in case you haven’t noticed, is the quarterback.

Keith Butler’s goal is to use no more than four defenders to rush the passer, in an attempt to bolster coverage downfield, and particularly on the short and medium routes that form the soft underbelly of the Steelers Zone Blitz scheme.

  • Thus far, this goal has eluded Butler.

In Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave, the Steelers have 3 down lineman who can pressure the passer. Bud Dupree must continue the growth he flashed in late 2016 while come combination of T.J. Watt, James Harrison and Anthony Chickillo must get the job done on the other side.

T.J. Watt, James Harrison

James Harrison tutors T.J. Watt. Hopefully the rookie learned something. Photo Credit: Pitt247 Sports

4. Man Up in the Secondary

This subtitle is perhaps a little bit of an exaggeration. After the AFC Championship debacle, the arm chair head coaches quickly second guessed Mike Tomlin for not playing more man coverage against the Patriots. Tomlin as much admitted that the Steelers didn’t have the secondary personnel to do so. And let’s remember something important:

  • Playing man against the Patriots worked for about 3 quarters for the Falcons in the Super Bowl.

The problem is you need it to work for more than that. Regardless of whether it’s playing more man coverage when necessary, shifting seamlessly between 3-4 base alignments and nickel alignments that use more of a 4-3 base alignment, the Steelers secondary must improve in 2017.

Ryan Shazier, Ryan Shazier interception

Ryan Shazier intercepts a pass during his rookie preseason. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

That doesn’t mean that the secondary needs to be a shutdown defense like Bill Cowher’s Blitzgurgh defenses of the 1990’s or of the Steelers 2008 Super Bowl Championship run. But there’s no path to Lombardi Number 7 that includes allowing any playoff quarterback to shred their defensive backfield the way Tom Brady did in January.

  • Point 4.b. to this list would be keeping Ryan Shazier healthy.

Ryan Shazier has shown the dynamic playmaking capability that has marked the great Steelers defenders of yesteryear. But he’s also been hurt a lot. Fans who scapegoat him or criticize him for this need to get over themselves.

But a lot of offensive coordinators will sleep very easily at night if the Steelers starting inside linebackers are Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort for an extended period of time.

5. Embrace and Overcome the Unexpected

The Steelers returned to the playoffs in 2014 but without Le’Veon Bell, the man who accounted for 1/3 of their offense. In 2015, they made it to the divisional round without Antonio Brown, without Ben Roethlisberger, and without DeAngelo Williams. If someone had told you a year ago:

“By December, our number 2, 3, and 4 wide receivers will be Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton, and Demarcus Ayers. Oh, and Cam Heyward will have been lost since midseason. And Bud Dupree will just be working himself back into the line up.”

You’d have likely concluded that Steelers Nation was set, at best, to spend Christmas memorizing NFL playoff tie breakers.

Eli Rogers, Steelers vs Ravens, Steelers Christmas win Ravens

Eli Rogers races for a first down in the Steelers Christmas win over the Ravens. Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Except that’s not what happened. Yes, the AFC Championship proved to be too big a stage for Rogers, Hamilton and Ayers, and you’d certainly prefer to start Cam Heyward over Ricardo Mathews across from Tom Brady.

  • “The Standard is the Standard. Injuries will not be an excuse.”

Mike Tomlin has preached that since he arrived in Pittsburgh and over the last three seasons the Steelers have internalized his mentality. Injuries will happen in the NFL. It is the nature of the game. 2017 will provide no exceptions to that reality.

To win a Super Bowl, whenever the untimely injury, suspension or other off the field event strikes, whoever the Steelers proverbial “next man up” is must embrace it as an opportunity and his teammates must work to overcome the unexpected.

6. Secure Hope Field Advantage for the Playoffs

Cream rises to the top. The ‘80 Oakland Raiders, the ‘97 Denver Broncos, the ’00 Baltimore Ravens, the ’07 New York Giants and of course the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers entered the playoffs as Wild Card teams and exited as Champions.

  • But there’s no denying that the extra week of rest that a playoff bye brings makes a big difference.

Case in point, the 2010 Steelers were the last team to secure a playoff bye and the last team to make the Super Bowl. So its critical that the Steelers secure first round playoff bye, even if they play in a more difficult division than some of the other AFC contenders.

  • But getting a playoff bye alone isn’t enough.

If the Steelers are to bring home Lombardi Number 7 then in 2017 road to the Super Bowl must once again run through Pittsburgh. There are lots of obvious reasons for this, and one less than obvious reason is that at this stage of his career, Ben Roethlisberger is playing far better at home than on the road.

7. Don’t Get Hung Up on New England

Every self-respecting citizen of Steelers Nation relishes the idea of beating the New England Patriots in the playoffs. That’s fine for the fans, but the Steelers as an organization can’t allow beating New England to become their focus. To understand why, think back to:

  • The 2011 Steelers win over the Patriots, the 1972 Redskins, and the ’11 Debacle in Baltimore.

The Steelers last win over the New England Patriots came in October 2011 at Heinz Field on a glorious Sunday to be a Steelers fan. Unfortunately it also marked the last time the Steelers looked like a Super Bowl contender until 2015. In fact, in the very next week the Steelers choked against the Ravens in a game that cost them the AFC North.

Steelers defeat Patriots 2011, Troy Polamalu, Wes Welker, Steelers vs Patriots

Troy Polamalu takes down Wes Welker in the Steelers last win over the Patriots in 2011. Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images via New York Times

That experience brings to mind the 1972 Redskins. Growing up in DC I can remember an NFL Films sketch on the 1972 Redskins that featured a wild post-NFC Championship Redskins locker room celebration that included a veteran form the team explaining that “When we beat Dallas in the NFC Championship when they were World Champs, that was like our Super Bowl….”

Except it wasn’t then, and won’t be in 2017. Fortunately, Mike Tomlin realizes that as evidence to his response to Peter King’s “How are you going to beat the Patriots” question:

I don’t think about that. I just know that it is less about the nameless gray faces that you play, and most of the time your issues and your solutions are in house. We gotta strengthen ourselves for the fight. It’s easy as a cop out for me to identify the outside variables. It’s a much tougher discussion with yourself to really get gritty and look within yourself and look at the things that are important and what you need to get done. It’s not a lack of acknowledgement of the dominance of the Patriots. But it’s really not that important. We better take care of our house. We better till our soil, as they say.

Mike Tomlin has the right mentality here. But, given that the Steelers play the Patriots in December and then, potentially a few weeks later in the playoffs, Tomlin needs to ensure that his team follows his lead.

Going into the 2011 season many in the press felt the Steelers had the Raven’s number. The fact that the Ravens had made so many last minute personnel changes only fueled the feeling. Mike Tomlin didn’t flinch and instead preached of the danger inherent in unfamiliarity.

Many potential paths to Pittsburgh’s 7th Super Bowl Championship include victories over New England, but none of the end there, and everyone in the Steelers organization much remember that.

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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 2017 Draft Need @ Inside Linebacker: Moderate

What a machine. What a consistent force and performer in the middle of the Steelers defense for 10 glorious seasons.

I’m referring, of course, to inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons who became head coach Mike Tomlin’s first draft choice, when the Steelers selected him out of Florida State with the 15th pick of the 2007 NFL Draft.

Lawrence Timmons started slowly as he learned legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau‘s sophisticated defense, but the athleticism, the explosiveness, they were on display right from the very start.

After serving an apprenticeship under veterans James Farrior and Larry Foote, Lawerence Timmons moved to the  top of the depth chart in his third season and started 124 games between 2009-2016–including a very durable 96-straight over his final six seasons in Pittsburgh.

After the 2016 campaign, Lawrence Timmons became a free-agent and inked a two-year deal with the Dolphins in March, leaving the Steelers with a hole at one of the inside linebacker spots…sort of. Yes, there’s a “Sort of” attached to that statement and how the Steelers define “sort of” will impact their plans for inside linebacker in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Vince Williams, Ryan Shazier, Steelers 2017 draft needs inside linebacker

Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams celebrate a turnover. Photo Credit: Don Wright, AP via SportsnetCA

Steelers Depth Chart @ Inside Linebacker Entering the 2017 NFL Draft–the Starters

Speaking of athleticism and explosiveness, Ryan Shazier, arguably the Steelers best player on defense, has both in bunches.

A first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Shazier was thrust into the starter’s role right from the beginning, thanks to the team’s transition period on defense from the veteran group that helped win two Super Bowls in the previous decade to the younger version that sorely needed a “splashy” play-maker. Ryan Shazier proved to be that early-on, as he intercepted a pass and made several impressive tackles during his rookie home debut in a preseason game at Heinz Field against the Bills.

  • Unfortunately for Ryan Shazier and the Steelers, Shazier missed seven games in 2014 due to a sprained knee.

Over the past two seasons, Ryan Shazier has grown into his role of the spectacular play-maker and best player on the defense. Two years ago, Ryan Shazier was the best player on the field, recovering a fumble and literally saving Pittsburgh’s season, when he stripped running back Jeremy Hill of the football in the waning moments of a come-from-behind victory over the Bengals in an AFC Wild Card game.

  • Last season, as the Steelers marched all the way to the AFC Championship game, Ryan Shazier recorded 55 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions, as he made his first Pro Bowl.

So, who will take Lawerence Timmons’ job and play alongside Ryan Shazier at the other inside linebacker spot? After inking a two-year contract-extension through the 2018 season, Vince Williams, the 2013 sixth round pick out of Florida State, figures to be the heir apparent to Timmons.

Truth be told, Vince Williams appeared to be destined for a future starter’s role, even before the start of the 2016 season. With Lawrence Timmons lame-duck status and declining play in recent years, Vince Williams’ new deal, which he signed before the start of the regular season, seemed like a proactive move by the organization.

When Ryan Shazier missed four games with a knee injury early in 2016, Vince Williams performed so well in his absence–including a combined 25 tackles in back-to-back victories over the Chiefs and Jets–many wondered if Ryan Shazier would be able to reclaim his starting spot.

Surprisingly, however, Lawrence Timmons stepped up his play so much down-the-stretch, as Pittsburgh won nine-straight games, the idea of keeping the Law Dog around for at least another season began to pick up steam. But that talk soon vanished early in free-agency, when Lawrence Timmons jumped to Miami for $11 million in guaranteed money.

With Lawrence Timmons now a former Steeler, the original sentiment of Vince Williams succeeding him at inside linebacker seems to be the plan heading into 2017.

Steelers Depth Chart @ Inside Linebacker Entering the 2017 NFL Draft–the Backups 

Behind Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams, there’s a little promise but mostly just depth.

In Tyler Matakevich, Pittsburgh’s seventh round pick out of Temple a year ago, the team has a potential tackling machine (493 tackles in college).

  • The key word in that last sentence is “potential,” because Tyler Matakevich certainly didn’t prove much a year year ago, while playing mostly on special teams.

Rounding on the backups are L.J. Fort, a journeyman out of Northern Iowa who appeared in 14 games last season but only recorded two tackles; and Steven Johnson, a veteran the Steelers signed as a free-agent a year ago who has only started seven games in his NFL career.

Although he’s played exclusive on the outside for the Steelers, reserve OLB Arthur Moats also has experience playing on the inside and could serve as an emergency backup in a pintch.

Steelers 2017 Draft Need @ Inside Linebacker

Pittsburgh did add depth on defense during the free-agency period, but not at the inside linebacker spot (although not for lack of trying, if press reports are accurate).Steelers 2017 Draft Needs inside linebacker

Therefore, with Ryan Shazier’s propensity for injuries early in his NFL career–he’s missed 14 of a possible 48 games over three years–and with Vince Williams’s athleticism not being quite on par with what Lawrence Timmons provided for a decade, selecting an inside linebacker in the first few rounds certainly wouldn’t be out of he question for the Steelers.

  • And what happens when/if either Vince Williams or Ryan Shazier gets injured, and the Steelers are forced to go with unproven and/or less talented players to fill the starting role?

Having Vince Williams was a luxury a year ago, but unless someone like Tyler Matakevich makes that all-important first to second year leap, the Steelers might not have that same luxury in 2017 unless they hit on a player in the draft.

Reuben Foster, a top 10 prospect out of Alabama, figures to be long gone by the time the Steelers spot comes up at 30. But some possible names to keep an eye on are Haasan Reddick out of Temple, who is projected to go in the first or second round; and Jarrad Davis from Florida, who also grades out as either a first or second round pick.

  • Finally, while Pittsburgh does have two players slated to start at the inside linebacker spot, the bottom line is the team could always use another play-maker on defense–regardless of what position he plays.

If that player happens to be an inside linebacker and his value coincides with where the Steelers happen to be drafting, it would probably be a wise choice. Given the state of their starters and backups, the Pittsburgh Steelers need at inside linebacker going into the 2017 NFL Draft must be considered Moderate.

 

 

 

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Sad Day in Pittsburgh: Miami Dolphins Sign Lawrence Timmons, Law Dog Leaves Steelers

All good things come to an end. And so it is with Lawrence Timmons time as a Pittsburgh Steeler, as the free agent inside linebacker  signed a two year contract with the Miami Dolphins.

Mike Tomlin made Lawrence Timmons his first draft pick as Steelers head coach when he took Timmons in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Timmons went on to start 126 games for the Steelers, including a streak of 6 years where he never missed a game due to injury.

Lawrence Timmons, Mike Tomlin, Joey Porter, Stephon Tuitt, Lawrence Timmons Dolphins

Lawrence Timmons leaves the field in 2014 as Mike Tomlin, Joey Porter & Stephon Tuitt greet him. Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images via Zimbo.com

As stars such as James Farrior, Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith either retired and/or faded, Lawrence Timmons remained a steadfast, constant presence in the middle of the Steelers defense. From 2012 to at least 2014 Timmons was the most consistent, if not best defender on the Steelers defense.

  • Several times during the last year Lawrence Timmons had expressed a desire to sign a third contract with the Steelers.

The Steelers likewise wanted him back, but if reports are accurate, Timmons signed a 2 year 12 million dollar contract with the Miami Dolphins that included 11 million dollars of guaranteed money. That was more than the Steelers were willing to pay, and likely more than they were willing to guarantee in such a short time span.

Steel Curtain Rising will take a longer look at Lawrence Timmons’ legacy as a Pittsburgh Steeler, but those who wish for a fairly comprehensive recap of his career can click here.

Steelers Inside Linebacker Depth Chart with Timmons Gone

For the first time since 2009 the Steelers will enter training camp with a new name penciled in at left inside linebacker. Vince Williams will get the first shot at replacing Timmons. The Steelers anticipated this possibility last summer when they resigned Vince Williams to a 3 year contract.

Vince Williams is more of a linebacker in the mold of Larry Foote and provides a hard-hitting presence in Lawrence Timmons’ absence, he lacks Timmons speed and athleticism. Lawrence Timmons defection to the Dolphins likely won’t alter the Steelers plans to target cornerback and outside linebacker in the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft, but if a good inside linebacker is on the board in the third round he could very well get a call from Mike Tomlin.

Life Imitating Art?

Steel Curtain Rising strongly supported the Steelers keeping Lawrence Timmons in Pittsburgh, but we understand that salary cap realities require Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin to make hard choices like this.

  • But news that Lawrence Timmons signed with the Miami Dolphins arrives with a large dose of irony at this site.

Two years ago as on April Fool’s Day we published a fax article indicating the Steelers had traded Timmons to the Dolphins to move up in the draft. The article did so well that Jacob Klinger of PennLive went so far as to call the Steelers for confirmation of the story. To this day, it remains the 5th most visited page in the site’s history following our 2014 migration to WordPress.

  • What can we say? This is one of the times when you hate to be right.

In a perfect world, Lawrence Timmons would have finished his career in Pittsburgh. Sadly, we won’t see that happen now.

But Steel Curtain Rising thanks Lawrence Timmons for 10 wonderful years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thank you Law Dog!

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

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As Cameron Heyward’s Season Ends – Steelers Nation Collectively Cries: “Game Over!”

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the middle of what is already their 2nd worst losing streak of the Mike Tomlin era, and the news just got worse. Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Heyward’s season ends thanks to a pectorial muscle injury he suffered in the loss to the Cowboys.

Cameron Heyward, Cameron Heyward's season ends, cameron heyward injury

Cameron Heyward’s 2016 season ends due to injury. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The Steelers haven’t announced the move yet, but Cameron Heyward made this posting via Twitter and Instagram:

 

One can only imagine that Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and Johnny Mitchell must be channeling their inner Bill Paxton:

In truth don’t expect anyone on the South Side to throw in the Towel, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are 0-4 when either Cameron Heyward or Stephon Tuitt has missed a game over the last two seasons. Cameron Heyward is easily both the Steelers best and most consistent player on the Steelers defense. He is also a leader both on and off the field. Losing Cam Heyward for the rest of 2016 would be akin to losing Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell or perhaps even Ben Roethlisberger.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ron Cook broke the news on Twitter this morning before Mike Tomlin’s press conference.

Heyward was still being evaluated when Mike Tomlin addressed reporters, so no update came, but the Steelers have confirmed the news.

Mathews and Hargrave Next Men Up

With Cam Heyward out for the rest of 2016, the Steelers will likely turn to Ricardo Mathews and or Javon Hargrave to take his space. Hargrave has been splitting time at nose tackle with Daniel McCullers, but he has gotten reps at defensive end. Mathews started with Heyward missed the Dolphins and Patriots game with a hamstring injury, and the Dolphins targeted him in route to their 200 yard rushing game.

  • The Steelers also have Johnny Maxey and Caushaud Lyons on their practice squad, either of whom could be activated.

The Steelers picked up Caushaud Lyons last year off waivers and kept him on the active roster through the end of September. The Steelers then cut Lyons and resigned him to the practice squad. Regardless of who the Steelers bring onto the roster, the man has extremely big shoes to fill.

Johnson Out Forte Back In

It never rains but it pours. Before losing Cameron Heyward the rest of 2016, the Steelers annouced that reserve inside linebacker Steven Johnson going on injured reserve. To replace him the Steelers will active L.J. Forte, whom they cut this weekend to make way for Ladarius Green.

 

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End of Tight End By Committee? Steelers Activate Ladarius Green, Cut L.J. Forte

When the Pittsburgh Steelers face off against the Dallas Cowboys at Heinz Field this afternoon, they’ll do so with a new face on the offensive huddle. The highly anticipated move saw the Steelers activate Ladarius Green while cutting L.J. Fort to create roster space.

Ladarius Green, steelers activate ladarius green, 2016 steelers tight ends,

Steelers activate Ladarius Green in time for Cowboys game. Photo Credit: AP, used in Pittsburgh Tribune Review

The Steelers of course signed Ladarius Green to replace Heath Miller when Heath Miller retired after the 2015 season. While it will be difficult for Ladarius Green to replace Heath Miller’s legendary dependability, Green does have strech the field speed.

In that respect, he could potentially provide relief for Antonio Brown who had been bracketed by double and triple coverages, as the Steelers have cycled through Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates as number 2 receivers (Markus Wheaton has been injured, and it does not appear he will play this week.)

An End to the Steelers Tight End by Committee Approach?

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger described Green as a “brand-new Ferrari in the impound lot that I’m just looking through a fence at.” Ladarius Green of course has been on the PUP list, due to an ankle injury he had when the Steelers signed him in addition to lingering effect of a concussion he suffered at the end of 2015.

Ladarius Green has been practicing since the Steelers bye week, and with Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley and Green’s teammates have praised his performance in practice, some reports have been skeptical. In the his message board at Steel City Insider, Jim Wexell had openly expressed doubt as to whether Green would even be activated based on his performance in practice, and his more public comments on Twitter echo those sentiments:

Nonetheless, the Steelers decision to retain Johnson, Grimble and James amounts to a vote of confidence for their existing tight end trio, with both Jesse James and Xavier Grimble showing a lot of “upside” while David Johnson has provided stability, solid blocking and position flexibly.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for Win Over Redskins

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is delighted to see his star pupils show up on the first day of school both willing and ready to work, here is the Steelers Report Card for their Monday Night Football win over the Washington Redskins.

steelers report card redskins win, antonio brown touchdown redskins, steelers vs. redskins 2016

Antonio Brown goes up for 6 vs. the Redskins. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger might not have been perfect, his fumble could have been very costly, and led the team to two and outs to start the game. But after that, Roethlisberger was nearly flawless completing 27 passes on 37 attempts for 288 yards and three touchdowns. He was also able to seamlessly work relative newcomers into the offense. Grade: A-

Running Backs
Who says 33 is over the hill in the NFL? That certainly did not apply to DeAngelo Williams Monday night, who ran for 143 yards on 26 carries and was running through the Redskins secondary at will by the time it was all over. The fact that Fitzgerald Toussaint’s stat line reads 3-6 surprises shows just who dominate the Steelers rushing attack was. Grade: A

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown continues to maintain an almost mystical connection with the Steelers and is clearly the best receiver in football. With Markus Wheaton out, carrying the rest of the load fell to Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers. Both men made impressive plays, although both did see the ball bounce off their hands only to caught be another receiver. Fortunately in Coates’ case Rogers was the receiver and it was in the end zone. Teams like the Patriots, Bengals or Ravens won’t be so forgiving and the grade must reflect that. Grade: A-

Tight End
The post-Heath Miller era began against the Redskins, with Jesse James taking up the mantel, for the time being at least. As he flashed in 2016, Jesse James showed that he can be a fairly reliable target in the passing game, although he didn’t look quite comfortable out there. His blocking remains a liability, having missed a couple of key blocks. In contrast, David Johnson played in an H-Back roll, and made a key block on one of DeAngelo Williams first big gains. Xavier Grimble also saw some action. Against the Redskins, the Steelers tight end by committee worked well enough. Grade: B

Offensive Linesteelers, report card, grades, steelers vs. redskins, coaching, special teams, unsung heros
Against the Redskins, the Steelers had 4.9 yards rushing, surrendered on sack, and only saw their quarterback hit 4 other times. That’s what I call an excellent effort. Grade: A

Defensive Line
The Washington Redskins actually had a decent rushing average against the Steelers, but the truth is neither running back broke the 25 yard mark. Cameron Heyward led the unit with 2 tackles, followed by Stephon Tuitt with one and registered a QB hit. Javon Hargrave made his rookie debut, and little was seen of him, although that’s not always a bad thing for a nose tackle. Grade: B

Linebackers
Ryan Shazier had another fantastic night, forcing a fumble, breaking up a touchdown pass in the end zone, and hauling in an interception that permanently reversed the course of the game for Pittsburgh. Lawrence Timmons led the Steelers with 8 tackles and was all over the field. James Harrison might only have had 3 tackles on the night, but his run stop of Matt Jones was a beauty. L.J. Fort saw his first regular season action and got a hit on Kirk Cousins late in the game. Jarvis Jones quietly recorded 6 tackles. Grade: B

Secondary
Ross Cockrell let an interception slip though his fingers, and the Steelers defensive backs didn’t record any take aways, but they did force the Redskins to settle for field goals on three occasions when touchdowns were very real possibilities. Mike Mitchell led the group and set the tone by keeping receivers in front of him, and then laying in the wood afterwards. William Gay had a quiet night, which is good for a cornerback. Robert Golden looked like he belonged as did the rookie Sean Davis. Grade: B

Special Teams
Chris Boswell made all of his extra points and a 46 yard field goal (on the road, at night, on grass.) Jordan Berry’s punting was solid. The kick coverage of Fitzgerald Toussaint’s return was good, and it looked like a more capable returner could have taken that much further. Toussaint needs to learn to take advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves.

  • The Redskins had one kick return of 29 yards and a punt return for 17.

Danny Smith must see to it that future play by the Steelers kick coverage units must renders those numbers to statistical aberrations. Grade: B-

Coaching
Mike Tomlin won his first road opener since 2008, and he did it against a defending divisional champion. In the NFL it is more about how you finish than how you start, but the goal of every coach is to “start fast, finish strong” and the Steelers took a first step in that direction. Yes, there was some rustiness, but considering that the Steelers are fielding a host of different players than the squad that was last on the field in Denver, a 38 to 16 performance is all the more impressive.

  • The Steelers locker room is embracing Tomlin’s “Next man up” credo.

It took Todd Haley’s offense a quarter to get warmed up, but once it got into gear, it almost seemed as if the Steelers offense was restraining itself against the Redskins at times. Scoring 38 points against an NFL defense always impresses, but the Steelers could have scored more. The tests will get tougher, starting this week against the Bengals, but Haley’s crew passed the first with flying colors, and the did it against a team that made big time investments in their pass defense.

Keith Butler’s defense lacked some of the splash plays from 2015. Over the long term that figures to be a problem. If the fireworks were missing, the Steelers defense was fully in “bend but don’t break mode.” Playing against a defending divisional champion, on the road, the score could have easily been 14 or 21 nothing giving the way the game unfolded. Butler’s defense saw to it that the score remained 6-0. Overall, the Steelers coaches had their players prepared and ready. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero Award
More than one fan has looked at the performance of Cody Wallace in 2013 and 2015 and asked, “Why are we paying the other guy so much?”

Against the Redskins, Maurkice Pouency answered those doubters. When the Redskins stripped Ben Roethlisberger the Steelers were down by six and at their own 25. A turnover there could have changed the direction of the game, and breathed life into the Redskins. Instead, Pouency got the ball away from the defender, and Ben Rothlisberger recovered it. On the very same drive, the Steelers went up by 7 after converting on a 4th down.

It is plays like that which facilitate fireworks by the super stars like Brown and Roethlisberger and for that Maurkice Pouncey is the Unsung Hero award winner of the Pittsburgh’s win over Washington.

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Season Preview: Steelers 2016 Super Bowl Hopes Depend on Defense’s Improvement

The Pittsburgh Steelers quest for Lombardi Number 7 begins on Monday Night Football against the Washington Redskins. Many already peg Pittsburgh as AFC if not Super Bowl favorites. But journalists don’t award Lombardi trophies, teams win them. So the question must be asked:

  • Are the Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Super Bowl hopes legit?

Yes, Pittsburgh Steelers begin 2016 legitimate Super Bowl contenders. But, as Bill Cowher demonstrated in the 90’s, the chasm that separates contenders from champions is far wider than the one that splits pretenders from contenders.

The good news is that the Pittsburgh Steelers have the talent to leap that chasm. But contrary to conventional wisdom, the Steelers 2016 Super Bowl hopes depend on their defense….

steelers 2016 super bowl hopes, stephon tuitt, ryan shazier, keith butler defense, steelers defense

Improvement by defenders like Stephon Tuitt and Ryan Shazier might key the Steelers 2016 Super Bowl Hopes. Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons, USA Today Sports

Steelers 2016 Offense – Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men….

235 days ago it all seemed so simple.

Against the hostile environs of Mile High Stadium, the Pittsburgh Steelers had fallen a fumble and a failed stop on a 3rd and 12 conversion short of beating the future Super Bowl champions Denver Broncos.

Yes, “The Standard is the Standard.” Mike Tomlin’s Steelers don’t do moral victories. But Pittsburgh’s “almost upset” came against the NFL’s best defense with Ben Roethlisberger playing below 100%, without Antonio Brown, without Maurkice Pouency, without DeAngelo Williams, and without Le’Veon Bell. Moreover, in consecutive playoff games Martavis Bryant had proven he could deliver.

  • Yes, it seemed simple.

Pittsburgh’s skill players would return to full health, and in 2016 the Steelers would field a fully armed and operational Death Star-like offense. Yes, 235 days ago it all seemed simple.

But then Heath Miller retired. And Martavis Bryant got suspended. Again. And Ladarius Green landed on the PUP. And Le’Veon Bell got suspended. Again. Suddenly, things aren’t quite so simple.

  • Make no mistake Steelers Nation, the Steelers offense will not regress in 2016.

If the Steelers preseason offensive masterpiece vs. New Orleans offers any indication, Pittsburgh’s offense will be plenty potent in 2016. But realistically, the Steelers won’t field the type of offensive juggernaut that both fans and coaches envisioned last January.

  • For starters, the Steelers are a mess at tight end.

Ladarius Green was supposed to give the Steelers offense another vertical threat. Instead, he’s yet to catch a pass in practice from Ben Roethlisberger. Jesse James has shown some ability to catch the ball, but he’s a long, long way from matching Heath Miller’s uncanny dependability.

At this point labeling Jesse James’ blocking as “suspect” is charitable at this point. David Johnson is a better blocker and can perhaps provide some relief, but this is one case where quantity can’t make up for quality. And that’s a reality that will impact both the passing and the running game.

  • But the Steelers are hardly doomed on offense.

Assuming the Steelers stay relatively healthy on both the offensive line and at the skill positions, Pittsburgh should have the weapons to overcome their apparent weakness at tight end.

The 2016 Steelers will field an offense that is worthy of a legitimate Lombardi contender. But the offense will need help if Pittsburgh is to win its 7th Lombardi Trophy.

Defensive Improvements Drive Steelers 2016 Super Bowl Hopes

At the beginning of the 2011 season Warren Sapp derided the Steelers defense as “Old, slow and done.” The Pittsburgh Steelers defense starts 2016 “Young, deep, and hungry.” Statisticians can quibble over whether and how much the Steelers defense improved from 2014 to 2015. But there’s one reality no one can dispute:

  • Keith Butler’s defense brought the big play back to Pittsburgh.

Measured in pure numbers, the 2015 Steelers 30 takeaways and 47 sacks were dramatic improvements over 2014. But more importantly, Keith Butler’s defenders revealed an uncanny ability to make splash plays with games on the line or when the opponent threatened in the Red Zone.

Steel Curtain Rising makes no apologies for defending Dick LeBeau, but the truth is his last several defenses had been starved for turnovers. In 2015, the defensive take away, once again became a weapon in the Steelers offensive arsenal.

  • It isn’t enough, however, for Keith Butler to find a way for the Steelers defense to continue these trends.

If the Steelers 2016 Super Bowl hopes are to come true, the Steelers defense must improve on third downs. Turnovers were spare Dick LeBeau final years, but the Steelers defense ranked 10th on third down in 2014 and 5th on third down in 2012. Last season, the Steelers fell 21st on 3rd down. Not unrelated to that troubling trend is the struggle the Steelers had in stopping tight ends in 2015.

  • It says here that Keith Butler’s front seven will be up to the task.

Yes, Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave are nursing injuries. Yes Bud Dupree is on the injured reserve. But the Steelers have the depth to compensate at linebacker and on the defensive line. Ricardo Mathews provides an immediate upgrade from Cam Thomas, and Daniel McCullers should also deliver more in his third season.

  • During the past off season Bob Labrolia remarked that the “over previous couple of seasons, the Steelers had an obscene wealth of depth at inside linebacker.”

With Vince Williams, L.J. Fort, Steven Johnson and Tyler Matakevich backing up Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier, the 2016 Steelers may actually be deeper at linebacker. On the outside, losing Bud Dupree hurts, but the Steelers should be able to pressure the passer by James Harrison, Arthur Moats, Jarvis Jones and yes, Anthony Chickillo.

Steelers Secondary Gamble is Primary Factor in Super Bowl Success

Outside of William Gay and Ross Cockrell, the Steelers will field a completely new complement of cornerbacks in 2016. So be it. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin ripped their depth chart at cornerback to shreds following the 2015 season.

  • To put this into perspective, when the Steelers cut Doran Grant, he of one defensive snap, they cut their most experienced backup cornerback.

Given that neither Cortez Allen, nor Brandon Boykin, nor Grant holds a spot on an active NFL roster, no one in the NFL has second guessed his move. Still, attempting to completely rebuild the bottom 3 slots of your cornerback depth cart with untested talent counts as a bold move. The Steelers need this move to work. Put simply:

Carnell Lake must employ some combination of Sean Davis, Artie Burns and Justin Gilbert to improve the Steelers pass defense.

The Steelers 2016 Super Bowl hopes depend on it.

A Word about Tomlin and the Trap Games

Criticizing Mike Tomlin’s teams for giving up trap games has become somewhat cliché in Steelers Nation. Sure, 23 of Mike Tomlin’s 52 losses have come to teams with losing records. But he’s also won 92 games and many of those came against winning teams. Which would you trade for?

  • Fair enough.

But remember that in 2008 the Steelers dropped contests to the Colts, Giants, Titans and Eagles – all playoff teams, while cleaning up in the games they were “supposed to win.” The 2008 Steelers of course also won both contests against the Ravens. Those later two facts gave the Steelers a much-needed bye and home field advantage in the playoffs.

  • The fact is trap games trip up Mike Tomlin teams just as overconfidence self-destructed so many Steelers squads during the Cowher-Donahoe era.

Ben Roethlisberger’s Super Bowl window remains open, but it’s closing nears with each season, and that means that Mike Tomlin must find a way to keep his team from playing down to the competition.

If he can do that, and if the front seven builds on its progress it made in 2015, and if the secondary can achieve respectability, then the Steelers 2016 Super Bowl hopes can be a reality, and Pittsburgh can climb the Stairway to Seven.

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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.

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

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

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Quaterback

Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones and Zach Mettenberger

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

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Running Back

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

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

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

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Tight End

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

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

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

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Wide Receivers

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

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

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

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Offensive Line

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

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

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

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Defensive Line

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

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

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Outside Linebacker

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

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

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

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Inside Linebacker

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

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

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

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Cornerback

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

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

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

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

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

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Safety

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

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

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

Steelers 2016 Specialists

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

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

Steelers 2016 Roster Analysis – Depth Primes Pittsburgh to Win

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

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

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

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Bud Dupree Injured Reserve Designation Surprises Steelers Nation

One day after cutting down to reach the NFL’s 53 man roster limit the Pittsburgh Steelers completed their initial 2016 practice squad and followed those moves by placing an injured member of their defense in injured reserve, and resigning another defender who they cut yesterday.

  • The plan unfolded just as scripted. Except….
bud dupree, bud dupree sacks tom brady, bud dupree debut, bud dupree injured reserve

Steelers Bud Dupree sacks Tom Brady in his 2015 rookie debut. Photo Credit: Stephan Savoia, Associated Press.

…for the defender placed on injured reserve wasn’t Senquez Golson and the recently cut player to be resigned wasn’t Doran Grant. Everyone expected the Steelers to make this transaction as soon as they could, and the move still may be impending (no other NFL team claimed Doran Grant off of waivers, no did he rejoin the Steelers practice squad.)

Bud Dupree has been nursing an foot injury though out training camp, and did not appear in any of the Steelers preseason games. The Bud Dupree injured reserve designation shows that the Steelers do not anticipate Dupree contributing for the first half of the season, when he will be eligible to return. Bud Dupree had a strong start to his rookie season, but saw his performance taper off during the second half of 2015.

  • The Steelers were nonetheless expected Dupree to beefup their pass rush heading into 2016.

That will have to wait. Steven Johnson is the inside linebacker the Steelers signed after losing Sean Spence and Terence Garvin in free agency. Johnson had played extremely well in preseason and show himself to be a capable special teams contributor, but the Steelers favored linebackers L.J. Fort and Tyler Matakevich.

Steven Johnson will remain at inside linebacker behind starters Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons and primary backup Vince Williams. The Steelers depth chart at outside linebacker will be headed by James Harrison, Arthur Moats, Jarvis Jones and Anthony Chickillo.

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