Steelers 2016 Season Highlights Living Example of Mike Tomlin’s “Moving Train” Metaphor

Crafting a compelling, yet honest, Steelers 2016 annual review presents a challenge, but Steelers President Art Rooney II is on the right track. While Rooney’s take aways from 2016 are by and large positive, he underscored the need for more “consistency” several times.

  • Head coach Mike Tomlin offers an even better metaphor for summing up the Steelers 2016 season – the moving train.

The “Moving train” metaphor is a Tomlinism that popped into the Steelers Nation’s vernacular in 2014 when Tomlin used it to explain Shamarko Thomas and Lance Moore’s inability to get back into the lineup after an injury. This year he applied it to Ladarius Green.

The truth is that Steelers 2016 season highlights Mike Tomlin’s “Moving train” metaphor perfectly – When the Steelers were on it, they got where they wanted to go; When the Steelers failed to get on it, they stranded themselves.

Steelers 2016 highlights, DeAngelo Williams

Steelers 2016 season highlights: DeAngelo Williams dives forward at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

2016 Steelers Forge Moving Train Identify Early

Like his predecessor Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin has oft asserted that an NFL team finds its identity in the first 4 to 6 weeks of the season and that was certainly true of the Steelers in 2016.

The Steelers entered the 2016 off season as Super Bowl contenders, and despite some radical personnel disruptions on offense, the Steelers 38-16 opening a day win over the Washington Redskins confirmed their status as potential champions.

Steelers 2016 highlights, Antonio Brown, Steelers vs Redskins, Antonio Brown Redskins touchdown

Steelers 2016 Season Highlight: Antonio Brown scores a touchdown on opening night against Redskins. Photo Credit: Washington Post

History will forget that the Redskins actually forced a turnover to start the game and then quickly leapt to a 6-0 lead before the 2nd quarter began because the Steelers, like a moving train, never appeared to lose control. The story was the same a week later in Cincinnati. The Steelers didn’t dominate their rivals, but also never trailed during a 24-16 win.

  • In Philadelphia, the Steelers found the nasty flipside to the identity they were forging.

The Steelers opened by advancing to the Eagle’s 18 in a drive that consumed 6 minutes of clock, only to have Markus Wheaton drop a touchdown pass and Chris Boswell miss a field goal. And in the blink of an eye, the Steelers were off the train as they never contested the Eagles dominance after that point.

  • And so went the entire season.

At Miami, Ben Roethlisberger’s injury knocked the Steelers off the moving train and struggled to get back on the locomotive for the next 3 weeks. The only exception to the “moving train” metaphor came in the loss to Cowboys. Yes, the loss was dramatic, and potentially devastating precisely because the Steelers contested that game until the bitter end.

  • Undaunted by such drama, Mike Tomlin pulled the Steelers back on to the moving train for Steelers for 9 straight wins.

While the Steelers certainly didn’t dominate in each of those contests, Pittsburgh never let any of those games get out of control. Even in the come from behind win over the Bengals, and even on Christmas, when the Ravens re-took the lead with 1:18 remaining, the Steelers on the field demeanor never suggested that they couldn’t regain control.

  • Contrast that with the AFC Championship game.
Steelers 2016 season highlights, Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs Patriots, Devin McCourty, Dont'a Hightower, Steelers Patriots AFC Championship

Steelers 2016 season highlights: Le’Veon Bell’s record breaking season stopped short in New England. Photo Credit: 247 Sports

The Patriots easily advanced to Pittsburgh’s 18 on their first drive, but the Steelers defense forced a in the Red Zone. However the Steelers offense answered with two strong runs by Le’Veon Bell followed Sammie Coates dropping well-placed bomb on third down. Javon Hargrave ended the Patriot’s next possession by sacking Tom Brady on 3rd down, but the Steelers offense responded with a 3 and out, the Steelers effectively out of the game at that point.

As a consequence, the 2016 Steelers were forced to watch the moving train continue to Super Bowl LI.

Why Did Mike Tomlin’s Moving Train Suddenly Stop and Start?

If Mike Tomlin’s moving train metaphor explains how the Steelers 2016 season unfolded, it does little to explain why things worked out that way. But objectively speaking, there’s no mysterious X-Factor behind Pittsburgh’s hot and cold performances of the 2016 season.

Steelers 2016 season highlights, Art Rooney II,

Steelers 2016 season highlights: Art Rooney II talks consistency. Photo Credit: Getty Images, via Pro Football Talk

Art Rooney II hit the nail on the head in asserting that the Steelers need to be more consistent in establish a pass rush, covering in the secondary and scoring touchdowns in the Red Zone.

  • A football genius shouldn’t need to tell you if you can’t execute in these three areas, you won’t win much.

The good news is the Steelers pass rush and pass coverage improved during the latter half of the season. The Steelers Red Zone efficiency continued to be an issue, as evidenced by twin Chris Boswell 6 field goal games in December and January.

Although it may not feel that way now that New England has unequivocally asserted its dominance as the AFC’s alpha male, the Steelers did end 2016 with the arrow pointed up, and can potentially take some lessons from that experience into 2017.

A Year Later, Steelers Still Mastering Art of Learning How to Win…

The original theme for this article was to be “Struggling to Grow, Learning to Win.” It’s catchy, there’s a lot of truth to support such a sexy narrative. Unfortunately, the title of this site’s Steelers 2015 season review was “Learning to win by Overcoming Adversity.” Beyond being repetitive, it also invites the question “When are the Steelers going to stop ‘Learning to win’ and actually go about winning a Super Bowl?”

That’s a fair point, but the art of learning how to win and/or unlearning how to lose is very real process that champions must master. There’s no better example of two teams heading in different directions along this continuum than the Steelers and Bengals during the 2015 Wild Card game.

Steelers 2016 season highlights, Lawrence Timmons, Philip Dorsett, Steelers vs Colts

Steelers 2016 season highlights: Lawrence Timmons slams Colts Phillip Dorsett in Steelers goaline stand. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The Steelers goal line stands against the Colts and the Giants, Eli Roger’s and Ladarius Green’s key catches against the Bengals, Ryan Shazier’s and Lawrence Timmons fill in the blanks splash plays, Bud Dupree’s sacks vs. the Bill and all of the plays that culminated in Antonio Brown’s Christmas Day stretch count as part of the process of learning to win.

Lessons Steelers Must Take from 2016 to 2017

But those aren’t the lessons the Steelers need to take with them into 2017, instead here are 3 quick hits on what those lessons should be:

1. Expect the unexpected

To Mike Tomlin’s credit, he started preaching this the morning after Super Bowl XLIII and has reminded the team of this since. But contrast the names on the stat sheet from last year’s loss to Denver against those from the Patriots game or track the changes in the Steelers depth chart from the beginning of training camp to December 1st, and you see what Tomlin is talking about.

Sure, having Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton or Cameron Heyward would have helped the Steelers against the Patriots, but had they been available, its just as likely that someone else would have been out.

2. Toll the Bell, Just not Too Much

No one can accuse Todd Haley of being too pass happy during the second half of the season. 3 record breaking performances by Le’Veon Bell say that the Steelers executing the strategy that gave them the best chance to win.

  • But without Bell the Steelers were rudderless against the Patriots.

And, while more needs to be seen, it also seems like an over-reliance on Bell may be adding some rustiness to Roethlisberger’s game. Le’Veon Bell has Hall of Fame caliber talent, but the Steelers would be wise to remember that they had to do more than feed the ball to Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis to win their first 5 Super Bowls (well, OK, perhaps that’s not the case with Super Bowl X.)

3. Killer Bees + 1 = Steelers Success

Assuming that the Steelers can keep the trio together without busting their salary cap, and assuming that the sniping between Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown doesn’t turn toxic, the Killer Bees give the Steelers a Super Bowl caliber trio along the lines of Aikman, Irvin and Emmitt.

steelers 2016 season highlights, steelers killer bees, le'veon bell, ben roethlisberger, antonio brown

Steelers 2016 season highlights: Killer Bees led to a lot of Steelers success. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

But just as those Dallas teams also needed their Alvin Harpers, Jay Novacks, Charles Haleys and Thomas Everetts (yeah, that hurt), the Steelers Killer Bees can’t do it on their own. The loss to Dallas brought that to light and, quite frankly, even had Bell not gotten hurt, the Patriots probably would have provided Pittsburgh with another reminder.

  • While the Steelers would do wise to keep Ben, Brown and Bell together as long as they can, they also must be mindful the the 3 of them can’t do it alone.

The Steelers 2016 season is now history. The 2017 off season will bring new challenges and new faces while some familiar names will depart for greener pastures or otherwise begin their Life’s Work. If the Steelers 2016 season highlights a living example of Mike Tomlin’s “Moving Train” then the reality is that train could deliver Pittsburgh’s return to the Super Bowl, but it did move them a step closer.

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Will Steelers Free Agent Darrius Heyward-Bey Stay?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Case for Darrius Heyward-Bey Staying a Steeler

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

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

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

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

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

The Case Against Darrius Heyward-Bey Staying a Steeler

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

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

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

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

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

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Darrius Heyward-Bey

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

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

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

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Vote Steelers Nation on Steelers 2015 Roster Needs Heading into Training Camp

The real Steelers 2015 off season has arrived. Since the Steelers season-ending playoff loss to Baltimore, the Steelers have weathered free agency and the retirements and releases of franchise pillars like Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Brett Keisel in addition to saying goodbye to Dick LeBeau.

No NFL team intentionally weakens itself during the off season, but the salary cap and the draft force tough choices that carry opportunity costs.

The Steelers have done a lot to strengthen the roster holes were exposed at various times in 2014, but the operative questions are has Pittsburgh done enough and where are the Steelers still weak? Got idea of your own, well….

[yop_poll id=”17″]

The Steelers will answer these questions themselves come July 25th at St. Vincent’s in Latrobe, but Steel Curtain Rising is giving you a chance to answer the questions now.

Steelers Roster Needs Heading Into Training Camp

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made their choices. As the Steelers June Curse has shown, things could still happen that impact the roster between now and July 25th (think Willie Colon’s injury or worse yet Ben Roethlisberger’s motorcycle accident), but barring a return of Julian bad luck, the 2015 Steelers will win and lose with their current roster.

The Steelers chose part ways with Lance Moore, to let Brice McCain become a Dolphin, but made sure that Arthur Moats, Matt Spaeth, Will Allen, and James Harrison remain in the Black and Gold. They drafted 2 corners, two outside linebackers, one defensive end, a wide receiver, a tight end and a safety in 2015 draft.

steelers, draft, needs, depth chart, pecking order, priority, 2015

Pecking order of the Steelers 2015 Draft Needs

But the Steelers ignored offensive line and running back in the draft and free agency, and these were areas where lack of depth stung the team in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

And while they’ve added numbers at cornerback and outside linebacker there’s no guarantee that the Steelers can find quality in all of that quantity.

  • Objectively speaking the 2015 Steelers will arrive at St. Vincents a stronger unit than they have in the past.

Just two years ago in 2013 the Steelers commenced training camp depth so thin that they knew they were essentially one injury away from disaster at inside linebacker or offensive line. And as fate would have it, both Maurkice Pouncey and Larry Foote were lost on opening day. In 2014 the Steelers rolled the dice that they could get through the season with Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, and Jason Worilds at outside linebacker and of course they were unretiring James Harrison three weeks into the season.

Other than quarterback, where Ben Roethlisberger remains indispensable, there’s no roster area depth is so precariously thin that a single injury would leave the team in dire straits. In that sense, the Steelers have given themselves a better shot at success.

But training camp is all about transforming potential into reality. Someone will fall injured, perhaps even ending his NFL dream (think Plaxico Burress rotator cuff tear in 2013.) There will be surprises and disappointments.  But for that we’ll have to wait until the Steelers start training camp on July 25th.

Until then, you have your chance to make your voice heard in our poll.

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Steelers Cut Lance Moore Highlighting How Fast Things Change in NFL

With an eye towards the March 10th start of NFL Free Agency, the Pittsburgh Steelers cut Lance Moore yesterday, and as they shed one wide receiver they gained approximately another 1 million dollars in salary cap space.

  • But you knew that already.

Lance Moore’s departure from the Steelers has been impending since the Steelers playoff loss to the Ravens. Moore never quite fit in in Pittsburgh, he wasn’t happy with his role in the offense, and made no bones about asking for his release.

He got it to no one’s surprise. What’s interesting about Moore’s release, is what it tells us about how quickly situations, and perceptions of situations, change in the NFL.

Steelers at Wide Receiver 1 Year Ago Today

365 days ago the Steelers were awaiting the start of free agency, just as they are today. Their depth chart at wide receiver looked like this:

Sanders departed as expected. Then a number of things followed that the Steelers management did not expect. Al Woods left for Tennessee. Woods loss was far from catastrophic, but it did show that other NFL teams who weren’t so salary cap strapped as the Steelers both could and would offer free agents just a little more than the Steelers could.

Except Cotchery didn’t resign. Rumors floated that he was wanted in Carolina. Where there was smoke, there was fire. Cotchery signed with Carolina, and the Steelers responded by signing Moore.

  • Moore’s arrival in Pittsburgh calmed a lot of nerves.

Some (read this site) even went as far as to invent their own sabermetrics showing that Moore would provide more bang for the buck than Cotchery. Numbers don’t lie, that analysis was sound.

Jerricho Cotchery, Lance Moore, stats, touchdowns

  • But past performance does not guarantee future results.

Lance Moore got injured in training camp. Word was that coaches were not impressed with his efforts in rehab and when the season opened, it was Justin Brown, the practice squad golden boy who started as the Steelers number 3 wide receiver.

  • But things didn’t stay settled for long.

Yes, Moore began working back into the line up, but he wasn’t the newcomer who announced his presence with a bang – that honor would befall Martavis Bryant, who lit up the Houston Texans on Monday night, and helped provide the spark that shifted the Steelers season.

Moral of the Story, Steelers Nation

The lesson here is that things can and do change quickly in the NFL. In December 2013, inside linebacker was the weakest spot on the Steelers depth chart.

  • By September 2014 it was arguably the deepest.

14 months ago the Steelers situation at wide receiver seemed almost dire. Today the development of Wheaton and Bryant has made both Brown and Moore expendable.

There’s no guarantee that the Steelers can repeat these types of personnel pivots across the depth chart, but it is worth keeping mind if/when you see James Harrison decide to join Dick LeBeau in Tennessee and Jason Worilds takes big money to go somewhere else.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to for more of the Steelers 2015 Free Agent Focus.

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2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for Offense

Taken from the grade book who saw his star pupil flirt with mediocrity early on, until breaking out and soaring to achieve his full potential, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Report Card for the offense. Note, these are grades for the entire season, not a composite of each week’s report cards.

Quarterback
Statically speaking, this wasn’t Ben Roethlisberger’s best season, that would have been 2007 by 0.3 of a quarterback rating. Roethlisberger only threw 8 interceptions, and half of those came vs. the Saints and Jets. Beyond statistics, Roethlisberger played and acted as a team leader – not an insignificant role on an offense featuring 9 players under 30. Ben Roethlisberger is clearly in his prime now, and the unquestioned leader of this team. Grade: A

Running Backs
Le’Veon Bell succeeded beyond the wildest hopes and dreams of even the most optimistic draft day projection. Between his rushing and catching efforts, Bell accounted for close to 1/3 of the Steelers offense. Bell had 2215 yards from scrimmage on 373 touches – with no fumbles. After Bell the Steelers suffered a significant drop off. LeGarrett Blount did play well, but was a negative influence on the team, and walked out his teammates. Dri Archer may well some day vindicate the faith the Steelers showed in drafting him in the third round, but he did none of that in 2014. Josh Harris looked “OK” with his playing time as did Ben Tate. Will Johnson, in contrast, played quite well as a full back. Grade: B+

Tight Ends
Heath Miller perhaps had a little slow start to 2014, but by mid-season it was clear that he was back to form and was simply Mr. Reliable, although is performance did drop a notch in the playoffs both in the passing and blocking. Matt Spaeth didn’t get many opportunities, but caught 3 of the 4 balls thrown his way, with one for a touchdown he also converted 1 two point conversion. Spaeth was a force in the blocking game. Michael Palmer struggled to get a helmet, but did catch one touchdown. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers
This was a banner year for the Steelers wide receiving crops. Early in the year debate centered around why Justin Brown was starting over Lance Moore. By year’s end, Brown got sacrifieced when the Steelers needed to sign Ben Tate, and Moore found himself deactivated for the playoff game. That’s just how strong Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant came on. Bryant sucked up most of the ink, as you’d expect for a player who catches 8 touchdowns in 10 games played, but Wheaton also showed himself to be a treat, and came up with critical catches when the Steelers needed him to. And of course, there’s Antonio Brown, who is clearly one of the NFL’s best receivers right now. Grade: A

Offensive Line
The first accomplishment of this unit was to stay healthy. From 2010 to 2013 the Steelers offensive line resembled more of a M.A.S.H. unit. Even as the Steelers invested high round draft picks in the line, injuries forced the team to continue “plug and patch.” That ended in 2014, as the Steelers line played relatively injury free. Overall this until saw a lot of gains from years past. But for as well as it played, the until struggled to both run block and pass block in the same game a little too often, and they were dominated in the playoffs, which was a disturbing surprise. For that, their grade goes down. Grade: B-

To read the Report Card for the 2014 Steelers Defense, click here.
To read the Report Card for the 2014 Steelers Coaches and Special Teams, click here.

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Steelers Defeat Houston Texans 30-23 @ Heinz Field – Rapid Reaction

The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Houston Texans at Heinz Field facing as much of a “must win” situation as any 3-3 team could face. While the Black and Gold were officially favored, Houston had going for it:

their zone rushing scheme with Adrian Foster would test Pittsburgh’s shaky run defense
JJ Watt had scored more touchdowns his season than the Steelers offense had in the last two games
the Steelers were facing accusations from Bill Cowher that they’d gone soft and were a finesse team

Steelers, Texans, Antonio Brown, Pass

For the first 28 minutes it looked like Hines Ward and Cowher were right. The Texans were running at will, and the Steelers were settling for field goals. Yet, just inside the two minute warning, the Steelers showed why you never take your foot off of the gas pedal.

Truthfully the Steelers would find fewer moments of glory in the second half, as the offense only managed 6 points (although Brown got screwed out of a touchdown), but the defense held the Texans to 10 points, and the Steelers walked away with a 30 to 23 victory.

The Steelers most certainly need to raise their game vs. the Colts and then again vs. Baltimore. But for a team that limped to a 3-3 record and was facing a hostile fan base, the Steelers got a much needed victory to begin their 3 game home stand.

It’s already 1:16 am here in Buenos Aires, and work looms tomorrow morning. Check back for more later.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising. Or… Follow @SteelCurtainRis
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Watch Tower: Tomlin Turns on Charm with the Press; Plus Pleas for More of Moore…

The Steelers heart breaking loss to the lowly Buccaneers sent Steelers Nation reeling, with cries of “Fire Tomlin,” “Fire LeBeau” and/or “Fire Haley” heard from parts near and far. But how Tomlin reacted gives the Watch Tower its first subject. Also on deck Justin Brown vs. Lance Moore, and the case for running the ball.

Tomlin Shows Savvy with the Press

Unlike his predecessors, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin relationship with the press is difficult to peg.

Chuck Noll never like dealing with the press, but seemed to accept they had a job to do, and by all accounts was friendly and amiable to conversation – as long as it wasn’t about football. Bill Cowher, it is widely acknowledged, made little pretense of trying to get along with the press, whether on or off camera.

  • Eight years into his coaching tenure, Tomlin’s relationship with the press remains much more of an enigma. 

Early on it was clear that Tomlin’s personality jived much more better with the press (in Spanish we’d say, “tenia mucho mejor onda con la prensa” sorry, it communicates the idea better) than Cowher’s. In his first weeks as coach, reporters made comments like “Tomlin actually smiles and says things like ‘hello’ when you pass him in the hall.”

Later on, reporters went at pains to include quotes from Bruce Arians and/or Dick LeBeau glowing about the newfound autonomy they enjoyed. Explicit rebukes of Cowher never surfaced, but the Watch Tower’s hypothesis surmises that this was the press’ way of saying, “We like the new guy better than the old.”

  • Relationships evolve over time of course, and so has Tomlin’s with the press.

Ed Bouchette once commented that Tomlin, like Cowher, had mastered the “art of the informationless press conference.” (Contrast this to his first press conference prior to the 2007 NFL Draft, when Kevin Colbert prevented Tomlin from answering a question, fearing he’d give away too many specifics.”)

And as social media has grown, so has head coaches exposure to the press. Most NFL coaches interact multiple times with the press.

  • Tomlin is not one of those, however.

He gives a post-game press conference and a mid week one and that’s it. During the off season, he doesn’t speak with the press, at least not on the record. Pittsburgh reporters must travel to the NFL’s off season meetings to get face to face time with Tomlin. Ed Bouchette once revealed that he asked Tomlin for more face time, and Tomlin told him point blank, “How does it benefit me?”

  • But Tomlin does know how to work the press when he needs to, as was apparent last season, and again last week.

Regular readers know that the Watch Tower is a devotee of Elliot King and Michael Schudson’s theory that personal relations between the press and a public figure have incredible impact on the coverage those figures receive.  It appears that Tomlin buys into that theory too.

A year ago Tomlin’s interactions with the press were getting testy. He openly complained about the relevance of their questions. And after the New England debacle, when someone asked if he’d begun to doubt Dick LeBeau’s ability, Tomlin snapped back “No. Because he’s Dick LeBeau.”

Contrast that with the approach Tomlin took after the sideline infraction vs. Baltimore, where he enthusiastically invited any and all questions. Joe Starkey went as far as to say it was a “different Tomlin.”

  • Tomlin took a similar approach following the loss to Tampa.

Jim Wexell characterized it as “…one of his most honest press conferences.” Indeed, Tomlin provided detailed insight into both the thinking and execution breakdowns surrounding the Steelers and Panther’s final drive, and the strip sack of Ben Roethlisberger.

  • It appears that Tomlin’s strategy for combating press speculation was to take away the story.

Just how effective the strategy was remains unclear, as Roethlisberger did appear to dispute, at least in part Tomlin’s description of the final play call as “run pass option.” But the “Fire Everyone” talk did die down by week’s end.

Press Wants More Moore

Everyone expected the Steelers defense to struggle, and that was before injuries to Ryan Shazier, Ike Taylor and Jarvis Jones. The Steelers offense played well in the first half vs. Cleveland, but struggled after that (although Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Markus Wheaton’s production has been consistently “above the line.”)

Going into the Carolina game, Dale Lolley reflected on the offense’s struggles before adding “But I think the addition of Lance Moore will make a difference for this team this week.”

  • Moore played one snap vs. the Panthers.

The word was that Justin Brown was a better blocker, and that Moore having missed so much time needed to work himself back into the offense. Mark Kaboly for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wasn’t buying it, and suggested outright that Moore had done something to get himself into Tomlin and Todd Haley’s dog house.

  • And this was before the loss to Tampa.

Since then the criticism has only increased. Dale Lolley made note of it after the Tampa disaster. Later in the week Lolley praised Brown’s potential, but pointed to Moore’s ability to help with production, and took aim at the blocking argument saying, “But the position is called wide receiver, not wide blocker.”

Scott Brown of ESPN took it a step further, flatly stating the Brown was hardly the “second coming of Hines Ward” as a blocker. He continued “I’m at a complete loss to explain why Brown has played over Moore” sharing that Todd Haley has made it clear that Brown is still above Moore in the pecking order.

  • While the football issues are of most interest to the fans, the question of what is going on with the press is equally fascinating.

While reporters access to Tomlin and the coordinators is limited to once a week interactions, they seldom get to speak, on the record, to assistant coaches. Yet these reporters work in the same building as the coaches, see them in the hallways, lunch room, and even in the john.

  • And now you have 3 reporters from separate publications following the same story.

It could very well be the case that the press is in the dark about why Moore has dropped to number 4 on the depth chart. But it could also be that some assistant coach is quietly letting them know that there’s more to the story that Haley is letting on.

It’s unlikely anyone outside of the South Side will know anything in detail for some time. But the Watch Tower will keep an eye on social media as the backside of stories like this have a way of surfacing. (Case in point, if memory serves, it was Jim Wexell has said on Twitter that Bruce Arians had no interest in rebuilding the offensive line.)

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media that cover the Steelers, click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.
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How Panthers Game Bring Steelers Salary Cap Choices into Perspective

Just how heavily are the Pittsburgh Steelers to pay for their salary cap management sins? A quick look at who appears, and doesn’t appear on the injury report suggests the Sunday night game vs. the Carolina Panthers could tell us a lot.

  • The key to successful salary cap management is to get the most bang for your buck.

If every team has the same amount to spend on players then the team that invests wisely will benefit the most on the field. In theory it is simple.

But unlike baseball, as portrayed in Money Ball, football players don’t have 162 games to give the number crunchers statistically valid samples. Which makes those types of cost-benefit calculations in the NFL more of an art than a science.

Which brings us to the Steelers injury report.

  • On it we find Steve McLendon, who is nursing a shoulder injury. Off it we find Lance Moore who nursed a groin injury during camp.

Those names figure prominently because both of them are tied to cost-benefit personnel decision the Steelers made this spring.

Woods, Thomas and Pitfalls of Trading Proven Performance for “Value”

If Steve McLendon can’t play and, for the record he is practicing (thank God), the proverbial “next man up” is Cam Thomas.

Thomas however, was not the Steelers first choice to back up McLendon. Pittsburgh had invested a lot in developing Al Woods and wanted him back. Al Woods wanted back. But Tennesse offered more, and Woods is now a Titan.

So the Steelers went out and signed Thomas. So far, that hasn’t worked out. Matt C. Steel of Steel City Insider went as far as to say this:

I’m seriously beginning to question the coaching staff’s ability to evaluate talent. How is it that they believed Thomas was worth a roster spot, let alone a stating spot along the line? I’m beginning to think the Steelers’ Defensive MVP the second half of last season was Al Woods. I bet they wished they gave him that extra million over two years now.

Steel has plenty of company. Dale Lolley has singled Thomas out multiple times for being a liability to the run defense. He and others such as BTSC’s Jeff Hartman argue that playing Stephon Tuitt would at least give the Notre Dame rookie some experience. So in pure football terms, Steel might be right.

  • But football needs don’t trump salary cap realities. 

The Steelers, forced to carry dead money from LaMarr Woodley and Willie Colon’s contract, and with multiple restructures by Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Troy Polamalu, simply didn’t have the cap space to offer Woods an extra million.

  • The Steelers gambled that, for a little less, they could get comparable performance out of Thomas.

Thus far, that’s looking like a bad bet. Perhaps that will change with time.

Moore Cotchery Please!

Another player whom the Steelers wanted and who wanted to stay in Pittsburgh is Jerricho Cotchery. In 2013 Cotchery was a veritable touchdown catching machine, catching 10 touchdown passes out of 46 receptions.

  • Among fans and the press, Cotchery’s return was all but a given. 

When rumors surfaced about him being wood, reporters pointed out that he was on a Steelers fan cruise. As it turns out, cruise or no, salary cap realities once again reared their head. Carolina offered starting money. The Steeler couldn’t touch that.

  • So instead, they went out and signed Lance Moore.

On paper, Moore looks to provide more bang for less buck as the chart below details:

jerricho cotchery lance moore compared stats steelers receptions

The two men’s production is strikingly similar, with Cotchery getting the edge in yards per catch, while Moore has a higher percentages in Steel Curtain Rising’s home-grown amateur saber metric of “catches for touchdowns and games with a touchdown.”

  • But therein lies the rub.

Moore has missed two games already this year, Cotchery has started into. Salary cap dollars can’t deliver value while you’re on the bench. So while might have more paper value for Moore, in reality Cotchery’s actually producing for Carolina.

So if Moore does suit up Tuesday night, we’ll see if he can deliver where Justin Brown fell short, in the process open things up for Heath Miller and Markus Wheaton.

It will also be interesting to see how Cotchery holds up against Polamalu, Taylor, and Michael Mitchell – three other salary cap choices who helped force the Steelers into letting him go.

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Steelers Draft Martavis Bryant to Open Day 3 of 2014 Draft

It took 2 days and three rounds, but Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin decided to begin day 3 of the 2014 NFL Draft by picking the positions that the pundits expected would dominate Pittsburgh’s picks.

Fourth round of the draft saw the Pittsburgh Steelers draft Martavis Bryant, a wide receiver out of Clemson, who is a junior. At 6’3” Bryant might not exactly fit the bill as a tall wide receiver that Ben Roethlisberger is said to long for, but he certainly gives him a bigger target than Antonio Brown or Lance Moore.

In 2013 Bryant had 43 receptions for 828 yards and caught 7 touchdowns. While the Steelers have little proven depth at wide receiver beyond Brown and Moore, he will compete with Markus Wheaton, Derek Moye, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Brown for a roster spot, and if he’s lucky, playing time.

Here’s a brief snap shot of Byrant’s career at Clemson via the magic of You Tube:

As you an see, Matavis Bryant showed good ball skills and an ability to gain separation vs. defensive backs while in the ACC. Now he faces a bigger challenge of doing it in the NFL.

Welcome to Steelers Nation Martavis Bryant.

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 NFL Draft Needs: Wide Receiver

Any discussion about depth with respect an NFL team’s draft needs must include to variables – quality and quantity. When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers needs in the 2014 NFL Draft at wide receiver the team has one, but not the other.

Antonio Brown leads the Steelers at wide receiver, having had a break through blockbuster year in 2013 as he established himself as an elite number one NFL wide receiver.  The free agent addition of Lance Moore on paper gives the Steelers a salary cap cost effective replacement for Jerricho Cotchery in terms of quality.

  • Outside of Brown and Moore, the Steelers have zero (proven) quality depth.

If the Steelers lack quality, they do not lack quantity or potential for that matter. The Steelers have high hopes for second year man Markus Wheaton, with hopes he will develop into the starting role. Derek Moye also showed some promise, although his inability to get on the active list on a consistent basis reveal how his development has been limited.

The Steelers also added Darrius Heyward-Bey a former University of Maryland star whom the Oakland Raiders made the 7th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and has disappointed since, failing to even break the 1,000 yard mark.

steelers draft nlf draft needs 2014 priorities wide receiverFor the record, the Steelers also have 2013 6th round pick Justin Brown and his practice squad companion Kashif Moore. They are joined by futures contract signers Jasper Collins and Lanear Sampson.

  • Bodies the Steelers have a plenty at wide receiver. Experience? Not so much.
The Steelers interest in wide receiver in the 2014 NFL draft is nowhere near close to secret. Yet, the team isn’t going on in on finding immediate help via the draft, as evidenced by the signing of Heyward-Bey.

Yet given the fact that the Steelers do have “bodies” in place, Steeler Curtain Rising rates their overall need at receiver at Moderate-High.

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