Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 2016 Season

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who saw his students make some impressive strides during the past year, but nonetheless sees that they’re still not ready to weather the pass-fail nature of a full NFL playoff run, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 2016 Season.

Le'Veon Bell, Ben Roetlisberger, Steelers vs Bills, Steelers regular season rushing record

Le’Veon Bell in his record setting performance vs. the Bills. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Quarterbacks
By any measure, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played a fine season in 2016. Statistically speaking, Ben Roethlisberger’s quarterback rating was a one point above what it had been a year ago. But Big Ben’s 2016 campaign is not without fault. Ben Roethlisberger ‘s struggles on the road have become alarming, and his play in the later two rounds of the playoffs, while not bad, fell well short of outstanding. To be fair, Roethlisberger spent most of the season playing with a depleted wide receiver crops. Landry Jones played respectably in relief of Roethlisberger, and impressed with his overtime win. Grade: B+steelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers 2016 season

Running Backs
While this conversation doesn’t begin and end with Le’Veon Bell, it perhaps should. In playing just 13 games, Le’Veon Bell affirmed his status as one of the game’s best two way threats, broke both the Steelers single game regular season and playoff rushing record and teased at reviving the concept of “franchise running back.” DeAngelo Williams played well in relief of Bell, although he did miss most of the second half of the season due to injury. Fitzgerald Toussaint Only got 14 carries, but looked respectable. Roosevelt Nix role in paving the way for Bell is under appreciated outside of Pittsburgh. Grade: A+

Tight Ends
This was an interesting year for Steelers tight ends. When he finally got on the field, Ladarius Green showed that he had “field flipping” capability, even if his advertised the straight away speed was slower than advertised. Unfortunately, Green only made it into 6 games. In his absence, the sum of Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, and David Johnson performance in a “tight end by committee” situation was greater than the whole of its parts. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
How good is Antonio Brown? How about this? You take away any hint of a legitimate number 2 wide receiver, as well as a must respect dependable tight end and he still makes over 100 catches and brings in two more touchdowns than he did a year ago. Oh, yeah, and he consummated one of the most dramatic comebacks in franchise history on Christmas with a truly incredible play.

Unfortunately, Antonio Brown didn’t get a lot of help from his fellow wide outs. “Disappointment” is the only way to classify Sammie Coates second season. Coates was supposed to make us forget about Martavis Bryant, but instead reminded us of Limas Sweed.

Eli Rogers performed extremely well, although his fumble in the AFC Championship hurt the team. Ditto Cobi Hamilton. The former practice squad barnstormer came up with several clutch catches during the year, and Demarcus Ayers did the same when he finally saw action late in the year.

This improvement is both impressive and promising with an eye towards the future. However the Report Card grades on performance and results, and the Steelers didn’t have a Super Bowl caliber wide receiving corps this year. Grade: C+

Limas Sweed, Evan Oglesby, Steelers vs Ravens, Steelers Ravens AFC Championship, Limas Sweed drop

Limas Sweeds drops the ball during the 2008 Steeler AFC Championship game against Baltimore. Photo Credit: Keith Spakocic, AP via NY Daily News

Offensive Line
After years of plug and patch the Steelers cemented their 4th lineman to a long term deal when they inked David DeCastro to his new contract. The Steelers 2016 offensive line did an excellent job in what is its most important task at this point in the Tomlin era – to protect Ben Roethlisberger. And the synergy between Le’Veon Bell waiting for holes to open and the line opening them was something special to behold. Still, there were times when the line struggled to open running lanes, namely on the road vs. Baltimore and of course at the goal line in the AFC Championship and their grade must reflect that. Grade: A-

Defensive Line
Let’s begin by ordering some crow with a side of humble pie. When Cameron Heyward went on injured reserve, this site declared, “Game Over.” Fortunately, that’s not what happened. Instead, led by Stephon Tuitt, everyone on the defensive line stepped up their play a notch. Nine games into the season, the Steelers defensive line looked incapable of stopping anyone. By the season’s end, the Steelers were holding feature backs to negative yardage for entire halves.

The Steelers defensive line didn’t put up a lot of sexy statistics, but they delivered time and time again by making the types of plays that don’t show up on stat sheets, but win games. Grade: B

James Harrison, Art Rooney II

Art Rooney II and James Harrison share a post-game handsake. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Linebackers
In 2016 the Steelers linebackers returned to their status as the strength of the defense. This resurgence was fueled by strong second halves by Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier, who seemed to make splash play after splash play. Bud Dupree got a late start to 2016 thanks to an injury, but Dupree came in second on the team in sacks despite only playing in 7 games and starting in four.

  • James Harrison of course came off the bench to start the Steelers final 7 games, and the improvement of the Steelers defense with Harrison in the lineup full time is by no means coincidental.

If Harrison did provide a spark to the pass rush, and made smothering tackles in run defense, his days of covering receivers downfield should be at an end.

Vince Williams, Anthony Chickillo and Arthur Moats all provided valuable support as backups, but the unit was clearly better when all four starters played together. And that’s not something that’s been true of the linebacking corps for a long time. While this group made a lot of progress in 2016, their struggles in the AFC Championship game show they still have another leap yet to make. Grade: B+

Secondary
The secondary was the Steelers weak link in 2015 and arguably has been a weak link for some time before. Management gambled and essentially re-wrote the depth chart, taking a huge gamble in the process. Artie Burns and Sean Davis were both at the center of this gamble. While Sean Davis was the more consistent player who was playing like an absolute stud by year’s end, Artie Burns also made impressive strides as they year went on.

Ross Cockrell likewise vindicated the faith that the coaches and front office showed in making him a starter, and Mike Mitchell didn’t provide as many splash plays as he did in 2016, but provided veteran leadership and stability. William Gay offered steady play, but it is fair to ask whether he’s losing a step.

The Steelers secondary was no longer a liability in 2016, but they remain powerless to prevent Tom Brady from having his way with them, and until that changes they must continue to improve. Grade: C+

Special Teams
Special teams coach Danny Smith is everyone’s favorite scapegoat in Steelers Nation. While the Steelers special teams did leave a lot to be desired at times, all of the blame doesn’t necessarily fall on Danny Smith’s shoulders.

Chris Boswell provided another solid year of place kicking. Whether it was kicking field goals in the snow at Buffalo or in windy Cincinnati or on the road in Kansas City, Boswell was Mr. reliable and arguably the MVP on two of those 3 contests. His counterpart Jordan Berry had a solid year, but failed to do anything to stand out.

  • The Steelers kicking and kick coverage units were the bigger area of concern.

While the NFL is trying to eliminate kick returns, the Steelers kick returners routinely trade 15 yard returns for 25 yard touchbacks. And while the Steelers avoided getting burned by a punt or a kickoff returned for a touchdown returned long return this season, there were too many close calls.

  • On the positive side, the Steelers special teams defended several on-sides kick attempts; however, 2007 remains the last time the Steelers executed an on sides kick of their own.
  • The Steelers also got caught on two fake punts.

In all fairness, the Steelers special teams rose to the occasion in the playoffs against the Chiefs, but overall their play during the course of the season was too inconsistent, and rarely “special.” Grade: C-

Coaching
One of the things that frequently gets lost in the shuffle is that Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley had far fewer weapons to work with in 2016 than he had at his disposal in 2015. Nonetheless, the Steelers offense still finished in the top ten in terms of both scoring and yards.

Todd Haley drew fire for not relying on Le’Veon Bell enough against Miami in the regular season and the perhaps for trying to rely too heavily on him in the first matchup against the Ravens.

  • But the Steelers offensive found the right balance during the second half of the season.

On defense, Keith Butler’s second full season did not start well, as the Steelers struggled at times, and at the season’s mid-point, Butler’s defense was drawing unfavorable comparisons to Tony Dungy’s 1988 Steelers defensive squad, which set franchise records for futility.

  • But during the second half of the season, the Steelers defense began playing a new tune.

And if the inserting of James Harrison and Bud Dupree helped improve performance, the absence of Cam Heyward can hardly be considered a plus. The bigger change was that Butler got his players to focus on doing their job and, equally importantly, he got production out of his 3 rookies. By the season’s end the Steelers defense was one of the best at sacking the quarterback, and also improved in creating turnovers.

Mike Tomlin, Steelers locker room

Mike Tomlin addresses the Steelers. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

By his own admission, Mike Tomlin won’t be considered a success until his team raises Lombardi Number 7. Fair enough. It is also fair to criticize Tomlin for the team’s lackluster performance in Philadelphia and also for the loss at Miami.

Those are the types of losses that can sink a season. But Mike Tomlin kept his team from riding the emotional rollercoaster, and they went on a 9 game winning streak, with the team seemingly getting stronger with each win.

Trying to stack two Super Bowl eras on top of each other is very hard to do, and the Steelers still have a ways to go before they accomplish that goal. But the Steelers took another step closer in 2016. Grade: B

Unsung Hero Award
Losing a player like Heath Miller is never easy, and it becomes all the more difficult if the high profile free agent you sign to replace him only manages to play 6 games.

But the Steelers transition away from the Heath Miller era at tight end was largely successful, and Jesse James was a big reason for that. James’ blocking improved as the season wore on, and he found himself making several critical catches for the team during December and January, and for that Jesse James wins the Unsung Hero Award for the 2016 season.

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16 Defining Moments of the Steelers 2016 Season

Just stop and think for one moment of everyone and everything that comprises the product of an team’s NFL season? It’s a process the delivers the collective sum total of the actions taken by hundreds of players, dozens of scouts and coaches and scores of front office personnel .

  • Trying to quantify that endeavor is as daunting as it is foolish.

While we’re not quite so ambitious here at Steel Curtain Rising, we have tried to single out the 16 Defining Moments of the Steelers 2016 Season.

Antonio Brown, Zach Orr, Steelers vs Ravens, Steelers 2016 season defining moments, antonio brown christmas touchdown ravens

Antonio Brown’s last second touchdown vs the Ravens on Christmas was a defining moment for the 2016 Steelers. Photo Credit: Fred Vuich, AP.

1. Steelers Sign Alejandro Villanaueva

This moment of course came 2 years before the 2016 season even started and, in the predigital age, only would have warranted an inch or two of column space, if even that had it not been for Alejandro Villanueva’s Army background and service in Afghanistan.

  • But Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Mike Munchak saw something they linked in the young man, decided to give him a shot at a new position.

Two years later that move paid dividends as Kelvin Beachum left, while Ryan Harris and Jerald Hawkins got hurt – yet thanks to Villanueva’s development, the Steelers offensive line played perhaps its best football of the Tomlin era.

2. Heath Miller Retires

After a highly depleted 2015 Steelers roster came SO close to upsetting the Denver Broncos at Mile High in the AFC Divisional playoff game, it was tempting to look to 2016 and imagine the team picking up just where it left off.

However, as Mike Tomlin reminds the media and his team at the end of every season, each year brings a new start and there is no carry over.

And Heath Miller’s retirement was the first example of this. The move, while not surprising, wasn’t anticipated and, if Heath Miller was no longer a threat to stretch the field, Heath Miller gave Ben Roethlisberger about as dependable target as a quarterback can get.

3. Martavis Bryant Suspended

If Heath Miller’s retirement was a subtle but sobering reminder that the Steelers won’t field the same team in 2016 that they finished with in 2015, Martavis Bryant’s latest suspension of substance abuse made the point with shocking clarity.

While consistency eluded Martavis Bryant during the 2015 regular season, during the 2015 playoffs Bryant showed that he had Jerry Rice-like transformation talent.

His suspension showed that he also had Randy Moss off the field discipline issues that could prevent him from realizing his full potential.

4. Steelers Release Cortez Allen

The Steelers decision to release Cortez Allen 2 weeks before the 2016 NFL Draft hardly ranks as a surprise, given Mike Tomlin’s comments on Allen at the 2015 season’s end. But cutting Cortez Allen, along with the decisions to let Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin depart as free agents, and not bring back safety Will Allen for yet another year, showed that Tomlin, Colbert, Keith Butler and Carnell Lake were going all in on renewing the Steelers secondary.

Artie Burns, Sean Davis, defining moments steelers 2016, steelers secondary 2016

Sean Davis and Artie Burns at Steelers rookie mini-camp. Photo Credit: Tribune-Review

5. Steelers Draft Burns, Davis and Hargrave

The Steelers need to rebuild on defense has been well documented, particularly their failure at rejuvenating the secondary.

The Steelers went into the 2016 NFL Draft with a plan to boost the defense, and Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin never flinched drafting Artie Burns in the first round, Sean Davis in the second round and Javon Hargrave in the second round.

The move paid handsome dividends as each player stepped up to make important contributions to the Steelers 9 game winning streak that closed the season.

6. David Johnson Returns

In June the Steelers surprised everyone by signing David Johnson, the final pick from the 2009 Draft Class who’d spent 2014 and 2015 with the San Diego Chargers. The move telegraphed Matt Spaeth’s release, further reinforcing the turnover theme.

However, as training camp dragged on, and Ladarius Green came no closer to practicing, it was clear that David Johnson would give the Steelers a veteran presence and solid blocking ability to a very green crops of tight ends.

7. Senquez Golson injures Lisfranc

During the off season, Mike Tomlin spoke glowingly about Senquez Golson, the cornerback the Steelers took in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft who lost his rookie season to shoulder surgery.

  • The Steelers were counting on Golson to do big things in 2016.

Unfortunately, Senquez Golson’s 2016 season amounted to two padded practices in change as he injured his Lisfranc. The Steelers kept Golson on the active roster, but ultimately had to put him on injured reserve, further highlighting the magnitude of the risk the Steelers were taking with their secondary.

8. Steelers Sign Cobi Hamilton

When the Steelers signed Cobi Hamilton on August 5th they were picking up a guy who’d bounced around to several practices squads over the last three years. By the look of it, they were doing little more than picking up another body to help them get through training camp drills.

  • But Hamilton did well enough to make the final roster.

And if Hamilton did struggle during the Steelers AFC Championship loss to the Patriots, the rookie effectively functioned as the Steelers 3rd wide receiver during their 9 game winning streak.

Cobi Hamiltion, defining moments steelers 2016, steelers vs browns, steelers new years overtime win browns

Cobi Hamilton catches game winner in overtime over Browns in Steelers New Years Day win. Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham, AP via Herald Star

9. Markus Wheaton Gets Hurt in Steelers Preseason win over Saints

The Steelers preseason win over the New Orleans Saints served as their dress rehearsal for the season, and by all accounts the Pittsburgh passed with flying colors.

Steel Curtain Rising admits to being somewhat of a homer for Markus Wheaton, but Wheaton played very well down the stretch in 2015 and the Steelers sure could have used him during the second half of 2016. Alas, Wheaton did return for a 3 game stretch in early part of the season, but was lost for good in week 11.

10. Le’Veon Bell Returns

Le’Veon Bell started 2013 injured, finished 2014 injured, began 2015 on suspension and finished the year on IR. Again, he began 2016 serving a suspension. So let’s remember that there WERE legitimate question as to whether this young back could deliver on the field when the Steelers hosted the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football.

  • Le’Veon Bell steamrolled the Chiefs for 178 all-purpose yards.

In doing so, the young running back put the NFL on notice that stopping the Steelers would mean stopping him.

11. Big Ben Gets Injured in Miami

Its no secret that Ben Roethlisberger remains the one, indispensable player on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster. His injury, in addition to the coach’s decision to abandon the run early, cost the Steelers the game in Miami, and arguably cost the Steelers on the road to the Ravens. Those losses prevented the Steelers from securing a first round bye, which proved costly.

12. Ryan Shazier Returns to Full Health

The naysayers in Steelers Nation have long been down on Ryan Shazier for being injury prone. The fact is that, with on disrespect to Vince Williams, the Steelers missed his athleticism during the middle portion of the season.

  • Shazier returned to his status as a full time starter against the Ravens.

And while the Steelers defense didn’t pick up its performance immediately, within two weeks Ryan Shazier was back to making splash plays all over the field, and by the season’s end, he was easily the Steelers best defender.

James Harrison, James Harrison color rush, defining moments steelers 2016

James Harrison’s return to full time starter helped fuel the 2016 Steelers nine game winning streak. Photo Credit: USA Today sports via 247 Sports

13. James Harrison Returns to Full Time Stater

Since James Harrison returned from retirement in 2014 the Steelers have rotated him in some form or fashion, attempting to groom Jarvis Jones to take over the role full time. But Jones flinched on the critical play of the Steelers loss to the Cowboys, and Mike Tomlin wasted little time in promoting James Harrison to a full time starter.

  • All Harrison did was lead the team in sacks in his 7 starts.

More important, James Harrison held transform the Steelers rush defense from a liability into an asset. As Mike Tomlin rhetorically questioned when he announced the move, “What are we saving James Harrison for?” A playoff run, which is what the Steelers got.

14. Steelers Christmas Comeback over the Ravens

Yes, the Steelers needed this one to clinch the AFC North division in an all or nothing shot. Yes, this epic Christmas game was worth of narration by NFL Films legend John Facenda, yes Antonio Brown last minute stretch was an act that revealed his sheer greatness.

  • But there’s something more important that happened on Christmas 2016 for the Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers snapped a 5 game losing streak to the Baltimore Ravens with this win. And while that hardly reestablishes the Steelers as the alpha male of the division, a six straight loss would have conferred that status to the Ravens.

Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs Dolphins, Le'Veon bell breaks playoff rushing record, le'veon bell dolphins

Le’Veon Bell breaks the Steelers playoff rushing record vs. the Dolphins. Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images via CBS Pittsburgh Local

15. Le’Veon Bell Breaks Steelers Playoff Rushing Record. Twice

When Le’Veon Bell broke the Steelers single game playoff rushing record the first time this, we stopped and reflected on what it meant. Then Bell went out and did it again in the following week.

On an individual level, this feat highlights just how special of talent Le’Veon Bell has. However, on a team level this also seemed to underscore that the Steelers were going to go as far as Le’Veon Bell would take them….

16. Steelers get Thumped by Patriots in AFC Championship (Again.)

…And Le’Veon Bell’s ride would end early in the first quarter against the New England Patriots, where the Steelers would fall 36-17 in a game that wasn’t even as close as the score indicates.

For all of the growth they made and for all of the adversity they overcame, the 2016 Steelers simply weren’t Super Bowl worthy, as their latest AFC Championship loss to the Patriots revealed.
We’re wrapping up coverage of the Steelers 2016 season this week. Check back for their regular season report card and season summary.

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Steelers Need Ben Roethlisberger to Bring “A Game” vs Patriots in AFC Championship

The Steelers AFC Championship show down against the Patriots has drawn a lot of analysis from the pundits.

In addition, Keith Butler has confirmed that the Patriots have always “…tried to find our rookies” – in other words this is no time for Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave or Artie Burns to have stage fright set in.

The Steelers must do all of these things to beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship. But together they won’t be enough unless something else happens:

Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger Patriots AFC Championship,

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger must bring his “A Game” for Pittsburgh to prevail over Patriots in the AFC Championship. Photo Credit: The Big Lead

While that should be self-evident, the truth is that Ben Roethlisberger has been at his best during the Steelers 2016 playoff run.

Big Ben certainly started strong against the Dolphins, but his interception late in the 2nd quarter could have allowed Miami back into the game. His 4th quarter interception came in garbage time, but nonetheless represented a bad decision by Ben.

The Steelers struggled in the Red Zone. Kansas City has one of the NFL’s best run defenses and the truth is that several of their defenders stepped up to make some pretty impressive plays against the Steelers. But according to Jon Ledyard’s analysis on Steel City Insider, Ben Roethlisberger muffed two throws that he should have made, and erred in checking out of a running play on his only interception of the game.

Ben Roethlisberger Must Thread a Fine Needle in the AFC Championship

Throughout his career, Ben Roethlisberger has shown himself to be a big game quarterback. Michael Wilbon once said that if his life depended on the outcome of a game, he’d rather had Roethlisberger than any other NFL signal caller under center.

  • But Ben Roethlisberger also sometimes tries to do too much by himself.

You could see it in the 2007 playoff loss to the Jaguars, perhaps in Super Bowl XLV (never saw the game, never will) and arguably in the third quarter of the Christmas show down with the Ravens. And therein lies a special challenge for Ben Roethlisberger in the AFC Championship.

Eli Rogers isn’t Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey isn’t Markus Wheaton and, if Cobi Hamilton IS out performing Sammie Coates, Hamilton still lacks Coates athleticism.

And while Jesse James has quietly developed into a legitimate receiving threat and Ladarius Green may suit up, the Ben Roethlisberger is still going to need to do his part to make all of the wide receivers not named Antonio Brown look a little better than they are.

  • Yet, he must accomplish that without trying to do too much.

It is a delicate balance to strike, but if Ben Roethlisberger strikes that balance, then the Pittsburgh Steelers should head to Super Bowl LI.

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Wanted in Pittsburgh: Steelers Red Zone Receiver to Step Up in AFC Championship vs. Patriots

Reality unfolds at its own pace.” – Jerry Brown

While this site maintains a strict “No politics” rule there is no better quote and Jerry Brown’s to illustrate the key lesson that the Steelers take from their win over Kansas City to the AFC Championship against New England. And what, pray tell, is that lesson?

  • The Steelers need a Red Zone receiver to step up if they’re to bring Lombardi Number 7 back to Pittsburgh.
Eli Rogers, Steelers red zone receiver, AFC Championship, AFC Divisional playoff, Ron Parker, Steelers vs. Chiefs

Ron Parker tackles Eli Rogers in the AFC Divisional Playoff game. Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel, AP via Honolulu Star-Advertiser

There you have it Steelers Nation. While concern about the need for someone to step up alongside Antonio Brown dates back to Markus Wheaton’s going on injured reserve, this concern more or less faded as the Steelers stacked wins in November and December.

  • Just two weeks ago Steel Curtain Rising declared the Steelers Super Bowl hopes depended on the defense.

That remains true, but two playoff games of Sean Davis breaking up critical passes, Bud Dupree pressuring quarterbacks into throws that Ryan Shazier intercepts, and James Harrison being James Harrison show that the Steelers defense is delivering.

But Pittsburgh need to have Chris Boswell boot them over the Chiefs reveals that the Steelers offense has an issue.

Steelers Tough Between the 20’s

A quick glance at the statistics the Steelers offense amassed in the playoffs against the Chiefs and you can be excused for thinking this game must have been a blow out.

  • Antonio Brown broke the 100 yard mark
  • Le’Veon Bell broke the Steelers playoff rushing record. Again.
  • Jesse James caught 5 passes for 83 yards on 6 targets averaging 16.6 yards per carry.
  • The Steelers dominated time of possession to the tune of 34:13

Those numbers are nice, but they’re largely neutered by the Steelers going 0-4 in the Red Zone. To that end, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell offers some revealing statistics. While Antonio Brown has scored 14 touchdowns this season, only four have come in the Red Zone, and Brown has only scored 2 Red Zone touchdowns in the last 10 games, including the Immaculate Extension against the Ravens.

  • It says here that Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t suddenly forget to look Antonio Brown way in the Red Zone.

But its logical to assume that keeping Brown confined inside the 20 makes efforts to double and triple team Brown more effective. And that’s really where the Steelers are missing another receiving threat.

antonio brown, justin houston, antonio brown vs justin houston, Steelers vs. Chiefs, steelers red zone receiver

Antonio Brown smokes Justin Houston in the AFC Divisional Playoff game. Photo Credit: Medley, USA TODAY Sports via Steel City Insider

Eli Rogers has some on strong late in the season, and has come up with several clutch catches, but his end zone drop against the Chiefs shows that he still must prove he can make the leap from number 3 to number 2 wide receiver in the NFL. Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers only got 1 target a piece and Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates didn’t see Ben Roethlisberger look their way all night.

  • Those statistics reflect the Steelers run-oriented approach in the playoffs thus far than any lack of confidence in those receivers

But it also means that no one is stepping to and demanding that opposing defensive coordinators respect them in the passing game.

Solution to Steelers Red Zone Issues Must Come from Within

Jim Wexell argues “Run the thing when you’ve got them by the throat in these seemingly guaranteed situations.” Fans old enough to remember Chan Gailey calling two goal line pass plays that turned into Kordell Stewart interceptions instead of handing it to Jerome Bettis in the 1997 AFC Championship game would agree.

  • And I have no objections if we saw Roosevelt Nix, Chris Hubbard and the rest of the Big Boy package check into the game in “Whatever and Goal” situations.

But at the end of the day, the Steelers can’t win beat the New England Patriots with a one-dimensional Red Zone offense. Ladarius Green is practicing and that’s positive news, but Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley know they can’t count on him leaving the concussion protocol.

And that means that someone, be it Eli Rogers, Jesse James, DHB, Cobi Hamilton or even Sammie Coates must step up in the Red Zone.

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6 Changes in Pittsburgh Since the Steelers Last Win vs Ravens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Keith Butler Replaces Dick LeBeau at Defensive Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

Advantage: Steelers

2. Steelers Scrap Their Secondary and Start Over

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

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

The Steelers secondary has changed a lot since 2014…

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

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

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

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

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

Advantage: Steelers

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

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

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

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

Advantage: Steelers, unless Bell gets hurt….

4. A Carousel of Receivers has Started Opposite Antonio Brown

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

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

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

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

Advantage: Ravens

5. Heath Miller Has Hung It Up

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

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

Advantage: Ravens

6. Steve McLendon and Brett Keisel Have Moved On

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

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

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

Advantage: Ravens

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

What does that mean?

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

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Steelers Promote Demarcus Ayers – Are Sammie Coates Broken Fingers Leaving Him Hanging?

Unless the player becomes the next James Harrison, NFL roster moves involving spot number 53 amount to little more than trivia. For example, do you care let alone remember how many times the Steelers cut and resigned Isaiah Green in 2013?

  • But sometimes moves that involve roster spot number 53 do signal something important.

The decision to sign Randy Bullock due to the abdomen Chris Boswell suffered appeared to be trivial. Sure, the Houston Texans signed Al-Hajj Shabazz whom the Steelers hoped to bring back, and if Al-Hajj Shabazz becomes the next Mel Blount, this will be news. But that’s not what we’re talking about.

When the Steelers cut Randy Bullock they neither activated Brandon Dixon nor Mike Hinton, both defensive backs, from their practice squad, but instead activated 7th round draft pick wide receiver Demarcus Ayers.

Both coaches and reporters had telegraphed the move even before the Bullock signing became necessary, so promoting Demarcus Ayers from the practice squad surprised no one.

But it does raise another interesting question – what’s going on with Sammie Coates?

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Sammie Coates during the Steelers 2015 Divisional Playoff loss to the Broncos. Photo Credit: Helen H. Richardson, via Advanced Sports Logic

The Curious Case of Sammie Coates

When it became clear that Antonio Brown could not play in the AFC Divisional playoff game vs. Denver attention immediately shifted not to the need for Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey to step up to support Martavis Bryant, but to the impact that Sammie Coates might have.

Fortunately, this site was wrong. Sammie Coates had been making progress during practice and he did step up in the Steelers playoff loss to the Broncos. After news of Martavis Bryant’s suspension broke the story was that Sammie Coates most likely to take his place.

  • Sammie Coates got 2016 off to a strong start, logging 20 catches in six games for 2 TD’s at an average of 21.3 yards per reception.

But he got injured in the Steelers win against the New York Jets, and there the story gets murky. As Jim Wexell pointed out on Steel City Insider:

First, he didn’t know how he gashed a hand that required stitches in a game just over two months ago, and then he found out he broke a finger, too. And then a week or so later we learned he had two broken fingers.

The word was that Sammie Coates broken fingers didn’t allow him to play wide receiver, but did allow him to play special teams. Snap counts bear that out, as Sammie Coates participated in 57% of the Steelers offensive snaps in the Jets game before he was injured, but has seen his percentages drop to single digits, save for the Ravens loss (where he, perhaps not coincidentally dropped a would-be game winning touchdown pass) and some second half action during the Thanksgiving win over the Colts.

But Sammie Coates participation on special teams has increased during that time span. (It would seem like the blocking and tackling needed on special teams wouldn’t be conducive to the healing of broken fingers, but I am no doctor.)

Ed Bouchette said as recently as this week in an Pittsburgh Post Gazette on-line video, that he has seen Coates wearing his finger in a splint, and so it is entirely possible that, like with Ladarius Green’s ankle, Sammie Coates broken fingers are just taking longer to heal than normal.

  • But with three games left in the regular season, it is clear that Ben Roethlisberger needs another target to take heat off of Antonio Brown.

Neither Eli Rogers nor Cobi Hamilton has they can be that player. Now, do Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley and Richard Mann really think that a rookie 7th round draft pick like Demarcus Ayers can fill that void?

Probably not, but adding another wide receiver to the active roster at least suggests that they’re second guessing Sammie Coates ability to play that role.

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The Ladarius Green Deep Threat: Can Steelers Take Heat Off of Antonio Brown?

Thanks to the season-long suspension of Martavis Bryant, the Steelers don’t have a serious number two receiving threat to take the heat off of Antonio Brown.

Oh, it seemed like they did during the first five games, when second-year man Sammie Coates was catching deep pass after deep pass (and even some shorter ones) and looked to be a viable alternative to the troubled Martavis Bryant, who has all the talent in the world but, by the end of 2016, will have missed 20 of a possible 48 career games due to suspensions alone.

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Ladarius Green catches a pass in the Steelers Thanksgiving win over the Colts. Photo credit: ESPN.com

But like a lot of other aspects of the team, Sammie Coates, who suffered a deep gash on his hand as well as a broken finger (or two) against the Jets a week earlier, began to take a turn in the wrong direction versus Miami in Week 6 and really hasn’t been the same since.

Eli Rogers, the second-year Steelers undrafted rookie free agent out of Louisville, has backed up his training camp and preseason praise by steadily improving as a slot receiver as the year has progressed. As for the likes of Markus Wheaton and Darrius Heyward-Bey, well, they haven’t been able to pick up the slack left behind by the absence of Martavis Bryant the the struggles of Sammie Coates because they haven’t been around.

Markus Wheaton was finally placed on Injured Reserve after battling a shoulder injury since training camp, while Heyward-Bey has been out since suffering a foot injury against the Ravens on November 6.

  • In other words, those rumors you heard about the Steelers having a deep and talented receiving corps were false.
  • Don’t get me wrong, it might be deep and talented, but it’s also injured, inexperienced and troubled.

Either way you look at it, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t have the plethora of weapons many thought he would.

I know what you’re going to say. Yes, Ben Roethlisberger has the best running back in the league in Le’Veon Bell to go along with maybe the best receiver. But just ask Antonio Brown how tough the sledding has been this season, with regards to beating double and triple coverage week in and week out.

Enter Ladarius Green…

Speaking of rumors, let’s address those rumors you heard about Ladarius Green, the super-talented understudy to Antonio Gates in San Diego, who came to the Steelers as a free-agent in March with the intent of redefining the tight end position in the wake of Heath Miller‘s retirement, they seemed mostly false for close to a year.

  • Sure, you may have believed the Ladarius Green deep threat hype in March, April, May and June.

But when training camp rolled around in late-July, and Ladarius Green, who had offseason ankle surgery before evening signing with Pittsburgh, was still sidelined while recovering from the procedure (or post-concussion headaches, depending on what you believed), skepticism may have started to creep in.

And when Ladarius Green was placed on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list before the start of the season, thus ensuring that he would miss at least the first six games, well, if you were like a lot of other Steelers fans out there, you may have been of the opinion that the Steelers didn’t do their homework and signed damaged goods–and it would have been hard to blame you.

  • Turns out, Ladarius Green missed the first eight games of the season, before finally making his debut in the Steelers loss to the Cowboys in Week 10 at Heinz Field.

While he did catch three passes for 30 yards against the Cowboys, fact is, Ladarius Green looked kind of lumbersome. That look carried over to Cleveland one week later, when he failed to catch a single pass.

  • This was the guy with the 6’6″, 240 lb frame who had the speed of a receiver?

But just when Steelers Nation may have been ready to write Ladarius Green off as a waste of a free-agent signing, there was Ben Roethlisberger this past Thanksgiving night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, back-peddling to avoid a hard-charging Colts pass rush on third and 13, before unleashing a deep throw off of his back foot.

Who was this pass intended for? How about Ladarius Green, who had a step or two on the guy covering him and pulled the pass in 35 yards later, thus preserving the drive and setting up a touchdown and a 21-7 advantage.

Late in the game, with the Steelers still holding that 21-7 lead and looking for a knockout blow, Ben Roethlisberger again hooked up with Ladarius Green on another long pass–this time for 32 yards.

The Roethlisberger-Green duo didn’t deliver the knockout blow, but they did land the body shot that set up the uppercut (the third touchdown catch by Antonio Brown) that put the Colts down for good.

  • So, what am I saying with all of this?

Maybe that there’s some teeth behind the Ladarius Green deep threat. Maybe he isn’t such a wasted free-agent signing after all. Sure, he’s late to the party, but it’s not time to go home just yet. There are five games remaining in the 2016 campaign, and Pittsburgh (6-5) is in a dogfight with those Baltimore Ravens for the AFC North title.

  • Maybe Sammie Coates will never rebound from his current struggles, and maybe the Steelers receiving corps will be compromised for the rest of the year.

However, perhaps Ladarius Green deep threat, can provide the second receiving option that takes the heat off of Antonio Brown and gives Ben Roethlisberger a huge and fast target to spread the field vertically with.

Will Ladarius Green redefine the tight end position for Pittsburgh? Who knows? But maybe he’ll help redefine the rest of the 2016 campaign  for the Steelers and help elevate their offense to the Super Bowl unit everyone thought it was supposed to be.

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Did Pittsburgh Turn 2 Important Corners with the Steelers Thanksgiving Win Over the Colts?

The Pittsburgh Steelers 28-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts not only snapped the franchise’s 66 year-long losing streak on Thanksgiving Day, but the way in which the Steelers beat the Colts offers hope that both the offense and defense have made important strides that, if consolidated, can pay dividends during December football.

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Javon Hargrave stuffs Robert Turbin on Thanksgiving as Steelers beat Colts 28-7. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Signs of an Assist for The Steelers Triplets?

Football is the ultimate team game – Even stars depends on their supporting cast for success. The Steelers loss to the Cowboys brought that painful reality clearly into focus.

The Steelers Triplets were again in fine form against the Colts. Le’Veon Bell was rushing downhill and catching the ball with authority. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown teamed for 3 touchdowns with each one looking easier than the last.

But if the Steelers Triplets’ authored “the story” of the Colts victory, members of their supporting casts made small, but potentially significant strides towards building a back story that could provide the foundation for future success.

  • Eli Rogers set up the Steelers first touchdown with a 30-yard reception
  • Ladarius Green set up the Steelers third and fourth touchdowns with 32 and 35 yard “field flipping” receptions
  • The Steelers offensive line opened holes and kept Ben Roethlisberger clean for a second straight week.

It says here that the Steelers still need a legitimate number 2 threat opposite Antonio Brown that Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and/or Darrius Heyward-Bey was supposed to provide. But for the first time in weeks, it looks like the Steelers have made strides towards identifying that person.

Because Compulsive Complainers Gotta Complain…

At the end of the Browns game, Jim Wexell offered the following gem of insight via Twitter:

There is a segment of Steelers Nation that suffers from a compulsion to find something to complain about regardless of the circumstances. A 21 point Steelers win on a short week on the road after playing on the road offers no exception.

The Steelers Thanksgiving victory in Indianapolis certainly came with its share of flaws:

  • Donte Moncrief came dangerously close to catching a field flipping deep ball on the Colt’s 2nd drive
  • William Gay got burned badly by T.Y. Hinton on the next play
  • Ross Cockrell got burned on a long pass that put the Colt’s into the Red Zone
  • The Steelers made a number of drive stalling/extending penalties
  • Big Ben tried and failed to connect with Sammie Coates deep 3 times
  • Danny Smith’s special teams got caught with their pants down on a fake punt

Indeed, going into the fourth quarter, it was easy to look at the scoreboard and say, “If the Colt’s hadn’t missed a field goal and opted to kick at the goal line, it would be a one-score game….” Yes, that is true. But it wasn’t a one-score game and there’s a reason for that….

Butler’s Boys Blossoming into Men….?

Sometimes statistics provide the best way to measure a defense’s performance; other times you measure it best with plays. The Steelers Thanksgiving win over the Colts falls into the latter category.

Keith Butler set the tone on the first series by blitzing William Gay who hit Scott Tolzien with a strip-sack. On the next series, James Harrison did the honors by dropping Tolzien to set up a third and long which led to Adam Vinatieri’s field goal.

  • After that, Keith Butler’s boys put on a “Bend but don’t break” clinic.

Credit Chuck Pagano for playing to win. Going all in twice at critical junctures like that requires real guts. Two times Pagano tested the Steelers defense, and two times the Steelers defense answered his challenge.

On the first goal line stand, Pagano twice tried to impose his will by forcing Frank Gore up the middle, but Sean Davis and Ricardo Mathews stopped him cold both times. Then Tolzien tried to boot-leg it, but the rookie safety Davis read the play and committed to stopping Tolzien.

  • The rookie safety won the battle of wills with the quarterback, just as he should
  • On 4th down the veteran safety Mike Mitchell followed by knocking away a would-be touchdown pass

Undaunted, Chuck Pagano refused to blink the next time the Colts reached the Red Zone, as his offense converted a 4th and 4 and advanced to Pittsburgh’s six. From there, Pagano followed the same script, attempting to ram the ball down the middle of the Steelers defense, only to have Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt stonewall his rushers.

  • On third down Tolzien again tried to run it in himself, only to be cut off by Mike Mitchell, and his next pass fell incomplete.

Over the course of two possessions, the Indianapolis Colts had controlled the clock for 16 minutes and 19 seconds. During those possessions, the Colts converted four 3rd downs, one 4th down, enjoyed 7 first and 10’s, and amassed 151 yards.

When an offense controls the clock for that long, moves the chains that frequently, and builds those types of yardage totals, they generally break a defense’s will, if not its back.

  • But Keith Butler’s boys refused to bat an eye

And because of that, the Steelers defense authored 8 critical plays at the goal line that defined the entire game and potentially signal one of the season’s corner-turning moments.

Steelers Must Consolidate Progress

The Pittsburgh Steelers have accomplished a lot in a short time. In the space of 5 days they’ve:

  • Snapped a 4 game losing streak,
  • Won back-to-back road games
  • Increased their sack total from 13 to 24
  • Boosted their interception total from 4 to 7
  • Notched victories against teams they were “supposed” to beat, something which Mike Tomlin teams have struggled to do of late

But emergence of potential receiving threats on offense and the development of rookies on defense are the most important achievements during this stretch. The next challenge will be to consolidate this against the New York Giants, who promise to provide Pittsburgh with a stiffer test.

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Why Steelers Losing Markus Wheaton Hurts Pittsburgh’s Offense More than You Think

The Pittsburgh Steelers made two roster moves in the run up to the Cleveland Browns game, one which surprised no one, the other which surprised at least some. Swapping Cam Heyward for Bud Dupree really came as no shock, as Bud Dupree has been working with the team for weeks, while Cameron Heyward is lost for the season.

Markus Wheaton, steelers losing markus wheaton, markus wheaton injured reserver, markus wheaton IR

Markus Wheaton catches a touchdown vs. the Kansas City Chiefs. Photo Credit: Jason Bridge, USA Today

Let’s be clear, putting Markus Wheaton on injured reserve does not classify as a shock. After injuring his shoulder in the Steelers preseason win over the New Orleans Saints, Wheaton has only appeared in the Steelers loss to the Eagles and in their wins over the Chiefs and Jets. Prior to the Ravens game, the decision to start Darrius Heyward-Bey seemed to indicate dissatisfaction with Wheaton as Todd Haley indicated that Wheaton would have to fight his way back via the scout team.

However, Wheaton did not dress for any of the Steelers game since then, and today’s decision suggests Wheaton’s health was holding him back. So the sum total of Markus Wheaton’s 2016 campaign comes down to 5 catches on nine targets for 51 yards and one touchdown.

  • Not a big loss for an offense that just put up 30 points (while missing 4 two point conversions), right?

Not so fast. The Steelers losing Markus Wheaton for the rest of 2016 complicates things far more than you might think.

Why the Steelers Losing Markus Wheaton Still Hurts….

Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are the pillars to which the success of the 2016 Steelers rest on. As the loss to Dallas made so painfully clear, however, the Steelers need more than the Triplets to win. And honestly, the outcome of the Dallas game probably doesn’t change if you can inject a fully health Markus Wheaton into the lineup.

  • But the Steelers still lack a clear number 2 opposite Antonio Brown.

The win over Cincinnati and the loss to Miami revealed that Antonio Brown is in fact mortal. The Steelers need someone who can either make opponents pay a price for triple teaming Brown or alternatively force them to pay attention to him. While Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton have done some nice things thus far, neither man has shown he can be that player opposite Brown.

  • Markus Wheaton showed he was capable of taking heat off Brown during the latter half of 2015.

With Martavis Bryant suspended, the Steelers had hoped that Sammie Coates would fill his shoes, but Coates has been nursing hand injuries all season and his currently playing with two broken fingers. The Steelers clearly signaled that they wanted Darrius Heyward-Bey to step up to that role, but Heyward-Bey is still in a walking boot.

As long as Markus Wheaton was healthy enough to hold a roster spot, there was hope his health would allow him to recover the form and the role role he played in 2015 Steelers offense. With the Steelers losing Markus Wheaton to the injured reserve list for the rest of the season, that door is now shut.

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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.

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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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