Has the Steelers Stevan Ridley Reclamation Project Run Its Course?

NFL “Street Free Agents” are just what the name implies. Players who get signed off of the street. Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert has a pretty good record when it comes to signing Street Free Agents. Kickers Matt McCrane and Randy Bullock provide to recent examples.

Stevan Ridley is another one of Kevin Colbert’s Street Free Agent signings and his impending free agency provides a good time to assess how well the Stevan Ridley reclamation project has worked.

Stevan Ridley, Steelers vs Patriots

Stevan Ridley rips off a revenge run against the Patriots. Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA Today Sports

Capsule Profile of Stevan Ridley Steelers Career

When James Conner got injured in the infamous Steelers 2017 loss to the Patriots, the infamous Jesse James game, Fitzgerald Toussiant was Le’Veon Bell’s only experienced backup. Kevin Colbert wasted little time signing Stevan Ridley who’d been a quality NFL running back before injuries derailed his career in 2014.

Stevan Ridley saw immediate action in the Steelers Christmas win against the Texans and in their season finale against the Browns. The Steelers resigned him in the 2018 off season, and Ridley began the 2018 season as James Conner’s primary backup, ahead of Jaylen Samuels.

Ridley only got 29 carries and saw 3 balls thrown his way, managing a 2.8 yard per carry average. Worse yet, he fumbled twice.

The Case for the Steelers Resigning Stevan Ridley

Those statistics don’t paint a pretty picture for Stevan Ridley, and make it hard for build a case for bringing Ridley back to Pittsburgh. On a recent Post-Gazette chat, Gerry Dulac quipped to a reader that Ridley “led the league in 2 yard carries.”

  • It IS true that Stevan Ridley’s ball security are at issue, and that his average is unimpressive.

Yet the sample size is small, and Stevan Ridley also looked good at times, including in the Steelers win over the Patriots. The Steelers need depth at running back, and Stevan Ridley provides an experienced hand behind Conners and Samuels.

The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Stevan Ridley

Depth in the NFL is about quality not quantity. Stevan Ridley is going to be 30 next season, and 30 year old running backs don’t offer much in the way of “upside.”

It is hard to justify a modest signing bonus and even a roster spot on Stevan Ridley when the Steelers should be looking to fill that role with a young player for the 2019 NFL Draft.

Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Stevan Ridley

Stevan Ridley’s future in Pittsburgh could largely depend on the Steelers overall approach to building their running back depth chart.

For the last several seasons, the Steelers have opted to go with a starter, a competent backup and untested younger player manning the third running back slot with Roosevelt Nix rounding out the group at fullback.

If the Steelers stick to form, and only carry 3 running backs plus a fullback, it would be a mistake to keep Stevan Ridley as that third running back. However, if the Steelers find a good back to complement James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, a 2019 equlivent of 2008’s Mewelde Moore, than Stevan Ridley could be a good candidate to occupy that 4th slot, much as Gary Russell did in 2008.

However, with Antonio Brown set to leave town, the Steelers will need to add extra bodies at wide receiver to supplement JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and possibly Eli Rogers as targets for Ben Roethlisberger.

That being the case, it is likely that the Steelers Stevan Ridley reclamation project has come to an end.

Has Steelers free agency left you scrambling? Click here for our Steelers 2019 Free Agent tracker or click here for all Steelers 2019 free agency focus articles.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

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?

Sammie Coates, Steelers vs. Bronos, Demarcus Ayers

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.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Le’Veon Bell and Ladarius Green Go to Photo Finish in Steelers-Giants Game Ball Poll

The votes are in for the Pittsburgh Steelers game ball winners for last weeks victory over the New York Giants and the contest was one of the most closely contested game ball polls we have seen here at Steel Curtain Rising in a long time.

But with all of the ballots counted, Le’Veon Bell edged out Ladarius Green as to top vote getter by a count of 19 to 18. Not only did the two offensive stars go neck and neck for top billing in this poll, but they were the only two contestants to break double digits.steelers game ball winners giants, le'veon bell, ladarius green, steelers 2016 defense, Lawrence Timmons, Sean Davis, James Harrison

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was the next highest vote getter for the offense with 8 votes, which doubled Antonio Brown’s total of 4. Kudos to the citizen of Steelers Nation who took time to write in Jesse James name. Jesse James appears to be blossoming into a quality number 2 tight end, and he played a fabulous game winning unsung hero honors in the Steelers-Giants Report Card.

One of our write in voters nominated the entire Steelers defense, and this sentiment found plenty of support in Steelers Nation, as that is the highest vote getter on the Steelers defense.

Lawrence Timmons led individual Steelers defenders with 8 votes and his interception in no small part helped turn the game. Timmons was followed by Sean Davis, who had a fantastic game, and including several key stops and a game-sealing interception. After that votes tapered off, with James Harrison and Artie Burns earning 4 votes a piece.

Steelers Nation isn’t ready to give a lot of love to Ricardo Mathews who, despite registering his first sack for the Steelers, got zero votes. Better luck next time Ricardo.

As always, Steel Curtain Rising extends its thanks to everyone who took time out to vote, and especially to those made the effort to cast write-in votes.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Setting Up for a Late Semester Surge: Steelers Report Card for Giants Win

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who wonders if the growing pains his student suffered early in the year won’t fuel a late semester surge, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the New York Giants.

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger found himself playing against a much tougher defense, and the numbers bear that out, although a number of recievers did drop catchable balls. Against the Giants Ben Roethlisberger went 24 for 26 for 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. It should be noted that while Eli Rogers receiver got both hands on the ball, it was slightly under thrown. The Steelers were 7-15 on third downs and 1-1 on fourth downs and the latter stat really counted. A solid day for the Steelers signal caller. Grade: B+

Running Back
The New York Giants have a stout run defense, and Le’Veon Bell had to work for his yards on a number of occasions. But Le’Veon Bell earned the tough yards against the Giants, saw his patience pay off when the hole was not immediately clear, and hit the holes hard when they were there. And he also 6 passes for 64 yards to add to his 118 rushing yards. Roosevelt Nix was used extensively at fullback, and he played well. Le’Veon Bell did cough up the ball which led to New York’s non-garbage time fumble, which drops his grade a notch. Grade: A-

Tight Ends
This was the Ladarius Green the Steelers thought they were getting when they signed him to a 20 million dollar contract. Ladarius Green proved to be again be a field flipper and a difference maker in catching six passes for 110 yards, including a touchdown. Jesse James also saw extensive action, and if he did have an early drop, he made up for it on later plays including a critical 4th down conversion in the 4th quarter. Both tight ends acquitted themselves well. Grade: A

Wide Receiverssteelers, report card, steelers grades, steelers vs. giants, coaching, special teams, unsung heros, steelers colts thanksgiving
The Giants managed to “contain” Antonio Brown fairly well, as Brown only had 6 catches for 54 yards. But he made those catches count, with a jaw dropping touchdown catch and another excellent toe tapper to keep the ball in bounds on the Steelers final touchdown drive. Brown didn’t get a lot of help for the rest of the receivers.

Eli Rogers did have a nice 18 yard catch, but that was his only one. Cobi Hamilton caught two balls, but they only amounted for 11 yards. Sammie Coates saw limited action at wide out and did not see a pass come his way. Ladarius Green’s emergence should help Antonio Brown, but Brown will need help during December. Grade: B-

Offensive Line
Ben Roethlisberger saw more pressure than he has in recent weeks, but per the numbers on ESPN, he was only sacked twice and only hit three more times. More importantly, the Steelers offensive line’s pass protection held when it needed to.

Any breakdown of the game tape is going to reveal battles at the line of scrimmage that the Steelers offensive line lost. But as the game wore on, the Mike Munchak’s crew wore down the men in front of them and ultimately, imposed their will in the fourth quarter. Grade: A-

Defensive Line
The New York Giants didn’t come into the game with much of a rushing offense and didn’t establish one during the game. Stephon Tuitt didn’t put up a lot of statics, but he was moving around and forced New York to account for him. Ricardo Mathews earned his first sack as a Steeler, and ended an attempted Giant’s 4th down conversion. Overall the line played so well, that yours truly didn’t notice that Javon Hargrave missed the second half with a concussion. Grade: B+

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons has taken a lot of heat for supposedly slowing a step this season, but he has put together several strong games and stepped it up a notch vs. the Giants, making a field flipping interception when New York threatened in the Red Zone. Ryan Shazier’s stat sheet might seem slim, but he made a key pass defense in the Red Zone. Bud Dupree hasn’t made any splash plays, but getting around the field (and he was held a lot.)

And what else can you say about James Harrison? He’s 38 years old and has had 5 sacks in five weeks. Grade: A

Secondary
The Steelers secondary took another stride forward this week. Odell Beckham may have pleased fantasy owners, but the Steelers kept him out of the end zone.

Artie Burns continues to improve, particularly in his tackling. Mike Mitchell also played another strong game defending two key passes. But the real star of the show was Sean Davis, who made several plays early on, and then came down with an interception when the Giants were trying to rally. Grade: A

Special Teams
It was a quiet week for the Steelers special teams, with the Giants making little noise in the kick return game, and the Steelers got two decent returns. Randy Bullock came in at the last minute and knocked in 3 field goals and one extra point. You can’t ask for much more than that. Penalties continue to be an issue, and that drops the grade of this unit. Grade: B

Coaching
It was easy to write off the Steelers wins against the Browns and the Luckless Colts. Sure, the Steelers haven’t always done well in those “should win” situations, but its also true that neither team offered the Steelers a real test.

  • Todd Haley designed a game plan that called for ball control, and his unit executed it to near perfection.

And if the Steelers still need help at receiver, Haley was able to incorporate Ladarius Green as a vertical threat, something which clearly made a difference in this game.

Keith Butler’s defense delivered what is perhaps their strongest performance of the season, with the Steelers forcing the Giants to go 0-3 on 4th down conversions.

More importantly, several members of Butler’s defense stepped up at critical moments to deliver splash plays. We saw a lot of that in 2015, but not much so far this season. Hopefully this is a sign of more to come.

Mike Tomlin appears to have succeeded in getting his team to avoid riding the roller coaster. They didn’t let a four game losing streak take the wind out of their sails, and they didn’t allow winning 2 games in 5 days to go to their heads.

The one real quibble we have with the coaching are the penalties. The Steelers win could have been much more decisive were it not for inopportune flags and this is becoming a reccuring issue, and hence drops the coaching grade. Grade: B

Unsung Hero Award
He won’t get the ink that his counterpart is deservedly getting. He didn’t score a touchdown and probably won’t make any ESPN highlight reels. But this young player atoned for a drop with a nice 16 yard catch, helped set up the Steelers first touchdown with an 11 yard catch, and caught a 5 yard 4th down conversion that iced the game, and for that Jesse James wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers win over the Giants.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Pittsburgh Gets Physical: Offensive Line, Defense Deliver as Steelers Beat Giants 24-14

December football has arrived. As the temperatures drop, this is the time of year when the contenders rise above the pretenders. It is impossible to label a 7-5 team “a contender” but the Steelers 24-14 win over the New York Giants gives Steelers Nation hope that they can soon earn the label.

And what’s more encouraging is that the Steelers authored this win, to borrow the words of Jim Wexell, by reverting “to a formula that helped them win two Super Bowls last decade,” a formula that combines physical, playmaking on defense, a ball control rushing attack paired with a field flipping passing game.

Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, steelers vs giants, eli manning

Eli Manning has no where to run as Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison close in. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Steelers Offensive Line Tolls the Bell

The Pittsburgh Steelers best three players are Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. All three have Hall of Fame level talent. The Cowboys loss confirmed that The Triplets can’t carry the Steelers alone, but during the Colts win others flashed that they might be stepping up.

  • The Giants game confirmed that players are stepping up on multiple fronts.

An underperforming offensive line was a constant in the Steelers 5 losses this season. They either protected Ben Roethlisberger or opened holes for Bell, but struggled to do both simultaneously.

Undaunted by coaching against tough a Giants defense, Todd Haley opted to ram the ball down New York’s throat. The Giants made 5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage proving they’re for real..

But those plays stand out as the game’s exception, not the rule. Unlike the Ravens game, the Steelers offensive line created room for Le’Veon Bell to run, and when they couldn’t, Bell created his own space. Le’Veon Bell’s 118 yards will keep fantasy owners happy, but the offense did its best work late in the game.

  • With 7 minutes remaining to play, the Steelers offense imposed their will to defended their 14 point lead.

Todd Haley force fed the ball to Le’Veon Bell 8 times, as Bell gained all but 5 of the Steelers 48 yards and set up Randy Bullock’s insurance field goal.

Sometimes, It IS Easy to Be Green….

An offensive line and a running back grinding out victory late in the 4th quarter certainly appeals to the “3 yards and a cloud of dust” purists in Steelers Nation, but it isn’t very sexy. A tight end who can stretch the field and make opponents pay is.

  • Against the New York Giants, Ladarius Green put Bills, Bengals, Ravens and Colts on notice that they will ignore him at their peril.

The Steelers have needed someone to take heat off of Antonio Brown, and against the Giants, Ladarius Green proved he can be that player. Green made 2 “field flipping” plays against the Colts, but the New York Giant’s 5th ranked defense figured to give him a stiffer test.

  • Ladarius Green aced the exam with flying colors.

Green set up the Steelers first field goal with his 37-yard reception. After that, Ben Roethlisberger found Green for completions of 9 and ten yards. In the third quarter Brown flipped the field again with a 33-yard catch and topped it off with a 20-yard touchdown catch.

On a day when the New York Giants bottled up Antonio Brown as well as any other team has, Browns jaw-dropping end zone and sideline catches notwithstanding, the Steelers needed another playmaker and Ladarius Green delivered.

New and Old Playmakers Drive Dominant Steelers Defense

Can it just be that 21-days ago commentators, including this one, had written the obituary on the Steelers 2016 defense? Yes, that happens when a defense surrenders 2 touchdowns inside of the 2-minute warning.

  • But the Giants game reinforces that reality that the NFL season is a 16-round fight.

And the Steelers defense has rallied since suffering what could have been a season-killing TKO at the hands of Ezekiel Elliot.

You can use a host of statistics to document the Steelers defensive dominance over the Giants – limiting them to 234 total yards, nearly shutting out Odell Beckhman in the first half, holding the Giants to 14 rushing attempts – but none of those do justice to what the Steelers defense accomplished.

  • The Steelers defense dominated because it combined physical football with splash plays at critical junctures of the game.

Lawrence Timmon’s interception end zone interception and 58-yard return both took points off the board and set up the Steelers first touchdown. Artie Burns, James Harrison, William Gay, Ryan Shazier and Timmons all stepped up to log yet another 4-down goal line stand when the Giants entered the Steelers Red Zone early in the second half.

With Eli Manning racing to avoid pressure, Sean Davis’4th-down interception prevented the Giants from transforming a Ben Roethlisberger interception into points.

  • Ricardo Mathews led a gang sack of Eli Manning on 4th down, effectively ending New York’s final chance rally for victory.

Last February Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin decided to attempt a little addition by subtraction by letting go of underperforming and/or overpriced veterans on defense. Growing pains tied to that decision cost the Steelers during the 1st three months of the season.

But December football has started, and the win over the Giants shows that the Steelers early-season sacrifices are beginning to bear fruit for Keith Butler‘s defense.

Steelers Must Maintain Focus

Unlike its last two wins, the Giants victory arrives without an asterisk and that’s a welcome because both the Ravens and Bengals are also bringing their best football to the table here in December. The good news is that the Steelers control their own destiny and are free to focus on one opponent at time.

Mike Tomlin’s ability to get his team to do just that will define whether the 2016 Steelers end December football earning the title of “contender.”

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Vote Now Steelers Nation: Steelers Game Ball Winners for Giants Game

Winning sure is fun, even if the Steelers didn’t make it as easy on themselves as they should have. The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the New York Giants to the tune of 24-14 and had it not been for a plethora of penalties and inopportune times, the Steelers victory could have been more decisive.

  • But as Mike Tomlin is probably reminding us now as I write this, “They don’t add style points.”

As we do after every Steelers win, we invite citizens of Steelers Nation to vote game ball winners. Here are the candidates who’ve made it to the ballot:

[yop_poll id=”43″]

On offense, Ben Roethlisberger earns a ballot slot due to his strong performance. Ladarius Green had what might be a breakout game, including his critical touchdown late in the game. Le’Veon Bell didn’t always have room to run, but showed why he is the most complete running back in the league. Antonio Brown’s yardage totals might have been down, but he came down with the ball in the end zone, and made another critical catch late in the game.

  • Remember, you are not limited to these choices. If you think that Jesse James deserves a game ball, please by all means write in his name. Better yet, write in his name in leave a comment pleading your case.

On defense, Sean Davis leads the balloting. Even before his interception, Sean Davis had a strong game, coming up to make a number of critical stops.

Lawrence Timmons also gets a nod on the ballot, as his interception was critical. Mike Mitchell also gets a ballot slot, as he came up with several key pass defenses against Odell Beckham Jr.

James Harrison recorded yet another sack, and again was strong in run defense. And Ricardo Mathews gets a ballot slot thanks to his sack of Eli Manning late in the game.

  • One good candidate for a write in would be Artie Burns, who lead the team in tackles, and had a key pass defense in the end zone.

On special teams, we’re also giving a slot to Steelers emergency kicker Randy Bullock, who knocked in 3 field goals and was perfect on extra points.

Thanks in advance for taking time to vote. Please be sure to check back for Steel Curtain Rising’s full analysis of the Steelers win over the Giants.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.