Steelers Sign Donte Moncrief, Resign Eli Rogers, Lose L.J. Fort

The Steelers most aggressive forays into free agency since 1993 continued as Pittsburgh signed wide receiver Donte Moncrief to a two year deal. The Steelers were expected to bolster their wide receiving corps following the trade of Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders, however many expected them to target the position early in the 2019 NFL Draft.

The Steelers had sown interest in Donte Moncrief during the 2014 NFL Draft but did not have a 3rd round pick having traded it away a year earlier to get Shamarko Thomas. Clearly that is one transaction which Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert would like have back.

  • Donte Moncrief in fact caught his first touchdown against the Steelers in the 2014 shoot out with the Colts.

As Jim Wexell details, Moncief’s other efforts against the Steelers have been far more pedestrian, but that was also the only time he had the benefit of being on the receiving end of Andrew Luck’s passes. While the Steelers clearly would like for James Washington to start opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief will provide the “sophomore” wide out.

Donte Moncrief, Steelers sign Donte Moncrief, Artie Burns, Steelers vs Colts

Steelers sign Donte Moncief, pictured burning Artie Burns in 2017. Photo Credit: Matt Kryger, Indy Star

Rogers Signs for 2 Years, McCullers Back Too?

The Steelers took another step to bolstering depth at wide receiver when they signed Eli Rogers to a two year deal. Like Ryan Shazier, Eli Roger’s contract had tolled, meaning he did not acquire enough seniority to reach free agency this year, but the Steelers move will keep Rogers with the team through 2020.

  • Free agency news in Pittsburgh was not all good, however.

Reserve linebacker L.J. Fort, who had an under the radar performance during 2018, signed a 3 year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. L.J. Fort had been on the Steelers roster since 2015, working almost excursively on special teams.

Injuries to Vince Williams gave L.J. Fort’s first prolonged playing experience, and L.J. Fort played well and by the end of the season he appeared to have surpassed Jon Bostic on the depth chart. The Steelers are expected to target inside linebacker early and perhaps often in the 2019 NFL Draft, so L.J. Fort was not expected to start.

However, L.J. Fort could have been a quality player at a position that is sorely lacking both depth and talent.

While the Eagles are not exactly giving L.J. Fort starter money, it would appear to be above what the Steelers were willing to pay.

Although there does not seem to be official confirmation yet, ESPN is reporting that the Steelers have resigned Daniel McCullers two a two year deal.

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.

 

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Sometimes Ball Just Bounces Your Way: Steelers Sign Chris Boswell to 4 Year Contract

Sometimes the ball bounces your way. As Chris Boswell’s new contact with the Steelers show, the ball has (often) bounced Pittsburgh’s way when it has come to place kickers.

The Steelers resigned Chris Boswell today, inking the veteran kicker to a 4 year contact that will keep the Boz in Pittsburgh through the 2022 season. Chris Boswell had been a restricted free agent but the Steelers protected him with a 2nd round tender and not team was tempted to offer Boswell a contract.

Chris Boswell, Steelers vs Ravens, Chris Boswell contract

Chris Boswell kicks game winner for Steelers vs Ravens in December 2017

4th Time is the Charm Boswell, Steelers

Chris Boswell has been one of the NFL’s most dependable kickers since arriving in Pittsburgh during the fall of 2015 that it is almost hard to remember that an uncanny series of calamities brought him to the Steelers.

It started with the Hall of Fame game during the year when Jerome Bettis finally earned induction into the NFL Hall of Fame when Shaun Suisham got injured. The Steelers went out and signed Garrett Hartley. Hartley lasted for a few preseason games, but then he got hurt, forcing the Steelers bring in Josh Scobee via trade.

Josh Scobee worked out well enough for the first few games, but in the Steelers game against the Ravens Josh Scobee missed two field goals in a game that ended 20-23, and Mike Tomlin promptly sent his 3rd place kicker of the season packing.

But Boswell immediately delivered, making several clutch kicks for the Steelers, incluging the game winner during their comeback playoff victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, and scoring all of the team’s points in the 2016 playoff win over the Chiefs.

Boswell also made a hell of a shoestring tackle against the Bengals in a key AFC North showdown in another six field goal performance.

Steelers Luck with Kickers Generally Good

Notwithstanding the injury misfortune that led the Steelers to sign Chris Boswell, the Steelers as a franchise have generally had good luck finding kickers when they’ve needed them. The Steelers wanted to draft Gary Anderson in 1982, but the Bills beat them to it. Buffalo cut him, and Anderson was a fixture for the next decade.

When a contract dispute led Anderson to seek greener pastures, the Steelers landed Norm Johnson, who kicked well for 3 years. Kris Brown had his ups and downs, and the Steelers tried to replace him in 2003 Todd Peterson, but he didn’t work out.

  • But the Steelers were able to replace him with Jeff Reed.

When Jeff Reed ran into issues, they were able to sign Shaun Suisham, who arrived in Pittsburgh with a questionable record, but turned out to be a clutch performer in his own right.

When it comes to finding quality place kickers, the ball has generally bounced Pittsburgh’s way.

Steelers Also ReInk Vince Willams

Shortly after resigning Boswell, Steelers also made another move by resigning inside linebacker Vince Williams to a four year extension. Steel Curtain Rising will have more to say on the Vince Williams signing so stay tuned.

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No Time to Say “Bye” to the Boz. Why Steelers Must Resign Chris Boswell, Place Kicker Extraordinaire

NFL kickers are curious characters. In the pre-digital age, in the “Overview” section of Steelers Digest, Bob Labriola took similar questions — and dished out similar answers — to his sessions on “Asked and Answered.” If memory serves, Labriola’s retort to a reader’s question about Gary Anderson’s Hall of Fame potential with:

  • “The Hall of Fame is for football players. Gary Anderson is a kicker.”

Wow. And if part of me feels compelled to take issue Labriola’s harshness, I’m forced to confess I once penned a missive comparing Steelers placekickers to ex-girlfriends. And while its a great read, if I do say so myself, who would ever dream of writing a similar article about Steelers linebackers?

  • I daresay you wouldn’t.

But if we can quibble over whether placekickers are legitimate football players, the Steelers 2017 season reinforced the crystal clear reality that quality place kicking makes a legitimate difference in the outcomes of football games. That’s a lesson everyone much remember as popular Pittsburgh place kicker Chris Boswell reaches restricted free agency, and the Steelers braintrust decides his future in the Steel City.

Chris Boswell, Chris Boswell steelers restricted free agent, Steelers vs Packers

Chris Boswell kicks a 53 yarder to put Pittsburgh over Green Bay in 2017. Photo Credit: Charles LeClarie, USA Today, via Lindysports.com

Capsule Profile of Chris Bowsell’s Steelers Career

Speaking of popular Steelers kickers, Shaun Suisham sure was one of them, after taking over for the once-popular–and just released–Jeff Reed midway through the 2010 season. In four-plus years in Pittsburgh, Suisham connected on 87.9 percent of his field goals attempts. Unfortunately, exactly one year after signing a contract-extension, Suisham was lost for the 2015 campaign with a torn ACL suffered in the Hall of Fame Game against the Vikings.

After a couple of veteran replacements didn’t work out–including Josh Scobee, who came to town via trade in late August–Boswell won a tryout following Scobee’s release just four weeks into the ’15 season.

Boswell proved to be an accurate replacement right from the start, connecting on 29 of 32 attempts during his rookie season. He also hit the game-winning field goal in the final seconds of the wild, wild-card win against the Bengals, giving the Steelers their first playoff victory in five years.

Boswell wasn’t as accurate in 2016, making 21 of 25 tries, but he was the hero of sorts in the divisional round match-up against the Chiefs, providing the only offense with six field goals in an 18-16 victory.

  • Last season was Boswell’s finest so far, as he connected on 35 of 38 attempts, and was fourth in the NFL with 142 points.

Boswell’s highlights included four-straight game-winning field goals–including three on the final play–during Pittsburgh’s eight-game winning-streak.

The Case For The Steelers Tendering Chris Boswell

Good kickers might not be hard so find in 2018, but the great ones sure are. With an 89.5 career percentage on field goal attempts–including just under 95 percent in 2017–it appears Boswell, 26, is just hitting his stride.

Furthermore, Boswell not only has the accuracy, he has the leg, as evidenced by connecting on six of eight attempts from 50-plus yards so far during his career–including a 53-yard game-winner against the Packers last season at Heinz Field, a place that’s notoriously tough on kickers. kickers.

According to spotrac.com, Suisham’s contract extension in 2014 included a signing bonus of $2.85 million–a number that’s always prorated over the life of a deal–and a base salary of $855,000 that year.

With those numbers in mind, it stands to reason a new deal for Boswell, whose base salary was $615,000 in 2017, shouldn’t cost Pittsburgh much more.

The Case Against The Steelers Resigning Chris Boswell

It’s certainly possible the Steelers could find a cheaper alternative this summer in a training camp invite. After all, who was Chris Boswell, who was Shaun Suisham, who was Jeff Reed, who were any number of really accurate NFL kickers throughout history before they latched on with a team?

Do the Steelers really want to devote such a significant portion of their salary cap dollars to a kicker?

Curtain’s Call On the Steelers And Chris Boswell 

Of the many personnel decisions the Steelers will have to make this spring, the contract status of Boswell is probably at the bottom of the list, and that’s because it’s a no-brainer.

The Steelers should certainly offer a restricted free agent tender Chris Boswell and, ideally, Kevin Colbert should offer him a long-term contract to keep him kicking in Pittsburgh for a long time.

Has Steelers free agency left you scrambling? Click here for our Steelers 2018 Free Agent tracker or click here for all Steelers 2018 free agency focus articles.

 

 

 

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Excellent Mike Tomlin Clock Management Skills (yep, just “went there”) Displayed in Steelers Win Over Titans

The Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday Night trashing of the Tennessee Titans offered Steelers Nation a lot to like and a lot of what the fan base has been waiting for. Among those highlights include:

  • Ben Roethlisberger in rhythm with his receivers
  • 5 sacks for the defensive line and linebacking corps
  • 4 interceptions from a secondary (albeit with a long TD given up)
  • A booming special teams field goal block
  • Another example of excellent Mike Tomlin clock management

Say what? Yep, now that you’ve had time to do your double take on the final bullet point, let’s get this out of the way, yes we went there.

Mike Tomlin, Mike Tomlin clock management

Mike Tomlin’s clock management is ALWAYS under fire from fans. But is the criticism justified? Photo Credit: AP, via Yahoo Sports

The “Poor Mike Tomlin clock management” mantra has become an article of a faith that it is so ingrained that it is so rote that even Tomlin defenders repeat it just as drivers in the Northeast must automatically condemn the conditions on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Is Mike Tomlin the NFL’s best clock manager? Probably not. Are there times when the Steelers inexplicably take time outs (see the two point conversion against the Colts) or perhaps fail to get plays off before the two minute warning? Yep.

But Mike Tomlin isn’t nearly as poor as a clock manager as his reputation would suggest, and the Titans game is a perfect example of it, which we discuss below along with other examples.

Tomlin Manages the Clock to Win

Coty Sensabaugh’s interception set up the Steelers with the ball at Tennessee’s 20 yard line with 3:11 left. Lost in the sound and fury of Pittsburgh’s 40 point explosion is that the Steelers were inept on this visit to the Red Zone, which included a series of incomplete Ben Roethlisberger passes to Le’Veon Bell, a sack, a penalty on David DeCastro and a 10 yard run that set up Chris Boswell’s field goal.

  • But Titans coach Mike Mularkey was playing to win, buruing his 2nd & 3rd time outs at the 1:48 and 1:39 marks.

After the field goal and ensuing kickoff the Titans got the ball back at their 25 with 1:32 left to go in the half. Mike Hilton dropped DeMarco Murray for a 5 yard loss on the Titan’s first play. The Titans had no timeouts left, and the safe money in that situation is to let the clock continue to tick and get into the locker room as fast as you can.

  • Mike Tomlin called a time out.

Tomlin in fact aggressively used the Steelers remaining time outs, so that when all was said and done, the Titans had only bleed 14 seconds off of the clock. 1:11 is not a lot of time to work with when you get the ball at your own 33, but passes to Jesse James and Antonio Brown (with an assist from Martavis Bryant) set up a 50 yard field goal, which while no gimmie at Heinz Field, was enough.

  • At the end of the night those 3 points were little more than the chocolate jimmies on the sundae, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Against the Colts, Mike Tomlin found himself in somewhat of a similar situation. Bud Dupree sacked Jacoby Brissett for a 13 yard loss, bringing up 3rd down with 1:48 left to play. Again, after an atrocious 1st half, it would have been easy to let the Colts bleed the clock, take a knee and head into the locker room.

Tomlin instead took a time out, and with 1:39 and 2 timeouts left, Ben Roethlisberger was able to connect with Vance McDonald, JuJu Smith-Schuster as well as Brown and Bryant to set up another end of first half field goal, this one coming in a game that was decided by 3.

Looking Further Back for Examples of Tomlin’s Aggressive Clock Management

Mike Tomiln’s aggressive clock management didn’t suddenly start in 2017. Think back to opening day 2014 when the Steelers hosted the Browns on Chuck Noll Day. When the Steelers got the ball at their 20 with 1:44 remaining, Pittsburgh was holding on to a 24-3 lead.

  • The only question at that point wasn’t whether Bruce Gradkowski would play in the 2nd half, but how soon he would enter the game.

Mike Tomlin declined to take a series of knees, and Ben Roethlisberger methodically moved the ball down to the 3 yard line, where Shaun Suisham kicked a field goal. The extra 3 points seemed academic, but the Browns roared back in the 2nd half, and the Steelers ultimately won the game with a field goal at the buzzer.

Le'Veon Bell, Le'Veon Bell touchdown, Steelers vs Falcons

Le’Veon Bell runs for 1 of 2 touchdowns in the Steelers 2014 win over the Falcons. Photo Credit: Scott Cunningham, Getty Images via NY Daily News

You could also argue that Mike Tomlin’s clock management at the end of both halves in the Steelers 2014 win over the Atlanta Falcons was nothing short of impeccable.

In the afterglow of Super Bowl XLIII, fans tend to forget just how many come from behind, 4th quarter and/or 2 minute comebacks the 2008 Steelers needed. Their December 7th 2008 win against the Cowboys provides a perfect example.

After trailing for much of the day, the Steelers finally pulled even with the Cowboys as Ben Roethlisberger connected with Heath Miller in the End Zone with just over 2 minutes left to play.

Dallas got the ball back, ran one play that James Farrior stuffed for a 2 yard gain. Again, the safe money says let the clock run and play for overtime.

  • Instead, Mike Tomlin called a time out.

By his own account, Tomlin’s aggressive posture rattled Tony Romo as he was heard saying heading back to the huddle, “What, they called a time out?” although given that they’d just played Renegade at Heinz Field, perhaps he should have known better. If your memory is fuzzy, here’s how things unfolded, starting with Renegade:

Notice, no one was complaining about Tomlin’s clock management after that game.

Which is part of the point. As Rebecca Rollett as pointed out on Going Deep with the Steelers, clock management is something that generally only comes up after a team loses. In fact, Rollett set up to find examples of good clock management, and while she came up with a few, most were hard to find.

So while Mike Tomlin does make clock management mistakes, he does a lot better than most fans give him credit for.

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Steelers 2017 Exclusive Rights Free Agents Validate Mike Tomlin’s “No Loose Stone Unturned” Philosophy

The Steelers 2017 off season is already off to a little bit of a different start. Free agency remains a way away, yet there’s been a steady stream of news out of the South Side regarding Steelers free agent signings.

Instead, Kevin Colbert has been busy resigning the Steelers 2017 Exclusive Rights free agent class. What’s that? The term “Exclusive rights free agent” isn’t one you hear a lot either inside or outside of Pittsburgh. The first time I remember seeing it, in fact, was when the Steelers resigned Willie Parker after the 2005 season.

  • An NFL Exclusive Rights Free Agent is a player with less than two years of accrued seniority who doesn’t have a contract.

You could look at the Steelers 2017 Exclusive Rights Free Agent class and call them, “The fringe roster players who fueled the 9 game winning streak.” Take a little longer group, and you’ll see that the Steelers 2017 Exclusive Rights free agency is a testament to Mike Tomlin’s “No loose stone unturned philosophy” of personnel acquisition.

Here is a look at the Steelers 2017 Exclusive Rights Free agent class, how they got to Pittsburgh, and what they’ve contributed.

Anthony Chickillo, Dak Prescott, Anthony Chickillo strip sack dak prescott, Steelers 2017 exclusive rights free agents, steelers vs cowboys

Steelers 2017 Exclusive Rights Free Agent Anthony Chickillo strip sacks Dak Prescott. Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Steelers 2017 Exclusive Rights Free Agent Class

Fitzgerald Toussaint
How he got to Pittsburgh: The Steelers picked Fitzgerald Toussaint up as a practice squad addition after the Ravens cut him before opening day. There he stayed until late in the season when the Steelers activated him. At the time it appeared they were protecting him from practice squad poaching.
What he’s contributed: In just six week, Fitzgerald Toussaint went from practice squader to being the Steelers starting running back for their 2015 playoff win over the Bengals.

When it comes to backing up Le’Veon Bell, no one will confuse Fitzgerald Toussaint with being in DeAngelo Williams’ category, but he’s proven to be a reliable number 3 back.

Roosevelt Nix
How he got to Pittsburgh: Roosevelt Nix played defensive line in college, but Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and James Saxon saw something they liked, took a flyer on him a fullback and he made the 53 roster.
What he’s contributed: In 2015 Roosevelt Nix distinguished himself on special teams while working capably as a fullback. In 2016, Roosevelt Nix showed himself to be an accomplished run blocking fullback.

In less than a year, Roosevelt Nix went from being a guy the Steelers Nation’s Twitter General Manager griped about being a “wasted roster spot” to someone they questioned coaches for not playing more.

Chris Boswell
How he came to Pittsburgh: Every General Manager has a list of emergency players on it should injuries strike. But the Steelers went through not one, but two kickers when Shaun Suisham went down, making Chris Boswell their third choice.
What he’s contributed: Do we really need to ask this? Chris Boswell kicked the Steelers into the playoffs with his six kicks and shoe string tackle against the Bengals, and did it again in the playoffs against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Chris Boswell has shown himself to be a reliable kicker who can make long kicks in the wind, in the rain and with playoff games on the line. Can’t ask for more than that.

Alejandro Villanueva
How he came to Pittsburgh: This site already recounted the Steelers decision to pick up Alejandro Villanueva from the Eagles in 2014 as one of the 16 Defining Moments of the Steelers 2016 season.
What he’s contributed: It is harder to measure offensive lineman’s contributions, but going into 2016 the Steelers hedged their bets on Villanueva with Ryan Harris.

By the end of the season Alejandro Villanueva had erased all of those doubts.

Alejandro Villanueva, Roosevelt Nix, Dee Ford, Steelers vs Chiefs, Steelers 2017 exclusive rights free agents

Alejandro Villanueva in his first start as Roosevelt Nix behind him. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Pittsburgh Steelers, via Pittsburgh Magazine

Xavier Grimble
How he got to Pittsburgh: The Steelers picked up Xavier Grimble in September 15 after the 49ers cut him and added him to the practice squad where he stayed until making the 53 man roster in 2016.
What he’s contributed: Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell was big on Xavier Grimble going into 2016, labeling him the Steelers X-Factor after Heath Miller retired he did so long before we know Matt Spaeth would get cut or Ladarius Green would have health issues.

Xavier Grimble might not have lived up to the hype in 2016, but he did come down with critical touchdowns against Cincinnati and Baltimore.

Anthony Chickillo
How he got to Pittsburgh: The Steelers drafted Anthony Chickillo in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Because he was cut and resigned to a shorter contract, he’s an Exclusive Rights Free Agent.
What he’s contributed: Anthony Chickillo split time as a starter with Arthur Moats while Bud Dupree was recovering. During that time he had 2.5 sacks.

This might be a pipe dream, but if the Steelers haven’t explored moving Anthony Chickillo to right outside linebacker under the tutelage of James Harrison, they should.

Cobi Hamilton, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Steelers vs browns, Cobi Hamilton overtime touchdown Browns, Steelers 2017 exclusive rights free agents

Cobi Hamilton ends the Steelers 2016 regular season with an overtime touchdown catch. Photo Credit: 247 Sports

Cobi Hamilton
How he got to Pittsburgh: The Steelers picked up Hamilton in early August in what looked to be little more than move to fill out the training camp roster.
What he’s contributed: The AFC Championship loss might have reveled Cobi Hamilton as not quite ready for prime time, at least in the post season context, but Hamilton made 17 catches during the year, and he showed a penchant for coming down with the ball when the Steelers needed him to.

B.J. Finney
How he got to Pittsburgh: B.J. Finney was part of the Steelers 2015 undrafted rookie free agent class. He didn’t make the final roster, but did hold down a practice squad spot for the entire year.
What he’s contributed: B.J. Finney started 3 games for the Steelers this year, including two starts in place of Ramon Foster. He also started the season finale in place of Maurkice Pouncey.

This is probably just idle internet chatter, but there’s talk that the Steelers might (or “should”) consider saving on the salary cap by letting Ramon Foster go an starting B.J. Finney. Not likely to happen, but the fact that it’s a rumor should tell you something.

Jordan Dangerfield
How he got to Pittsburgh: After he failed to catch on as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Bills in 2013, the Steelers signed Jordan Dangerfield to a “Futures Contract” in January 2014. He made the practice squad in 2014 and 2015 and broke the 53 man roster in 2016.
What he’s contributed: Jordan Dangerfield’s stat sheet might not impress, but he did make two starts in 2016 and was the “Next man up” in the secondary ahead of Robert Golden and the 2013 Draft classes signature wash out, Shamarko Thomas.

The Steelers remaining Exclusive Rights Free agents are guard Cole Manhart, center Valerian Ume-Ezeoke and linebacker Kevin Anderson all of whom finished the year on injured reserve.

Mike Tomlin True to “No Loose Stone Unturned” Philosophy

It might not be accurate to label an NFL Exclusive Rights Free agent as “a player no one else wanted” but they are certainly players that someone else overlooked. When the Steelers 2007 season ended, Mike Tomlin promised to leave “No loose stone unturned” in his quest to bring a Lombardi Trophy back to Pittsburgh.

If you look at the Steelers 2017 Exclusive Rights Free Agent class, some players made larger contributions than other, but it clear that without their collective efforts, the 2016 Steelers never would have knocked on the door to Super Bowl LI.

That’s a testament to Kevin Colbert’s commitment to seeking quality talent from where ever may find it and to Mike Tomlin and his staff’s commitment to give every player a fair shot regardless of what his pedigree is.

All NFL General Managers and Head Coaches certainly pay lip service to this ideal, but the Steelers 2017 Exclusive Rights Free Agent class proves they mean it in Pittsburgh.

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Steelers Sign Kicker Randy Bullock after Chris Boswell Injury, Cut Al-Hajj Shabazz

Just 24 hours before their show down with the New York Giants at Heinz Field saw Pittsburgh make a worrisome, as the Steelers sign kicker Randy Bullock after hastily adding Chris Boswell to their injury list, citing an abdomen injury.

The Houston Texans drafted Randy Bullock in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL Draft and Bullock held a roster spot with the team despite not kicking. Bullock returned to kick for the Teaxans during the 2013 and 2014 campaigns, when he made 80.3% of his field goal attempts. During 2013, Bullock was perfect from inside 40 yards, but struggled a bit from that range in 2014.

  • During 2015 Bullock, split his time between the Texans and the New York Jets, and again kicked consistently inside of 40 yards.

Bullock did however miss 3 extra points, including two in Houston, which undoubtedly contributed to the Texans decision to part ways with him. Bullock played in the season opener for the New York Giants, where he did not attempt a field goal, but went 2 for 3 on extra points.

Does Steelers Sign Kicker Randy Bullock = “Here go again” for Steelers Nation?

Twitter is wonderful for communicating bite sized bits of information. In 2016 Twitter has almost evolved into Steelers Nation equivalent of the raven for Westeros. And as they say in Westeros, “Dark wings, dark words….”

And after reading a Tweet like that, Steelers Nation can be forgiven for issuing a collective “Here we go again” sigh….

Jeff Reed took over from Todd Peterson in mid-2002 and no other kicker’s foot touched the ball until the Steelers dismissed Jeff Reed following the following the 2010 spanking at the hands of the Patriots. The Steelers signed Shaun Suisham, and Shaun Suisham held a monopoly on kicking duties until the NFL Hall of Fame Game.

While an “abdomen injury” is cause for concern (did Boswell have an appendectomy? We don’t know), the Steelers haven’t put Boswell on IR. Which is good. But the Steelers limited history with emergency place kickers is less encouraging.

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Was the Botched Chris Boswell On Sides Kick a Poor Play Call or Failed Execution?

Was the botched Chris Boswell On Sides Kick Poor Play Calling or Poor Execution? Read through and vote at the bottom….

398 days ago it all seemed not only so easy but also so tempting.

On October 6th 2015 the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Chris Boswell as their 4th place kicker in as many months. Pittsburgh was in the middle of a kicking crisis not seen since the Kris BrownTodd Peterson transition. Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith desperately needed was a kicker they could count on.

But Boswell teased at offering something more….

chris boswell, chris boswell on sides kick, steelers vs. ravens

Before he botched it in Baltimore, Chris Boswell had nailed the “Side Step” on sides kick at Rice University. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

….First, his athletic resume was impressive, having not only place kicked but punted for the New York Giants during the previous summer’s training camp. And then there was this tantalizing tidbit of tape the Chris Boswell had left from his days of kicking for Rice University….

Boswell brought a solid resume of splitting the uprights to Pittsburgh and his knack for making side-step on-sides kicks looked to be an added benefit. For all of his reliability as a place kicker, Shaun Suisham for failed to master the art of an on sides kick.

  • Would Boswell’s unusual ability someday become the Steelers Ace in the Hole late in a game when they needed one?

We now know that, against the Ravens, the answer to that question was no. But Bill Cowher once said “I’d rather walk off the field saying ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’ as opposed to asking myself, ‘What would have happened if I’d done that?’”

The Case For the “Side-step” Chris Boswell On Sides Kick

The Steelers (latest) loss to the Ravens Baltimore will long be remembered by Chris Boswell’s failed on-sides kick at the tail end.

After all, it was an uncanny play call resulting in an epic fail that graphically symbolizes the downward spiral that Mike Tomlin’s 2016 Steelers are falling into before our very eyes.

  • Yet, as first video shows, it wasn’t as crazy as it looked on Sunday afternoon.

Chris Boswell has “Been There and Done” that before. Doing it in the NCAA and pulling it off in the NFL might be different animals, but Boswell does have a track record here. Plus, Boswell had tried a convention on sides kick vs. the Patriots to no avail, so a “business case” so to speak, existed to justify Tomlin and Smith’s gamble.

Or so the thinking goes.

Look at in that light, the failed Chris Boswell onsides kick seems to fall into the category of the defines all unconventional plays:

  • A risky play that works is a good call, a risky play that fails is a bad call.

Yes, that sounds hollow here 48 hours after the Steelers 3 straight loss of the season, 4th consecutive loss to the Ravens, and Ben Roethlisberger’s 5 loss in a row in Baltimore. But think about it.

And Boswell nailed it and gotten it right into Artie Burns arms, and had Ben Roethlisberger fired off a sideline pass to Antonio Brown, followed by an end zone hook up with Le’Veon Bell as time expired, Steelers Nation would be erecting statues of Danny Smith.

  • So the blame for the failure falls on Boswell, not the play call. Right?

That sounds good, but it isn’t so simple, and I honestly am of two minds on the subject.

The Case Against the “Side Step” Chris Boswell On Sides Kick

There’s a contrary school of thought that places Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith firmly on the hook for this failure. And the logic flows like this:

  • You should never try to get cute when you’re either struggling or failing to execute the fundamentals.

While this story dates me, the 1998 Steelers Monday Night Football game vs. the Green Bay Packers provides a perfect example.

The 1998 Steelers offense has struggled to find consistency all season long, but seemed to have FINALLY found a rhythm that night against the Packers. Riding a 27-9 lead with 9:55 left in the 4th quarter, the Steelers reached the goal line and were about to make it 34-9 when Mike Tomczak appeared under center and Kordell Stewart split wide.

  • Tomzcak fumbled the ball, Keith McKenzie recovered and returned it 88 yards.

A game that should have ended with a steady diet of handoffs to Jerome Bettis and Richard Huntley running behind Dermontti Dawson and Alan Fancea became a nail-biter as the Brett Favre forced the Steelers to hold on for life, winning 27-20.

The lesson of that incident was clear:  If you’re struggling to execute fundamentally sound football, you shouldn’t be tempting fate with trick plays. And on Sunday, the Steelers special teams most certainly were not playing sound fundamental football.

Ergo, the Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith NEVER should have made the call.

Vote Was the Botched Chris Boswell Onsides Kick a Bad Call or Poor Execution

With that, we leave it to you to decide. Was Chris Boswell’s botched onsides kick a bad call in the first place, or was it a worthy risk that ran awry to poor execution? Vote now:

[yop_poll id=”40″]

Make your voice heard Steelers Nation, and don’t hesitate to defend your vote in the comments section.

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6 Improbable Steelers Backup Quarterback Upset Wins

Raise your hand if you’re Steelers fan excited to see Landry Jones start against the New England Patriots. OK. Didn’t think we’d get too many takers. Fair enough. With Ben Roethlisberger recovering from knee surgery and Cameron Heyward also the odds makers have been rather generous in installing the Patriots as 7 points favorites.

  • Still, should Steelers Nation abandon all hope?

Perhaps, but Steelers backup quarterbacks have a history of delivering some surprising results under duress. Here are six notable Steelers backup quarterback upset wins dating from 1988 to 2012 (no disrespect to Steelers 1976 rookie Mike Kruczek, just not old enough to remember him.)

Charlie Batch, Steelers upset Ravens 2012, Charlie Batch final game, Charlie Batch Ravens

Charlie Batch won his final start as 2012 Steelers upset Ravens on the road. Photo Credit: Chris Knight, The Patriot-News

1. 1988 – Todd Blackledge Leads Steelers to 39-21 win over Denver Broncos

It had been a bad week for Chuck Noll that began with a 34-14 drubbing in the Astrodome at the hands of arch nemesis Jerry Glanville. Noll cut short his weekly press conference when reporters asked him what it would take for him to step down. Terry Bradshaw called for Noll’s dismissal su

ggesting he was too old for the job. Bubby Brister was injured, and back up Todd Blackledge was struggling even to get snaps from Mike Webster.

In short, no one expected the explosion that was coming, led by Rodney Carter who took it 64 yards to the house on the game’s third play. Carter rushed for 105 yards, caught a touchdown and completed a pass, as Noll employed uncharacteristic trickery. Merril Hoge ran for another 94 yards, and Rod Woodson set up another score with a 29 yard interception and Gary Anderson kicked 6 field goals.

Todd Blackledge was only 9 of 17 for 129 yards on the day, but that was good enough to give Pittsburgh the win.

2. 1991 – Neil O’Donnell Authors 26-15 Upset of the Houston Oilers

1991 had been a tough year for Chuck Noll, and his Steelers had just been humiliated at home by the soon-to-be Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins. Scalping dished out by the Redskins the week before at Three Rivers Stadium had given the Steelers a 4-7 record, and 4-8 seemed certain against the 9-2 Oilers.

It is also true that perhaps Neil O’Donnell should be considered a backup, having started since relieved Brister 5 weeks earlier against the Giants, but Noll had been coy about designating a “starter.”

The Steelers ability to shut down the “Run ‘N Shoot” offense is one of the reasons why that never “stuck” in the NFL, but that was far from apparent in 1991. Games like this began to change the tune, as Bryan Hinkle, Thomas Everett, and Shawn Vincent picked off Warren Moon 5 times.

Those turnovers set up 3 Gary Anderson field goals, a 43 yard pass from Neil O’Donnell to Dwight Stone, and a Warren Williams touchdown. For the record, Neil O’Donnell went 12 for 29 for 155 yards one touchdown and 1 interception.

3. 1994 – Mike Tomczak Out Guns Dan Marino, Steelers Beat Dolphins 16-13

Perhaps the lead up to this game would have been different in the age of social media, but news that Mike Tomczak got the starting nod over Neal O’Donnell came as a surprise when game day arrived.

  • Imagine getting to the sports bar to learn that Mike Tomczak would square off against Dan Marino.

But got toe-to-toe Tomczak did, and how! In 1994, 300 yard passing games were relatively rare in the NFL but both quarterbacks broke the 300 yard mark, with Tomczak topping Marino’s yardage total. But for all of that passing, the game represented more of a defensive chess match. Chad Brown, Jason Gildon and Joel Steed team to sack Marino 4 times, with Levon Kirkland intercepting him once.

  • The Steelers held the lead until the Dolphins tied it a 48 yard field goal as time expired.

The Steelers won the toss, but could not score. The Dolphins took over at their 40, but the vaunted Steelers 1994 Blitzburgh defense stopped him cold at Pittsburgh’s 47. Mike Tomzcak excelled in overtime, scrambling twice and completed passes of 27 yards to Barry Foster and 23 yards to John L. Williams to set up Gary Anderson’s game winner.

As this site has previously observed, Tomzack’s ’94 wins against the Dolphins and the Raiders marked the shift of the focal point of the Steelers passing attack away from Eric Green and to Yancey Thigpen, Ernie Mills, Andre Hastings and Charles Johnson.

4. 2002 – Kordell Stewart Rebounds to Lead Steelers over Bengals 29-13

Time to fess up. Just as Neil O’Donnell wasn’t really the “Steelers backup quarterback” in the 1991 Astrodome upset of the Oilers, the Steelers win over the 1-10 Bengals can hardly fall into the category of an “upset.”

But its author, Kordell Stewart, most certainly was a backup. Less than one year removed from winning the team MVP award, Kordell Stewart found himself on the bench in favor of Tommy Maddox. Raul Alegre of ESPNDeportes had revealed 5 weeks eailer during the Steelers Monday night game vs. the Colts, Bill Cowher had confided in him that he hadn’t wanted to bench Kordell, but felt he had to because Kordell had lost the confidence of the Steelers locker room.

  • Expectations don’t get much lower than that.

Nonetheless, Kordell Stewart fearlessly took the reigns after Tommy Maddox’s injury the week before in Tennessee. The Steelers raced to a 17 point lead on a Jerome Bettis touchdown run, a 64 yard bomb from Stewart to Hines Ward, and a Jeff Reed field goal. But the Bengals fought back, scoring 14 points in the second half. The Steelers tacked on another 3 in the third quarter, but midway through the 4th the Bengals took the lead.

  • Kordell Stewart rallied the Steelers, first bringing Reed into range to boot a field goal, and then rifling a 27 yarder to Hines Ward which set up a 24 yard rumble by Bettis.

Kordell Stewart was flawless that day, going 22 for 26, one touchdown and zero picks.

5. 2005 – Charlie Batch off Bench @ Lambeau as Steelers beat Packers 20-10

2005 was a rough year for Green Bay, who entered the game at 1-10. On the face of it, that might make it difficult to categorize this win as “an upset” but if you’re playing at Lambeau Field, who do you want to be your quarterback Brett Favre or Charlie Batch, a man who hadn’t thrown a non-mop up time pass since 2001.

  • And did we mention that Jerome Bettis was out and that injuries limited Willie Parker to 5 carries?

The Steelers struggled in this one, as did Batch, but he played well enough to win, as did Duce Staley who saw his last real NFL action, and helped the Steelers win with 76 yards rushing and a touchdown.

6. 2012 – Charlie Batch Wins Finals Start, Steelers Upset Ravens 23-20

This Steelers 2012 game against the Ravens at M&T Stadium was one for the ages. The Steeler were reeling, having suffered back-to-back divisional losses, including an 8 turnover game to the Cleveland Browns. Charlie Batch had quarterbacked that game, and committed 3 of the turnovers, all interceptions.

And here the Steelers were, traveling to the home of their arch rival, with their 3rd string quarterback, 3rd string wide out, 2nd string outside linebacker. During the game, they would also lose their starting guard.

  • This was as hard fought game as you get.

The lead changed 5 times. Twice in the second half, Steelers turnovers gave the Ravens a chance to put Pittsburgh away, and twice Pittsburgh clawed back. James Harrison led the Steelers final rally, with one of his patended strip-sacks which came shortly after the Steelers had turned over the ball. Charlie Batch fired a missle to Heath Miller, who then willed himself into the end zone.

  • The Steelers defense held on the next drive.

Charlie Batch then took over at Pittsburgh 15 and with 6:14 remaining, led the Steelers on 13 play drive where Batch completed 7 straight passes, as Pittsburgh reached the Ravens 24 yard line. Shaun Suisham booted in a 42 yard field goal, and the Steelers had won.

Is Landry the Steelers Next “Legendary” Back Up Quarterback?

So, could Landry Jones author a game worth of inclusion of on this list above? With Cameron Heyward, Markus Wheaton, Marcus Gilbert and DeAngelo Williams out the odds are against him. But the odds were also once against Todd Blackladge, Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomzcak, Kordell Stewart and Charlie Batch and they proved everyone else wrong.

Let’s hope Landry Jones follows in their footsteps.

 

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Steelers Release Shaun Suisham, Chris Boswell Inherits Kicking Job

The chances of Shaun Suisham, the Steelers placekicker for four-plus years, bouncing back well enough to regain his spot atop the roster in 2016 were probably fairly slim to begin with….

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Shaun Suisham in 2013 after kicking a game winner vs. Baltimore; Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

…The veteran kicker suffered a season-ending ACL tear while making a tackle on a kickoff during the Hall of Fame Game last August and was lost for all of 2015. In his absence–after failed experiments with both Garrett Hartley and Josh Scobee–virtual known Chris Boswell exploded onto the scene and proved to be a younger and cheaper version, as he converted on 29 of 32 attempts down-the-stretch for the playoff-bound Steelers.

Factoring in age (Suisham, 34, is nine years older than Boswell), along with money (Suisham had two years to go on a four-year extension he signed in 2014), and it was going to take an awful lot for the veteran to pry his old job back from the understudy.

  • It also didn’t help No. 6’s case that he was still unable to kick almost a year after his injury.

And unfortunately for Suisham, who appears to be one of the nicest and classiest players around, he suffered a recent setback on his injured knee which proved to be the final nail in the coffin, as the Steelers announced his release on Friday on their official team website.

Much like Boswell last fall, there was nothing much to be excited about with Suisham, when he arrived in Pittsburgh back in 2010 after the ceremonious release of veteran kicker Jeff Reed.

  • But Suisham proved to be consistent, making 14 of 15 field goals down-the-stretch.

In four-plus years in Pittsburgh, Suisham’s consistency remained, as he posted an 87.9 percent conversion rate on field-goal attempts–including a robust 91.5 percent over his final three seasons.

Suisham never missed an extra-point during his time with the Steelers (his career in Pittsburgh came before the extra-point was moved to 33-yards away), and he was a remarkable 30 of 30 between 40-49 yards away from 2012-2014.

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Steelers Cut Chris Boswell, Hand Kicking Job to Shaun Suisham

When Steelers place kicker Shaun Suisham became a US citizen a few months ago, he vowed a fight to defend his roster spot. Based on an announcement the Steelers made this morning, Suisham has won the battle without so much as making a single kick.

The most shocking move out of Pittsburgh this off seasons sees the Steelers cut Chris Boswell and anoint Siusham as their place kicker for the 2016 season. While he did not speak to the press, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced the decision in a prepared statement:

First, let’s tip our cap to Chris Boswell. He’s a rookie who stepped into a pressure cooker. He didn’t blink. Obviously, Chris delivered for us as we expected. We acknowledge that. He was continually above the line and he made the critical kicks that were necessary to win games a number of times. We thank him for his efforts, but this decision was about Shaun Suisham’s ability to deliver in similar form and fashion. Shaun simply has a larger body of work on tape and obviously we’re excited to move forward with him as our place kicker.

A torn ACL in the Hall of Fame Game sidelined Shuishm for the year, forcing the Steelers to turn to Garrett Hartley who himself was lost to injury, followed by Josh Scobee whose ineffectiveness led the Steelers to look to Chris Boswell. Rookie Chris Boswell rose to the occasion, kicking game winners in the Steelers victories against the Oakland Raiders and in the playoffs against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Chris Boswell was not available for comment, but through his agent he expressed gratitude toward the Steelers organization and Mike Tomlin for giving him a chance to prove himself in the NFL.

Cutting Chris Boswell a Ripple Effect of Heath Miller’s Retirement?

When the Steelers 2016 off season began, many speculated that Shaun Suisham would be a salary cap casualty, given that Boswell had done so well over the course of the season. Shaun Suisham signed a 4 contract in 2014 and carries a salary cap value of $3,503,000 whereas Chis Boswell would have only counted $525,000.

Yet the Steelers were on the record indicating that they planned for Suisham and Boswell to duel it out the kicking job at St. Vincents. In February When pressed by reporters as to whether NFL salary cap rules regarding waving injured players had tied the Steelers hands when it came to Suisham, Kevin Colbert indicated that while such moves involve an extra complication, they can be done. But Colbert concluded “we should have a great, competitive situation at kicker this summer.”

However, Heath Miller’s sudden retirement has created approximately 4 million dollars in additional salary cap room for the Steelers – room that allows them to comfortably keep Suisham on the roster, and the Steelers cutting Chris Boswell makes it seem like that was their desire all along.

Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager did not formally address the press, but reporters caught up with him as he was making his way into the office from his car. Reporters pressed Colbert as to why the Steelers cutting Chris Boswell at this point in the off season..

He declined several times to offer a comment, until Colbert finally cocked his head back and responded with a sly grin, “What better day to announce a move like this than April 1st?”

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