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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Return on Investment? Steelers Sign Knile Davis to as Kick Returner, Backup Running Back

Bargain hunting continued on Pittsburgh’s South Side Monday as the Steelers signed Knile Davis, a free agent running back who most recently played for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Knile Davis is listed as a running back, but the Steelers are eyeing him primarily as a kick returner, a specialist position which the franchise has struggled to fill for most of the Mike Tomlin Era.

Knile Davis, Sean Spence, Jarvis Jones, Steelers vs Chiefs

Sean Spence tackles Knile Davis as Jarvis Jones arrives a second too late. Photo Credit: USA Today’s Steelers Wire

To put the matter into perspective, the last time the Steelers had a kickoff returned for a touchdown as in the 2010’s game against the Tennessee Titans, when Antonio Brown took a reverse and ran it all the way in.

The only Steelers kick returners who’ve returned more than 10 kicks during Mike Tomlin’s tenure to remotely approach an average of 25 yards per return are Stephan Logan, Markus Wheaton, Chris Rainey, Emmanuel Sanders and Brown.

  • In just four seasons, Knile Daivs has already returned 73 kicks for a total of 1920 yards, for a 26.8 yard average for two touchdowns.

Given that a touchback now results in the ball being spotted at the 25 yard line, having a kick returner who can routinely better that marks a welcome addition to the return team. (For the record Stefan Logan and Chris Rainey were the only returners during the Tomlin era to average more than 25 yards.)

Now Knile Davis Impacts the Steelers Depth Chart @ Running Back

Le’Veon Bell remains the uncontested Alpha Male atop the Steelers running back depth chart, and the unsigned status of DeAngelo Williams might suggest that the he’s been replaced by Knile Davis. Davis would certainly like coaches to see it that way as indicated by his statement to reporters:

I feel like they are confident I can (complement Bell). I’ve had to fill in before. I’ve had 100-yard games in this league. I’ve done well in this league, and I’m prepared for whatever comes in the future.

That’s a little bold, but healthy nonetheless or the new arrival. However, if press reports are any indication, the Steelers primarily interest in Knile Davis is as a kick returner, not as a running back. Nonetheless, Fitzgerald Toussaint has been put on notice that he will need to defend his roster spot at St. Vincents next summer.

The Steelers tried to work Toussaint in at kick returner last year, but without much effect. And while Knile Davis’ 3.2 rushing average isn’t much to write home about it is better that Fitzgerald Toussaint’s career average of 2.9.

  • The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Knile Davis in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

He played in Kansas City for three seasons until the Chiefs traded him to Green Bay for a seventh-round draft pick in October 2016. But Davis didn’t remain a Cheesehead for long, as the Packers cut him after two games. He spent one day on the New York Jets’ roster before re-signing with Kansas City.

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

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Steelers Free Agent Focus: Shamarko Thomas – 4 Years Later Thomas Fails to Disprove Doubters

The Pittsburgh Steelers do not like to trade future draft picks. The franchise went down that road too many times in the Pre-Noll era and paid the price repeatedly. Nonetheless Noll did it in the summer of 1973 when he traded the Steelers 1974 3rd round pick to the Raiders to acquire Glen Ray Hines.

Because of that trade, Chuck Noll, Art Rooney Jr., Dick Haley and Bill Nunn were forced to sit on their hands after drafting Lynn Swann and Jack Lambert during the Steelers 1974 Draft in hopes that no one took John Stallworth in the 3rd round.

Neither did Tom Donahoe or Bill Cowher, and neither did Kevin Colbert until the 2013 NFL Draft when the Steelers traded their 2014 third round pick to get the Cleveland Browns 2013 4th round pick to grab Shamarko Thomas in the 4th round, and four years later Shamarko Thomas enters free agency have failed to disprove the doubters.

Shamarko Thomas, Markus Wheaton, Steelers 2013 training camp, Shamarko Thomas free agent, Shamarko Thomas rookie

Shamarko Thomas & Markus Wheaton as rookies in 2013 at Latrobe. Photo Credit: Ryan Wilson, CBSSports.com

Capsule Profile of Shamarkoy Thomas’ Steelers Career

Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake explained Pittsburgh’s break from character by arguing that if Shamarko Thomas, who stands at 5’10”, were two inches taller, he’d have been a first round pick.

  • In a word, Pittsburgh as hot on Shamarko Thomas.

The Steelers immediately worked Shamarko Thomas into the defense, a rarity for a rookie in Dick LeBeau’s system. The Steelers goal was to groom Shamarko Thomas as Troy Polamalu’s successor, and the first step in that process was to get Shamarko on the field covering slot receivers as a nickel back.

Most of those came at the beginning of the season, before he got injured forcing the Steelers to bring back Will Allen. While Allen remained “The next man up” when Shamarko Thomas got healthy, Thomas still got some work with the defense, although that ended after the Steelers 2013 debacle against the Patriots.

Shamarko Thomas, Shamarko Thomas workout

Shamarko Thomas working out during the 2014 off season

The Steelers 2014 OTA’s brought the first sign that the Steelers might be having second thoughts about Shamarko’s ability to succeed Troy Polamalu. Will Allen was the number 2 safety on the depth chart, and Shamarko Thomas suffered an injury early in the season. When he returned, his action came exclusively on special teams.

  • Mike Tomlin explained away the move by suggesting that Thomas was simply struggling to board a “Moving Train” as would any player would.

Rookie defensive coordinator Keith Butler gave Shamarko Thomas his first extended shot at earning the starting strong safety job during the summer of 2015. The Steelers started Shamarko Thomas throughout preseason, but Thomas continued to make mistake after mistake. Shortly before the season opener, the Steelers benched Shamarko Thomas in favor of Will Allen.

For the record, Shamarko Thomas played 20 snaps with the Steelers defense in 2015 and 5 snaps in 2016…

The Case for the Steelers Resigning Shamarko Thomas

In 2016, whenever the Steelers needed help at safety, the Steelers looked to Jordan Dangerfield, signaling the definitive end to the Shamarko Thomas experiment.

  • But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a case for the Steelers resigning Shamarko Thomas.

If Shamarko Thomas has been a brutal disappointment at safety, he’s been a quality often times standout special teams player. Yes, he’s made mistakes, but he’s arguably been the Steelers best gunner for the past several years.

Clearly, if Shamarko Thomas has a future in the NFL it is on special teams. Clearly on one will pay him much more the than the veteran minimum, if even that. If Shamarko Thomas is bound to be racing downfield to stop kick and punt returners, doesn’t it make sense for him to be doing it in Pittsburgh?

The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Shamarko Thomas

When things don’t pan out with a high-profile draft pick (think Jarvis Jones), often times it is in the best interests of both parties to go their separate ways. Yes, Shamarko Thomas is a quality special teams player and, to be brutally frank, Danny Smith’s special teams don’t have the luxury of cavalierly showing good players to the door.

Fair enough. But the truth is even if the Steelers bring Shamarko Thomas back on a veteran minimum salary to play special teams, that means that he’ll be taking a roster spot that could be occupied by another young player who can both do Shamarko’s job on special teams, and potentially contribute something, either now or in a future season, to the offense or defense.

  • Shamarko Thomas isn’t going to contribute anything to the Steelers defense.

That’s simply the reality. As early as 2015 people were already labeling the 2013 NFL Draft as one of the worst in history. If that’s true, then the Steelers came out of that draft with Le’Veon Bell, Landry Jones, Markus Wheaton and Vince Williams, giving them a pretty successful haul.

But the Steelers missed on Jarvis Jones and missed on Shamarko Thomas, and it is time for them to move on from both mistakes.

Curtain’s Call on Shamarko Thomas and the Steelers

The Shamarko Thomas situation promises to be one of the more interesting, albeit low-profile decisions the Steelers make during the 2017 off season. Reading the tea leaves from reporters such as Dale Lolley and Jim Wexell, there are some signs that the Steelers have some interest in bring Thomas back.

  • But he won’t be a priority, which means he’ll get a chance to test the market.

If the Steelers can bring him back at or near the veteran minimum, he’d be a good addition to their special teams. If someone wants to offer him more than that, then Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin will wisely thank him for his service and send him on his way.

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

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Steelers Nation Speaks: The Failed Chris Boswell Rabona On Sides Kick was a Worthy Risk

The beauty of doing polls is that sometimes that results shock you. If you’re reading this, you know very well that the 2016 Steelers loss to the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium ended with failed Chris Boswell’s rabona on sides kick attempt.

  • Steelers Nation understandably erupted in fury after the game on Twitter and other social media.

Calls for Art Rooney II to summarily fire Mike Tomlin and/or Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith were not hard to find. Yet, that seemed to simple and a far too easy scape goat given that Chris Boswell had executed a rabona on-sides kick while at Rice University.

Hence the poll.

When Steel Curtain Rising posted the poll and the accompanying article exploring both sides of the failed Chris Boswell on sides kick The results are surprising, because after all, what good is the internet if you can’t demand your pound of flesh and demand it now. But cooler heads prevailed, at least in this corner of Steelers Nation:

chris boswell on sides kick ravens, chris boswell rabona on sides kick

68% of our voters felt that the decision to have Chris Boswell try a rabona style on sides kick was a worth coaching risk. The other 32% took issue with Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith’s choice. That’s a pretty clear margin of victory.

 

I for one now agree with the poll results. Last Sunday’s loss was hard to swallow, and given that special teams snafus had hurt the Steelers badly (12 men on the field on one play, the blocked punt) that didn’t seem to be the time for Danny Smith to be trying something cute.

But Jim Wexell offered some valuable insight via Twitter:

That changes things considerable. This wasn’t some hair brained, “Hey Chris, you nailed did rabona on-sides kick once in college… think ya can go out there and do it again…?” scheme hatched on the sideline during at TV time out.

The Steelers special teams had practiced the rabona on-sides kick and, while risky, it was a worthy gamble on the part of Mike Tomlin that had it gone a little better, could have resulted in the game ending with Ben Roethlisberger’s getting the ball at midfield with 2-3 chances to hook up with Antonio Brown, Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton, Sammie Coates or even Le’Veon Bell.

That’s a long shot, but a shot worth taking.

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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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Steelers Report Card for (Latest) Road Loss to the Ravens

Taken from the Grade Book of a teacher who now assumes he grossly overestimated the talents of his students, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 21-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

antonio brown, ladarius webb, steelers vs. ravens, steelers report card road loss ravens

Ladarius Webb denies Antonio Brown in the end zone during Steelers 21-14 loss to Ravens. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Quarterback
Just looking at the numbers, Ben Roethlisberger’s 23-45-264-1-1 plus a rushing touchdown don’t look so bad. In fact, some Fantasy Football owners are probably happy. But we’re talking reality football here, and the reality is that Ben Roethlisberger looked a lot more like Mark Malone for 3 quarters than himself. He managed to make it interesting at the end, but that was little more than garbage time glory. Failing to convert third downs until the 4th quarter doesn’t cut it. Grade: F

Running Backs
So Le’Veon Bell is human after all. The Ravens stacked the line of scrimmage and gave Bell zero room to run. There were cases of Bell getting something where little was there, but he did not make enough of those plays. Bell caught 6 passes, but wasn’t as effective in the passing game (well, no one was.) DeAngelo Williams had one yard on one carry. Grade: Dsteelers, report card, grades, steelers vs. ravens, coaching, special teams, unsung heros

Tight Ends
Jesse James dropped the first pass thrown his way, and while that didn’t start any sort of chain reaction, it did set the wrong tone. James however caught to other passes, and appears to be blocking al ittle better. David Johnson had one catch for 15 yards. Xavier Grimble hand one catch for 10 yards. The Steelers tight end by committee system has been adequate, but hasn’t replaced Heath Miller’s dependability, nor added the spark that Ladarius Green was supposed to add. Grade: C

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown too, it seems is human. The Ravens kept him bottled up for most of the game. He missed a catch that was well defended, but did make another catch. Overall Brown’s play was solid, but he can’t carry the wide receiving corps on his own. Eli Rogers helped fuel the late rally and looked strong. Sammie Coates dropped a touchdown pass that could have given teeth to the Steelers comeback effort. There were times when the Roethlisberger’s passes were WAY off, yet there were other times when the Steelers receivers didn’t step up as needed. Grade: C-

Offensive Line
Any assessment of the Steelers offensive line’s effort against the Ravens must concede that, overall, Ben Roethlisberger had solid protection. And that is not a “nice to have” when you’ve got a quarterback returning from injury. Even if that does provide a “glass half full” the Steeler needed their class filled to the brim, and that means they needed to dominate the line of scrimmage, and get the running game going. They failed to do this as Le’Veon Bell has 5th lowest yardage totals of the year. 50% success from the offensive line will not cut it. Grade: F

Defensive Line
In the early going it looks like the Ravens were going to gouge the Steelers on the ground repeatedly for large chunks of yardage. But both Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward stepped it up, with the former getting one drop behind the line of scrimmage and the latter getting two with both men getting licks on the Joe Flacco. Daniel McCullers and Javon Hargrave split time at nose tackle helping shut down the Ravens running game. Grade: B

Linebackers
The Ravens game approaches what the Steelers brass were thinking when they invested all of those number one picks on linebackers. Lawrence Timmons led the team with 9 tackles including a pass defense on a would-be touchdown throw. James Harrison had his best game of the season, sacking Joe Flacco twice, including hitting him with one of his patented strip-sacks. He also made three more run stuffing tackles for a loss. Jarvis Jones didn’t make any “splash” plays, but he also helped contain the run. Anthony Chickillo split a sack with Shazier and was a force behind the line of scrimmage. Grade: B

Secondary
Obviously Artie Burns got burned by Mike Wallace (pun intended) and Mick Mitchell missed a tackle that he should have made. But you know what? Overall the play of the Steelers secondary was “Above the line.” Burns spent much of the day matched up against Steve Smith and the Ravens tested him, but Burns showed some scrappiness, he also netted the secondary’s first interception of the season. Ross Cockrell’s name wasn’t mentioned much, which is good – although his effort in trying to catch Mike Wallace most certainly won notice here. Ditto Robert Golden. You can never gloss over Wallace’s 95 yard touchdown, but the Ravens were 4-17 on third downs. Grade: C+

Special Teams
Shamarko Thomas looked sharp in downing an early punt at the one. And that ends the Steelers special teams highlight reel.

  • The Steelers special teams performance vs. the Ravens was an unmitigated disaster.

The Ravens had a 28 yard kickoff return and a 14 yard punt return. Hardly lethal numbers, but combined this with penalties and you have the Steelers yielding field position unnecessarily on a day when the offense was struggling.

  • Then you have the critical breakdown.

According to Dale Lolley, Ravens running back told him that Steelers gunner Sean Davis “Wasn’t paying attention to him.” He took advantage, blocked Jordan Berry’s punt, and the Ravens took it to the house effectively sealing the game. That’s disgraceful because judging solely by the numbers, the Steelers would have won without that error.

The ideal behind Chris Boswell’s on-sides kick wasn’t nearly as bad as its botched execution made it look. Still, that ugly play provides the perfect image to sum up an atrocious day of Steelers special teams play. Grade: F

Coaching
Let’s start with the positive, and there is one positive to come out of this game. Keith Butler has taken a lot of heat this season so far for the apparent regression of the Steelers defense. And so he should. The Steelers defense was hapless in Philly and got manhandled in Miami. And, while Mike Wallace’s 95 yard romp is a major flaw, the Steelers defense held the Ravens to 13 points.

  • Normally if you go on the road and hold the home team to 13 points, you’re playing winning defense.

By and large, Keith Butler’s boys were “Above the line.” Unfortunately, the rest of the team wasn’t.

Unlike the Miami game, no one can accuse Todd Haley of abandoning the run too early. Fair enough. Whether Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers finally found its rhythm or they simply enjoyed some garbage time glory, remains an academic question: The Steelers offense was absent for 3 and a half quarters.

  • This is unacceptable.

And that brings us to Mike Tomlin. On the internet there are no shortages of fans calling for his summary firing. You will see no such talk here. The Steelers don’t operate that way, and fans should be thankful for that.

But that doesn’t excuse Mike Tomlin from yet another sub-par performance against a sub-par team on the road. A pattern has formed here and it is not pretty for Pittsburgh. The Steelers have replicated this experiment too many times. As has Ben Roethlisberger.

Which shifts focus to the question as to whether he should have played or not:

Based on how he looked for 3 and a half quarters, the answer to that question is no. Mike Tomlin is not second guessing his decision to trust in his franchise quarterback over Landry Jones. Fair enough. But Tomlin is made to make the right call here.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are dangerously close to where they were in 2009, when a few bad games, injuries and “a couple of those kinds of things” snowballed into a 5 game losing streak. The current losing streak stands at 3 with the 7 and 1 Dallas Cowboys arriving at Heinz Field next week. Mike Tomlin must right the ship, and he must do it fast. Grade: F

Unsung Hero
His plays didn’t draw quite the level of attention that James Harrison’s did, but they were every bit as important and effective. Fans get down on him for being “Injury prone” but against the Ravens, he seemed to be back to full health and in fine form, making his presence known all over the field. For that, and for his half sack, 2 and half tackles behind the line of scrimmage, his quarterback hit, Ryan Shazier wins the Unsung Hero Award for the 2016 road loss to the Ravens.

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Baltimore Beats Pittsburgh 21-14, Ravens Have Now Won 4 Straight vs Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to M&T Bank Stadium coming off their bye week with relatively strong health against a Baltimore Ravens team that had lost four straight. At the end of the day, none of those off the field aesthetics mattered at all, as the headline Baltimore beats Pittsburgh 21-14 communicates a basic reality.

  • The Baltimore Ravens improved their winning streak over the Pittsburgh Steelers for one simple reason:

Across the board, the Ravens beat the Steelers by because they had better execution of fundamentals that define winning football. That’s the stark truth of the matter.

baltimore beats pittsburgh 21-14, ben roethlisberger, steelers at M&T Bank Stadium

Ben Roethlisberger remains winless in Baltimore following the 2016 Steelers 21-14 loss. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune-Review

Ravens Dominate the Line of Scrimmage

Todd Haley’s game plan became crystal clear very early on in the game: Use Le’Veon Bell to dictate the pace of the game. Given how effective Le’Veon Bell has been with the ball in his hands this fall, few should fault the logic behind Haley’s thinking, even if Baltimore did enter the game with the NFL’s number 3 rush defense.

  • But if you’re going to run the ball effectively, you must dominate at the line of scrimmage.

And the Steelers offensive line got dominated by the Raven’s front seven. The Pittsburgh’s offensive lineman may have provided decent pass protection, but they chronically failed to open lanes for Le’Veon Bell. On paper the Steelers offense is designed to take advantage of those situations.

  • If it were all just a simple fantasy football exercise, frustration upfront should give Ben Roethlisberger time to do damage downfield.

Except real football doesn’t mimic a fantasy game, and Ben Roethlisberger looked very rusty and consistently misfired in trying to hit receivers downfield. That stat sheet shows that Ben Roethlisberger only threw one interception, but the fact is he threw two or 3 passes that could easily been interceptions.

In this case the numbers don’t lie, and the picture they paint isn’t pretty for Pittsburgh:

What’s more, failed exchanges between B.J. Finney and Roethlisberger came together to make up a comedy of errors. And that’s without even considering the special teams….

Butler’s Adjustments to Steelers Defense Effective, but Insufficient

Before turning to the special teams, a review of the performance of the Steelers defense vs. the Ravens is in order, because of the context it provides.

Fans can be forgiven if they abandonded all hope when the saw Terrance West open the game with runs of 8, 6, and 5 yards. He also tacked on another 9 yard effort and then opened the second half with runs of 8 and 5 yards.

  • Yet, when it was all over, West walked away with a total of 21 rushing yards.

Kenneth Dixon didn’t do much better. Credit Keith Butler for making the in-game adjustment to effectively shut off the Raven’s rushing attack. Likewise, credit Butler’s crew for forcing the Ravens to punt as many times as the Steelers did.

  • The 2016 Steelers have forged identity of a team that struggles on the road.

During the Steelers road losses to the Eagles and the Dolphins, Keith Butler’s defense was a glaring liability on so many fronts. The same cannot be said of the Steelers loss to the Ravens (or to the Patriots for that matter.) Yes, the defense did give up a 95 yard touchdown pass which isn’t forgivable.

  • But Keith Butler’s defense went into Baltimore, and held the Raven’s defense to 13 points at home.

While no one will confuse the 2016 Ravens with the 1989 49ers, the 1993 Cowboys or the greatest show on turf, if you go into an opposing stadium and hold their offense to 13 points, you’re generally playing winning defense….

Steelers Special Teams Disaster in Baltimore

…Unless you have a total collapse elsewhere, as the Steelers did on Special teams. Since Danny Smith arrived in Pittsburgh the Steelers special teams haven’t been very special, but they’ve avoided being a liability.

  • The Steelers special teams were a liability against the Ravens.

A roughing the kicker penalty gave the Ravens a second lease on life, although the Steelers defense did damage control. The coverage units might not have given up a big run, in a game of field position every yard counts.

But Chris Moore came in untouched to block Jordan Berry’s punt, and his recovery effectively ended the game for the Steelers. That’s simply inexcusable.

It says here that the Steelers late 4th quarter surge was little more than garbage time glory against a Raven’s team with plenty of its own internal demons. Nonetheless, if you take it strictly by the numbers, without that blocked punt the Steelers score enough to win the game. The Steelers special teams broke down at a critical time in the game.

John Harbaugh has Mike Tomlin, Steelers Number

When the Baltimore Ravens beat Pittsburgh at Heinz Field in November 2011 to complete John Harbuagh’s first season-sweep of the Steelers, Dejan Kovacevic suggested the victory might have represented a changing of the guard in the AFC North.

  • At the time critics balked.

However, it is now November 2016. Ben Roethlisberger STILL has not won a game in Baltimore since 2010 and the Baltimore Ravens now own four game winning streak over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cincinnati Bengals might take exception to any “changing of the guard to Baltimore storyline” but the bottom line is that right now John Harbaugh has the number of Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers.

And until Mike Tomlin’s team changes that reality on the field, the Steelers will continue to be AFC also-rans. Today’s latest loss underlines just how far Mike Tomlin and the Steelers still have to travel.

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Remembering Steelers Punter Harry Newsome, Punter Extraordinaire and Former Rookie of the Year

It’s safe to say you probably don’t remember Harry Newsome, who punted for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1985-1989. I don’t blame you. After all, who remembers punters? Other than Josh Miller and Daniel Sepulveda, can you name another guy who has punted for the team over the last 15 years or so?

Heck, at least when it comes to Pittsburgh, there’s no correlation between the Steelers enjoying quality punting and successful seasons (yes, remember Steelers Nation, Mitch Berger owns a Super Bowl ring for Super Bowl XLIII.)

If placekickers are the redheaded stepchildren of professional football, punters are the dishwashers. Oh, it’s not that washing dishes is a horrible job or anything, but nobody goes to a restaurant to see a dishwasher; they go to eat food off of the dishes.

  • Chances are, if a person sees the dishwasher, it’s because they are helping him or her wash dishes as punishment for failure to pay a tab.

Which bring us back to Harry Newsome. If you’re looking for information on him, that might he difficult to find. Even his Wikipedia page is short and includes a disclaimer about lack of references and sources. 

But I can assure you, Newsome was a really good punter during his time in Pittsburgh.

steelers, steelers punters, harry newsome

The t-shirt says it all….

In-fact, in 1985, the year the Steelers drafted him in the eighth round out of Wake Forest, Newsome won the Joe Greene Great Performance Award, an annual honor handed out to the team’s rookie of the year. Yes, along side the names of Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Louis Lipps and Carnell Lake as Steelers rookie of the year award winners, you’ll also see Harry Newsome’s.

Of course, given that ’85 would also mark the Steelers first losing season in 14 years and usher in a period of turmoil for the franchise, perhaps it was an indictment of head coach Chuck Noll’s post-Super Bowl struggles with regards to the draft that a punter was his top rookie.

Newsome was around to be named the rookie of the year after beating out Craig Colquitt, who was the team’s punter for seven seasons and played in Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV.

Newsome averaged 39.6 yards per punt in ’85 and got better from there.

The only true “where are they now” kind of story I could find on Newsome is courtesy of a Bleacher Report article written in 2009. 

Sadly, the name of the article is Year of Hell, and it focuses on the record-setting six blocked punts Newsome endured in 1988, the year the Steelers finished 5-11 (after which Chuck Noll FINALLY relented and hired a full time special teams coach.)

As the author pointed out in the story, Noll had little time for special teams during his career (all one has to do is watch highlights of those famous ’70s Super Bowls to see one special teams mistake after another–especially by kicker Roy Gerela and punter Bobby Walden–to know that was true), and in ’88, Newsome had to deal with four, count’em, four long-snappers.

“A good time of snapping the ball, handling the punt, then getting it away was 6.7 to 6.8 seconds,” related Newsome in ’09:

The handle  time of the punter himself should be somewhere between 1.2 to 1.3 seconds. I spent my time in Pittsburgh always trying to hurry my punts because the ball took so long to get to me. I even went from a three step punter to two steps. It didn’t help because the extra tenths of seconds on the snap, along with protection problems, left us often exposed. It would amp up the opponents even more knowing this.

As a bit of a cruel paradox, while Newsome was setting the Steelers record for punts blocked in ’88, he was also one of the few bright spots on the team, as he led the league with an average of 45.4 yards per punt.

In-fact, in Week 15, when the 4-10 Steelers traveled to face the 4-10 Chargers, the NBC announcer opened up the broadcast by saying (and I’m paraphrasing here), “The two best punters in the league are set to square-off this afternoon…..” You see, San Diego’s punter, Ralf Mojsiejenko, was hot on Newsome’s tail but ultimately finished with an average of 44.1 for the season.

Newsome would go on to play one more season in Pittsburgh, before leaving as a Plan B Free Agent after the 1989 Steelers storybook season. During his five years with the Steelers, Newsome averaged a respectable 41.4 yards per punt.

But he also had an incredible 12 punts blocked, and when he suffered two more during his four seasons with the Vikings, the sum-total of 14 tied him with Herman Weaver for an NFL record that still stands to this day.

In researching that aforementioned Bleacher Report article, I was mildly surprised to find out Newsome, who was a great athlete in his youth, was Pittsburgh’s emergency quarterback in-addition to the holder on field goals. This came in handy in 1986, when, following a botched field goal snap, Newsome threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Preston Gothard in a game against the Bears.

There’s another surprising Harry Newsome factoid:  Newsome had the longest punt in the history of Three Rivers Stadium when he booted one 84 yards in December of 1992 as a member of the Vikings.

In a lot of ways, a punter’s legacy is defined by the team he plays for. Harry Newsome’s career in Pittsburgh is a forgotten one, largely because of the struggles of the Steelers in the mid-to-late ’80s.

But not everything is blocked from memory (pardon the pun).

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Steelers Nation Salutes Shaun Suisham’s Clutch Kicks that Defined his Steelers Career

87.9 career field goal accuracy… 173 out of 173 on PAT’s… a 93.8% field goal accuracy rate in 2013… those are just a handful of Shaun Suisham place kicking statistics and even if they are impressive, they don’t do him justice.

  • Shaun Suisham’s clutch kicks defined his Steelers career.

Making the mundane kicks in automatic fashion doesn’t mean much if you miss the big one with the game on the line. Sound harsh? Gary Anderson offers the perfect example. Google “Gary Anderson Overtime field goal” and you’ll see that 6 of the first 10 results reference his last minute miss in the 1998 NFC Championship game.

When the Steelers cut Jeff Reed and signed Shaun Suisham in the a commenter on Behind the Steel Curtain cautioned that a Redskins fan warned him, “He’ll break your heart.” Yet, another Redskins fans reassured me, arguing that “…sometimes kickers bounce around a bit before settling down.”

Shaun Suisham settled down in Pittsburgh, and now that his Steelers career appears to be over, we remember Shaun Suisham’s clutch kicks.

"Shaun

2010 – Baptism by Fire in Buffalo

So it wasn’t Shaun Suisham’s first week on the job, but it was the first game Suisham was asked to kick a field goal in. The Steelers struggled in this game, despite some excellent power rushing by Rashard Mendenhall. But outside of an early Mendenhall touchdown, Shaun Suisham was the Steelers offense, kicking field goals of 45, 46 and 48 yards.

The game went into overtime, where the Bills came thissss close to winning it:

James Farrior sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick two plays later, setting up Ben Roethlisberger for a 12 play drive that ultimately stalled at the Bills’22.

But Shaun Suisham made it from 41 yards way, giving him his first clutch kick for the Steelers as Pittsburgh defeated Buffalo.

2011 – The Escape from Indianapolis

Even at the time, before it was clear that the Colts would finish 2-14 to win the #SuckForLuck derby, this game felt more like an escape than a win. Even though Kerry Collins got knocked out of the game, even though Troy Polamalu fumble return for a touchdown with 5:13 remaining, Curtis Painter played lights out on the final drive tying it with 2:09 remaining.

Mewelde Moore an Ben Roethlisberger moved the ball to the Colt’s 18 yard line with 0:08 remaining and, despite taking a hit from Jacob Lacey, Suisham knocked it in from 38 yards away.

2012 – Out Foxing Philly

The Steelers held the lead until 6:33 in the 4th quarter, when Mike Vick led the Eagles on a 17 play, 8:18 drive, before Vick connected with Brent Celek to put Philly ahead with 6:38 left.

Ben Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall, Antonio Brown, and Isacc Redman responded with a 14 play, 6:33 drive that took the Steelers to the Eagles 16 yard line, where, from 34 yards out Suisham knocked it through the uprights as time expired and Pittsburgh defeated Philadelphia.

2012 – Killing Off Kansas City’s Last Gasp

People forget that the 2012 Steelers actually looked strong at mid-season with three impressive victories over the Bengals, Redskins, and defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. Those laid the ground work for what looked to be a cake-walk like Monday Night Football matchup vs. the 1-7 Kansas City Chiefs….

…But things didn’t quite work out that way, as the Chiefs gave the Steelers a run for their money, keeping it a tied 10-10 game until Ben Roethlisberger got knocked out early in the third quarter. Byron Leftwich managed field goal in relief, but the Chiefs tied it as regulation ended.

  • The Chiefs won the toss, but Lawrence Timmons intercepted Matt Cassel’s first pass in over time, returning it to Kansas City’s 5.

Timmons interception set up Shaun Suisham’s chip shot 23 yard field goal and the Steelers victory.

2012 – Allowing Charlie Batch to Take a Final Bow

By this point in the 2012 season the Steelers were down to Charlie Batch as their starter, and no one gave the Steelers a chance given Batch’s 3 interception performance the week before at Cleveland.

True to the script, the Ravens led through the entire first half. The Steelers tied it on a Jonathan Dwyer touchdown early in the 3rd quarter, but the Ravens bounced back to take the lead again as the third quarter ended. Charlie Batch connected with Heath Miller to tie the score at 20-20 with 7:24 remaining.

The Steelers defense forced a punt, and Charlie Batch, playing his last 15 plays of football he had left in him, led the Steelers down the field as precious seconds ticked off the clock, until finally reaching the Ravens 24 yard line with 0:03 seconds left to play.

From 42 yards out, Suisham split the uprights, given Charlie Batch a win for his final NFL start.

2013 – Beating Baltimore, Saving the Season

The Steelers led this one all the way until the two minute warning when Joe Flacco connected with Dallas Clark to tie it up. The Steelers responded with an Emmanuel Sanders kick return for a touchdown that was called back. Nonetheless, 44 yards of his return stood, and energized the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell worked to position the Steelers at the 24.

Once again, from 42 yards out, with the Steelers season hanging in the balance, Suisham made as the Steelers defeated the Ravens 16-13 to improve to 2-4.

2014 – Cutting Off Cleveland’s Comeback Cold

This was Chuck Noll Day and the Steelers came out gang busters jumping to a 27-3 first half lead….

  • …Only to see Cleveland fight back in the second half, scoring 24 unanswered points, tying the game with 11:20 left to go.

The Browns got the ball back with just under 2 minutes remaining, but a Cameron Heyward sack and two stealer plays by William Gay forced a Cleveland punt. Ben Roethlisberger and Marcus Wheaton led the Steelers down the field reaching the Browns 24 yards line with 5 seconds left to play.

For the 7th, and apparently last time, Shaun Suisham made his last clutch kick for the Steelers, kicking a 41 yarder as time expired.

2010 – 2014 Shaun Suisham Clutch Kicker & Class Act

Shaun Suisham kicked for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2010 to 2014. During that time he made a bunch of clutch kicks. Whenever a game was on the line and the Steelers were inside of 45 yards, Mike Tomlin never hesitated to send out Suisham, whether on the road or at Heinz Field.

  • That’s priceless peace of mind for a head coach

Through it all, Suisham remained humble, and Chris Boswell‘s farewell tweet punctuates that point:

Let that sink in. When the Steelers signed Chris Boswell, and Boswell began making clutch kicks of his own, Suisham continued to offer his support and mentorship to a player who had had to know could cost him his job, even if his recovery from the ACL injury hadn’t taken a “catastrophic” turn for the worst.

  • That is truly the definition of class.

Steel Curtain Rising thanks Shuan Suisham for his clutch kicking and for being a class act. Steelers Nation wishes you well in whatever is next to come!

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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….

shaun suisham, steelers, steelers vs. ravens, steelers ravens heinz field 2013

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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