5 (Not So) Random Reflections on the Final 3 Weeks of the Steelers 2023 Season

Welcome back! Steel Curtain Rising has been dark since the s loss to the Colts before Christmas.

Although I was in the United States for the last three weeks of the regular season, I only caught ½ of a the Steelers last game. In another point of my life, that would have been unacceptable. But this time, it was OK. I’ll detail the reasons why at the end.

Of course I’ve followed the Steelers on a daily basis, watched highlights from each of their three victories, and the overall experience has left me with 5 insights to share.

Mason Rudolph, Steelers vs. Seahawks, Najee Harris

Mason Rudoph and Najee Harris during the Steelers 2023 win over the Seahawks. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.come

1. You Should Trust Your Instincts

Instinct informed me that things had taken a bad turn the moment Kenny Pickett got hurt against the Cardinals. And instinct held a lot of truth. The Steelers imploded on both sides of the ball following that failed 4th and one attempt.

  • Worse yet, they suffered a weather delay.

My guts screamed for me to do something else rather than wait out the storm until the game resumed. But I didn’t want to sacrifice time as I wanted to get my article written in time to publish Monday morning.

The Steelers of course found a way to lose against the Patriots. Just as Chuck Noll beat Bill Belichick in his retirement finale, Billy B. leaves the Patriots having owned the Steelers. The Steelers were playing the Colts 3 days before I was set to leave for the States.

My wife had wanted to pack on that Saturday (traveling light is not an art we’ve yet to master), but I begged off, wanting to watch the game in part to ensure I could get the post-game article written. I could have watched the game on delay and perhaps accomplished the same thing.

  • Alas I did not. (Yeah, hindsight is 20/20.)

And the Steelers posted one of their worst efforts of the Tomlin era. What a waste of time. (My wife would agree. Enthusiastically.)

2. You Should Trust Your Instincts. Until You Shouldn’t

The Steelers would play 3 games during the second Christmas I’d spend in the US since 2000. That last year I made a point of trekking to the legendary Purple Goose Saloon on Christmas Eve to watch the 2000 Steelers finale against the San Diego Chargers.

  • I made the right decision.

The Steelers won and then I got to watch Bubby Brister come in for Daunte Culpepper and, in his final game in the NFL, once again keep the Steelers out of the playoffs. But I knew I was headed to Argentina and visits to the Purple Goose would be spare after that (I got to the Goose two more times.) And I made it home in plenty of time for Midnight Mass, where the beloved Fr. Adam Kostic would deliver his final Christmas eve sermon.

Tom Moore, Bubby Brister, 1989 Steelers

Tom Moore and Bubby Brister at Three Rivers Stadium in 1989. Photo Credit: Locallife.com

In 2023, watching the Steelers wasn’t a priority. I’d planned to see the Bengals game. But COVID had other ideas. As I was sitting at the Dr.’s office Patient First in Aspin Hill, Maryland as the Steelers were taking the field against the Bengals.

I couldn’t see the game, but my WhatsApp exploded with commentaries from the Steelers Groups I’m in. It was obvious things were going well.

  • That was welcome. And surprising.

But only to a point. I’d thought back to the December 26th Steelers-Panthers match up, the penultimate game of the 1999 Steelers. The Steelers started slowly, then when the snow hit Jerome Bettis took over Three Rivers Stadium, and the Steelers dominated thereafter.

They lost next week – this was the games that saw Bobby Shaw’s Superman shirt and Levon Kirkland getting muscled out of bounds by Neil O’Donnell on an interception return. So I chalked the win over the Cincinnati Bengals up as a blip.

  • The Steelers New Year’s eve game against the Seahawks didn’t pose much of a quandary.

The Steelers never win in Seattle. I remember the 1993 Steelers post-Christmas game there, where Jon Vaughn (who? That’s the point) gouged a flu stricken, Greg Lloyd-less Steelers for 131 yards (John L. Williams tacked on 86 more, for good measure.)

I was better from COVID and my wife wanted to spend some time in downtown DC. So to the District of Columbia we went.

  • So I thought nothing of missing the game and, viola, the Steelers won.

I was in New York City for the regular season finale. The wife of my good friend from high school was the curator of an art exhibition in Jersey and invited us to the opening. Needless to say we went. We made it back to the hotel in time for me to catch most of the 2nd half against the Ravens.

I was impressed. The previous two weeks hadn’t been a mirage. I’m glad I caught Diontae Johnson’s interception, Eric Rowe’s forced fumble and Markus Golden’s sack.

3. Trust Mike Tomlin, Not the Pundits

Everyone knows that George Pickens had been a lighting rod for criticism. And for good reason. The guy mailed in when he wasn’t featured on a play. His failure to block for Jaylen Warren was inexcusable. His response was worse.

Listening to legends Ed Bouchette and Vic Ketchman on Jim Wexell’s podcast during COVID isolation, I fully agreed that the Steelers needed to cut their losses with Pickens. Indeed, I had the time but not the energy to write an article saying the Steelers should bench him for the balance of the season.

  • Once again, it is a good thing Mike Tomlin doesn’t listen to me.

Mike Tomlin has a way with young men. He’s far from infallible (see Martavis Bryant). But he can often shepherd them on the path to maturity. For now at least, he’s done it with George Pickens. Pickens burned the Bengals, singed the Seahawks, and then delivered some devastating blocks against the Ravens.

Yeah, Mike knew what he was doing.

4. The Steelers 3 Quarterback System Works

Self-styled NFL personnel experts argue that salary cap dynamics dictate that investing in a veteran backup quarterback is a waste. As for the third string quarterback? Most people will tell you he doesn’t matter.

  • Most people are wrong.
steelers 2019 season, T.J. Watt, Mason Rudolph, Maurkice Pouncey, Zach Banner

The Pittsburgh Steelers sharpened their focus on team in 2019. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com

Omar Khan opened the 2023 off season saying that the Steelers had, “Left the door open for Mason Rudolph.” Few paid attention. Yet, when the Steelers resigned Mason Rudolph it was treated as a “surprise.”

And Rudolph looked to be nothing more than a clip board holder. Until he wasn’t. The NFL is all about stepping up when you get your opportunity. And Mason stepped up. For the first time since he arrived it Pittsburgh, you could see why Kevin Colbert had a first round grade on him.

Oh, and even before he came on gang busters in his first start since the tie vs the Lions in 2020, Mason Rudolph had already proved something else: The Mike Tomlin has ushered in the Golden Age of Steelers 3rd string quarterbacks.

5. Take a Page for the Rooney’s: Focus on Family

Dan Rooney, Dan Rooney legacy, Dan Rooney Lombardi Trophies, Dan Rooney obituary

Dan Rooney sitting in front of the Steelers 5 Lombardi Trophies. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

If watching Steelers games wasn’t a high priority when I arrived in Maryland, it became an even lower one quickly. Between COVID, my sister-in-law’s father losing a brief battle with pneumonia (and Donald Hay was a great guy) and some other issues, it clear was that I should follow Dan Rooney’s lead: Focus on the family.

I distinctly remember one of his sons being interviewed, it may have been Dan Rooney Jr. but I can’t be sure, explaining that not only did Dan Rooney focus on academics rather than sports when it came to bringing up his children, he made time to speak to each of his 9 children about their day every evening during dinner.

The same child also mentioned that he didn’t even know what his father did for a living until he was in his pre-teen years. That’s because Dan Rooney, at his core, was a family man. Dan always put his family first.

  • I took that lesson to heart on this trip, focused on family and missed three Steelers wins because of it.

And I’m confident that, looking down from heaven, both Dan Rooney and his father Art Rooney Sr. would wholeheartedly agree with me that this was the best decision I could have made.

Go Steelers. Let’s upset the Bills 1989 style!

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Watt’s a One Man Defense? As Steelers Defeat Seahawks in Overtime 23-30

Moments after the Steelers 23-20 overtime win over the Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh’s head coach Mike Tomlin drew this conclusion:

We’ve got a lot of improvements to make, obviously, but boy, it’s good to win a game like that, to get to know yourselves individually and collectively when faced with dire circumstances at times, and seemingly when it’s not going your way.

Tomlin is right. Games like this do reveal a lot about a team. The 2021 Steelers certainly learned a lot about themselves Sunday night? But did we learn anything about them?

The answer is we learned a lot, some of which offers hope for the future, some of which signals caution.

T.J. Watt, Geno Smith, Steelers vs Seahwaks

T.J. Watt strip sacks Geno Smith. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

Offensive Evolution vs Reaching a Plateau?

Coming out of training camp, Ben Roethlisberger was the first person to remind everyone that the Steelers offense would be a work in progress. The first month of the season proved that the Steelers quarterback should have been taken at his word.

  • The win over the Seahawks revealed a lot about that evolution, both positive and negative.

The Steelers spent the first quarter trading punts with the Seahawks, reverting the slow starts that plagued them in September. But if Matt Canada panicked, it wasn’t evident in his play calling as the second quarter saw the Steelers stich together two clock consuming drives that ended in Najee Harris and Eric Ebron touchdown runs.

On the plus side, this happened despite Najee Harris rushing for partly 28 yards on 13 carries. On the minus side, the Steelers got the ball back at their own 41 with 36 seconds left yet only managed 3 yards and had to punt it back.

  • Those might sound like odd threads to use to weave an “unfortunately/fortunately” narrative, but they’re apt.
Najee Harris, Steelers vs Seahawks

Najee Harris catches a touchdown. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com

Najee Harris finished the game with 81 yards, which means he averaged close to 5 yards a carry in the second half. Getting the ball at their own 26 yard line with the game tied and 5 minutes remaining, the Steelers fed the ball to Harris 5 times.

Last year or even last month, such a slow start to the running game would have resulted in Ben Roethlisberger tossing 50 times. That didn’t happen, which shows the Steelers offense is taking a step in the right direction.

And it is a step the Steelers need it to take, because the Seahawks game confirms that Big Ben can no longer carry this team. For all of the sound and fury generated by clock management, one of the trade marks of the later part of the Tomlin era is to use the final minute of the first half to tack on a field goal. The Steelers tried, but didn’t sniff field goal distance, which foreshadowed things much of the 2nd half.

With 9 minutes left in the 4th, the Steelers got the ball at their own 20. With the game tied, a score was necessary. The Seahawks stuffed Harris on first, Roethlisberger overthrew Diontae Johnson on 2nd and underthrew Chase Claypool on third and the Steelers had to punt.

The game didn’t turn on that play or that series, but those weren’t isolated examples of throws that Roethlisberger would have made prior to his injury.

Watt’s a One Man Offense?

Dealing with the loss of a playmaker is never easy. When the Steelers hit the dark days of 1998 and 1999 Dan Rooney explained that his team needed playmakers, offering Rod Woodson as an example.

  • If Ben Roethlisberger’s days as a playmaker are fading, then T.J. Watt’s star gets more brilliant with each passing week.

To be fair to Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers second half struggles are hardly all on him. Both Johnson and Claypool left critical catches on the field. And, not to put too fine point on things, the defense “forgot” how to tackle for much of the second half.

Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt, Steelers vs Seahawks

T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward pile on. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

With no disrespect to Alex Highsmith and Tre Norwood – who’d stepped up with some critical third down plays — one can be forgiven for thinking the Steelers defense needs no one other than T.J. Watt.

Let the record reflect that during regulation, T.J. Watt failed to record a sack. In the elder days of ESPN’s NFL PrimeTime one can imagine Chris Berman and Tom Jackson extolling “Hats off Seattle offense. You can’t hope to stop T.J. Watt, you can only hope to contain him, and contain him they did.”

  • So what did “containing” T.J. Watt in regulation look like?

How about 3 defensed passes and two tackles for losses, both of which came in the 4th quarter, stoning Alex Collins after he’d steamrolled the Steelers offense. All four of those possessions on which Watt made those plays resulted in punts.

  • And he was only getting warmed up.

Seattle won the toss in OT, and T.J. Watt droped Collins for a loss on first down. Cam Heyward made another tackle for a loss, but that was sandwiched by 21 and 10 yard passes to Tyler Lockett and D.J. Dallas.

It was 3rd and 4 at the Steelers 45. A conversion and Seattle can start thinking about kicking a field goal. Instead, T.J. Watt dropped Geno Smith for a 14 yard loss. The Steelers got the ball at their 20 and could only get 9 yards when they needed 10.

Fortunately, Presley Harvin answered the call by booming a 56 yard punt out of bounds.

Pete Carroll had learned his lesson. On first down he put 3 defenders on T.J. Watt. It didn’t matter:


Devin Bush avoided his “running the wrong way” highlight reel and two plays later, Chris Boswell was splitting the uprights to pull the Steelers back to .500.

Steelers Reach Equilibrium @ Bye Week

As Mike Tomlin admitted, the Steelers still have a lot to improve upon. The defense must find a way to play more consistently and the offense must find a way to balance Najee Harris’ evolution against Ben Roethlisberger’s declining skill set.

But thanks to T.J. Watt’s heroics, the Steelers can at least do that from a .500 perch, which is as close to a clean slate as team that suffers a 3 game September losing streak is going to get.

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Los Steelers perdieron en Seattle por 39 a 30

Los Steelers malgastaron una de las chance de avanzar a postemporada

Luego de la semana libre, los Pittsburgh Steelers debieron viajar a Seattle para enfrentar a los locales en CenturyLink Field, buscando ambos mejorar sus expectativas de Playoffs.

  • Los Steelers se ubicaban primeros en la AFC en la carrera por un lugar de Wild Card con un 6-4 módico.

Se enfrentaban la primera ofensiva de la Liga en yardas por tierra (Seattle) versus la 5ta defensiva terrestre y una de las mejores ofensivas aéreas (13va, Steelers) contra la 2da defensa contra el pase.

La semana de descanso le había dado a los visitantes la oportunidad de recuperar físicamente a sus mariscales de campo por lo que se imaginaba que estos propondrían un gran duelo aéreo y un más modesto juego terrestre ya que Le’Veon Bell está fuera para el resto de la temporada.
Por su parte Seattle con su ofensiva aérea más que mediocre (en estadísticas) intentaría avasallar a la también más que modesta defensiva aérea de Pittsburgh, que, sin embargo, permitía muchas yardas a sus rivales pero pocos puntos.

En los hechos finalmente el duelo se dirimió por aire:

  • Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger y Landry Jones): 37 pases completos de 59 intentos; 490 yds y 1 TD
  • Seahawks: 21 pases completos de 30 intentos; 345 yardas y 5 TD

Verdaderamente estos números de Seattle, no son lo que podría definir a la 22ª ofensiva aérea de la liga. De hecho, el promedio de yardas aéreas por partido de los Patriots durante esta temporada (N° 1 en este rubro) es muy inferior a estos números ya que promedian 315 yds por partido.

Los Steelers son la tercera peor defensiva contra el pase en yardas permitidas pero la 11° en puntos permitidos por partido. Pero cuando esta defensiva se enfrentó con semejante poder ofensivo se vió más vulnerable que nunca.

Pero lo que volcó la balanza hacia el lado de los Seahawks fueron las 4 INT lanzadas por Pittsburgh. Eso en combinación con el hecho de que, resutado de esos turnovers, Seattle anotó puntos (TD) en 3 de ellos.

De hecho es bastante naif pensar que se puede ganar un partido cuando lanzas 4 INT contra ninguna del contrario y este además, te convierte 5 TD aéreos, demostrando que su mediocre ofensiva en TD conseguidos por aire, explotó y te anotó casi el 30% de los todos los TD aéreos de toda la temporada (Seattle consiguió 18 TD por aire en toda la campaña. De todos ellos, 5 fueron contra los Steelers. Y 3 contra San Francisco la semana anterior. Ese día Russell Wilson tuvo un rating de pasador de 138.5; el domingo, vs los Acereros 147.9…Sin dudas Russell Wilson va en ascenso)

La defensiva no estuvo a la altura de lo que necesitaban los Steelers

Al comienzo de la temporada cualquiera de nosotros hubiera esperado que la fortaleza acerera estaría en su ofensiva en virtud de su potencial aéreo y terrestre, y que uno podría esperar un importante número de yardas y puntos en contra debido a la endeble secundaria, joven e inexperta.

Con el correr de las semanas, esta hipótesis se fue transformando en otra muy distinta. La defensiva estaba sosteniendo los partidos dando la oportunidad a que la diezmada ofensiva pudiera anotar en la pizarra.
Pero el domingo pasado, los hechos mostraron un escenario similar al primero:

  • Lo que se vió fue la peor defensiva profunda que se podría esperar.

Los profundos, lucieron inermes, perdiendo sus marcas asignadas. La marcación en zona nunca funcionó.
Como muestra de esto bastará decir que toda la defensiva Acerera, solo pudo desviar UN PASE.
Otro ejemplo de la confusión reinante en la defensiva profunda: En la serie que terminaría en el segundo TD de Seattle, Wilson convirtió en primer down, tres 3° y largo.

Sin título
Como se ve en la imagen, que corresponde a un 3er y 16 desde la 35 de Pittsburgh, Wilson dispuso en la parte baja a dos WR y al RB a su derecha. De estos 2 receptores, el interno llevará una ruta hacia el centro y el externo, una ruta pegado a la banda, mientras que el RB se corre hacia afuera en una ruta de escape. El N° 22, Will Allen se va con el RB. Antwon Blake que había dejado un gran colchon a Jermaine Kearse (el receptor externo), se va profundo y hacia adentro para seguir al receptor interno dejando a Kearse solo para recibir.

Tal vez para infortunio de Blake, la última imagen que quedó de esta defensiva, es la suya, corriendo detrás de Doug Baldwin, sin poder vencer el stiff arm del receptor, quien corrió 80 yardas hasta la zona de anotación sobre el final del juego, para sellar el marcador con cifras definitivas.

Sin título

En la línea de golpeo también se falló en la presión sobre Wilson, a quien se lo capturo solo en un par de oportunidades. Es cierto que Wilson es un jugador muy móvil y dificil de contener pero si bien se lo apuró, no se lo capturó ni se pudo evitar, en general , que lanzara.

La defensiva contra el acarreo funcionó de manera errática, permitiendo 100 yardas. A pesar de lo decente de esta cifra, creo que el ataque terrestre de los Seahawks no fue gravitante.

Si bien es cierto que la defensiva de Keith Butler ha mejorado considerablemente en la recuperación de balones, ubicándose número 11 en este rubro en la Liga, en este partido no se pudo recuperar ninguno. Cuatro entregas y ninguna recuperación. Desventaja dificil de sobrellevar.

Al final de la jornada, los Steelers se ubicaban 4° en la carrera por un lugar en la postemporada, con 6-5.
En el futuro inmediato, hasta fines de diciembre hay rivales muy difíciles de vencer: Colts, Bengals, Broncos, Ravens y Browns. Denver y Cincinnati, casi clasificados e Indianapolis, también con 6-5 como NY Jets y Houston Texans, disputando las plazas de comodines. Baltimore, sin chances de postemporada (sobretodo sin Flacco en la cancha) es, sin embargo, siempre Baltimore. Un rival dificil por definición.
Todos (o la mayoría) son partidos “perdibles”. Nueve-7 es posible. Ocho-8 también, e incluso 7-9
La postemporada es otra vez, una meta que se aleja.

Habrá que esperar la evolución de Big Ben de su contusión cerebral. Tal vez deba iniciar  el próximo SNF en Heinz Field.

Pero tal como se ve el panorama, contra lo que se había pronosticado, se depende más de la defensiva que de la ofensiva.

El Dr. de Acero

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Markus Wheaton’s Performance a Good Sign for Steelers

It’s probably bad form to celebrate a huge individual performance that’s accompanied by a team-loss, but as it pertains to Steelers third-year wide-out Markus Wheaton, it would be hard to blame him if he was at least a little excited about his historic day against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on Sunday.

  • In Pittsburgh’s otherwise depressing 39-30 loss, Markus Wheaton pulled in nine passes for 201 yards and a 69-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that put his team ahead for the final time.

The Seahawks’ vaunted secondary, led by cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas, was determined to shut-down the outside routes that are normally the domain of Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown and second-year man Martavis Bryant; this may have seemed like sound strategy, considering the career-resume of Brown alone, but it left the middle of the field open for Wheaton, who took full-advantage from his slot-position.

  • Again, it’s bad form to celebrate your personal accomplishes following a loss.

But when you’re trying to establish your career as a receiver in the NFL, and the opportunities have been pretty scarce, it’s nice to put such a game on your resume.

After being picked in the third round out of Oregon State in the 2013 NFL Draft, Wheaton was quickly embraced and welcomed as the heir apparent to the just departed Mike Wallace. However, thanks to injuries and just plain inexperience, Wheaton was limited to six catches for 64 yards in his rookie year. Wheaton performed much better in 2014, starting 11 games and catching 53 passes for 644 yards and two touchdowns. However, not many people noticed. Why? The charging locomotive that was the rookie Martavis Bryant, who wasn’t activated until Week 7 but quickly made up for lost time by catching 26 passes for 549 yards and an astounding eight touchdowns in just 10 games.

This season, despite Bryant missing the first four weeks while serving a drug suspension, the opportunities weren’t exactly there for Wheaton during the first 10 games; he was only targeted 32 times and had just 16 catches for 273 yards.

  • It didn’t help that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed a month with an MCL sprain.

Sunday in Seattle, when he set a record for most receiving yards by an opposing player at CenturyLink Field, Wheaton was targeted 13 times and couldn’t have done much more with all of those looks.

Moving forward, not only should Wheaton’s performance against the Seahawks be a nice confidence-boost and a reminder to him and the fans that he, too, has a fine skill-set; it should bode well for the Steelers offense, as it now may have another prime receiving target that will make its air attack all the more explosive and unstoppable.


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Ben Roethlisberger Cleared to Practice, Remains in NFL Concussion Protocols

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may or may not have sustained a concussion on Sunday, when he received a helmet-to-helmet hit by the Seahawks Micheal Bennett in the Steelers 39-30 loss at CenturyLink Field to the Seattle Seahawks.

Tuesday morning, during his weekly radio show on 93.7 The Fan, Roethlisberger felt pretty confident he didn’t have a concussion and that he aced the battery of tests given to him by team doctors and trainers. Later on Tuesday, at Mike Tomlin’s weekly press-conference, the head coach stated that Roethlisberger didn’t pass the tests and that his starting quarterback did indeed suffer a concussion.

Whether it’s been broken toes, a high-fever or now a concussion, there has often been a bit of confusion and miscommunication between player and coach regarding No. 7’s rather long list of ailments during his 12-year career.

However, one thing we do know is that Ben Roethlisberger was officially cleared to practice by team trainers on Wednesday and that he was a full-participant. We also know, thanks to a story by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that Roethlisberger was a bit ‘frustrated’ with the handling of his diagnosis by all involved–including his head coach.  “I had no symptoms of a concussion,” said Roethlisberger in a quote courtesy of the Post-Gazette. “No dizziness, no nausea, none of that stuff that comes with it. When I told the doctors, Dr. Maroon and the training staff said I didn’t have a concussion. That’s why I was so confused when coach Tomlin said I had one. They need to get together and tell their players and what’s going on because I was just relaying what the doctors told me.”

Confusion aside, it’s great news for the Steelers and their fans that Roethlisberger practiced on Wednesday and appears to be cleared to play (pending any symptoms that should arise post-practice); the game coming up this Sunday night between Pittsburgh (6-5) and the Colts (6-5) will have huge playoff-implications, as will the remainder of the Steelers contests in what figures to be a hotly-contested wild card race all the way through Week 17.


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Steelers Self-Destruction vs. Seattle Raises Questions about Pittsburgh’s Playoff Hopes

The Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to Seattle to play the Seahawks with hopes of proving their status as a legitimate AFC contender while disproving their West of the Mississippi Jinx.

  • Instead, they came out the wrong end of a 39-30 decision.

The loss stings. Puts the Steelers on the outside looking in in terms of the AFC Wild Card picture and any possibility, however remote, of catching the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North race is now gone. What’s worse, is the way the Steelers self destruction vs. Seattle raises fresh questions about 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers playoff potential.

¿Una Falla Grabe en La Propuesta de los 2015 Steelers?

Apologies to non-bilingual readers, which I know is the vast majority of you, but sometimes the English language just isn’t clear enough. The subheading asks, “Is there a serious flaw in the proposal for the 2015 Steelers? “Propuesta” is the Spanish word for “proposal” but the later implies a much more encompassing scope.

  • In 2015, defense was not supposed to be a team strength for the Steelers.

The defense was only supposed to play well enough to keep the Steelers in the game, while Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant lit up the scoreboard. For much of the season, it hasn’t worked out that way.

Ben, Brown and Bell have played less than 1 quarter together, while the Steelers defense has performed above expectations, and arguable guided the team to victories over St. Louis and Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals.

  • But the game against the Seattle Seahawks figured to be one that came closer to following the script.

Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense might not be lighting up the league the way it did in 2013, but the Seahawks still field a pretty potent unit. Seattle’s Legion of Boom, while certainly no pushover, isn’t intimidating teams the way it did two years ago.

No, this game had the makings of a shoot out, and the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers are supposed to be able to win those….

The Irony of Game of Inches

Prior to the game Steel Curtain Rising fingered Markus Wheaton as one of six Steelers that needed to step up during the final six games of the season. Almost as if on cue, Markus Wheaton delivered, turning in a career game with 9 catches for 201 yards.

  • Wheaton hardly put on a one man show.

Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones combined for just under 500 yards. Nine different receivers, including DeAngelo Williams, Jesse James, Matt Spaeth, Will Johnson and even Roosevelt Nix, caught balls. But for all of the aerial fireworks, the Steelers self-destruction vs. the Seahawks shows that football remains a game of inches:

  • Late in the 3rd quarter the ball slips out of Ben’s hands just a second too soon and is intercepted – Seattle scores its 1st TD of the half
  • On the next drive, Roethlisberger slightly underthrew Bryant, who dropped the pass at the one Steeles are forced to punt
  • On their next drive, Antonio Brown stumbles out of the gate too early to correct and too late for Ben not to throw the ball Richard Sherman intercepts and Seattle takes its first lead

The Seattle Seahawks scored three touchdowns off of three Steelers turnovers. We can debate the wisdom of Mike Tomlin asking Landry Jones to complete a pass to Alejandro Villanueva on a faux fake field goal. Successful risk-reward calls win coaches praise (see the San Diego finale) just as failures win damnation.

  • But the other three plays highlighted above were simple slip ups.

If Ben throws the ball to Bryant just an inch or two deeper Bryant probably catches it and the Steelers either have a touchdown or the ball at the one. If one of Ben’s fingers is positioned perhaps just a 1/16 or 1/32 of an inch differently on the lace, the ball doesn’t come out early, and perhaps he connects with Antonio Brown. Likewise, if Brown stumbles just a second later and a few inches farther down the field, perhaps Roethlisberger realizes in time and throws the ball away.

Football games come down to who can execute in these situation, and the fact is that on offense the Steelers failed to execute far too frequently.

Steelers Sieve-like Secondary

If the Steelers offense stumbled against Seattle, the defense flat out struggled. Or at least the Steelers secondary did. The ability of 2015 Steelers defense to consistently exceed expectations has been built on 3 pillars:

  • An outstanding front seven
  • A “bend but don’t break” secondary that gets tough in the Red Zone
  • An uncanny ability to come up with turnovers in critical situations

In the Steelers self-destruction against the Seahawks, Pittsburgh’s front seven made Russell Wilson earn his completions, but the Steelers secondary was a sieve in the second half. Russell Wilson picked apart the Steelers secondary the Steelers secondary was unable to shut him down in the air, and unable to stop the Seattle receivers after the catch. You can’t give up 80 yard touchdown passes against a team that’s simply trying to kill the clock and expect to win.

Prior to the game, Steel Curtain Rising questioned if Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes rested in the hands of the “accidental Steelers secondary.” If they do that is a bad sign, because against the Seahawks the Steelers secondary was an accident waiting to happen.

Steelers Have Five Games to Find Answers

While the slipups on offense and the sieve like play in the secondary were critical factors in the Steelers self destruction vs. Seattle they were not the only ones. Russell Wilson enjoyed most of his success vs. the Steelers in the second half. Clearly he and Pete Carroll found something to exploit and took full advantage. Likewise, the Seahawks defense managed to get pressure on Ben Roethlisberger in the second half.

These kind of things happen in big games.

But the fact that Steelers were unable to adjust on the fly raises questions about their playoff viability down the stretch. Mike Tomlin now has 5 games to find answers.

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Pittsburgh Shuffles Running Backs: Steelers Activate Fitzgerald Toussaint , Cut Isaiah Pead

Ahead of their impending trip to the west coast and match up with the defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks, the Pittsburgh Steelers did some roster shuffling. Thin depth behind starting running back DeAngelo Williams, saw the Steelers activate Fitzgerald Toussaint from their practice squad and cut running back Isaiah Pead.

  • Jordan Todman will remain the primary back up behind DeAngelo Williams.

Fitzgerald Toussaint has been on the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad all season long, where as the Steelers signed Isaiah Pead after losing Le’Veon Bell to a torn MCL which he suffered in the Steelers loss at Heinz Field to AFC North divisional rival Cincinnati Bengals.

Fitzgerald Toussaint made his entry into the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent signed by the Baltimore Ravens following the 2014 NFL Draft. Fitzgerald Toussaint played his college ball for the Michigan Wolverines. At Ann Arbor had 510 career carries for 2,290 yards for a 4.5 average while scoring 28 rushing touchdowns. Toussaint also caught 31 passes for 298 yards (9.6 average) at Michigan.

The Baltimore Ravens kept Fitzgerald Toussaint on their active roster throughout 2014, where the rookie saw action in four games gaining 12 yards on six carries and made 3 catches for 27 yards. He also suited up for both of the Baltimore Ravens 2014 playoff games, rushing twice for 5 yards and catching one pass for negative 7 yards. Toussaint did not have a carry for Baltimore in the Ravens playoff win vs. the Steelers.

Steelers Protecting Against Practice Squad Poaching?

While this is only speculation on the Steel Curtain Rising’s part, the recent season-end injury to Justin Forsett could have renewed the Ravens interest in Fitzgerald Toussaint, prompting the Steelers to activate him. When the Steelers activated Doran Grant, Neal Coolong of Steelers Wire suggested the Steelers were promoting the cornerback keep another team from signing him.

  • Last year the Steelers lost two defensive lineman to practice squad poaching.

First Pittsburgh West, aka the Arizona Cardinals signed defensive end Josh Mauro, and a few weeks later the Kansas City Chiefs signed nose tackle Nick Williams. Mauro only appeared in 1 game in 2014, but has played in 10 games for the Cardinals in 2015. Nicholas Williams played in two games in 2014 for the Chiefs, and has appeared in nine thus far in 2015.

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Steelers to Seahawks: Super Bowl Excuse Making Gets You No Where

The Pittsburgh Steelers clinched “One for the Thumb” on February 5, 2006 in Detroit at Super Bowl XL with a 21 to 10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

Run into a Seahawks fan and they’re still whining and making excuses. Michael Bean, editor of Behind the Steel Curtain, tells of going in front of a group of school children (who probably weren’t even old enough to remember the game) and getting booed when the find out he writes for a Steelers site.

During the Steelers AFC Divisional playoff victory over the Baltimore Ravens, myself and a fellow member of the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Buenos Aires ran into a guy from Seattle. You can imagine a Florida Election judge getting a warmer reception from Al Gore.

The referee from Super Bowl XL got into the act admitting that “he made mistakes that affected the game.” (Oh, I guess you “made” Matt Hasselbeck throw the interception… I guess you “made” the kicker miss a field goal.)

Ah, but sometimes there is true symmetry in poetic justice.

Since that fateful day at Ford Field, the Seattle Seahawks have had not one, but two chances to redress their grievances with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

And after two regulation NFL games, the some total for there efforts remains: ZERO.

That’s not just zero wins, but ZERO points.

That’s right. Mike Tomlin’s Steelers shut out the Seahawks 21-0 in 2007 and they did it again 24-0 last Sunday at Heinz Field.

The Steelers won Super Bowl XL fair and square. Seattle fans would do well to accept that reality.

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Steelers Report Card vs. the Seahawks

Fortunately for the Steelers the NFL regular season is the scholastic equlivant of a series of 16 pass fail tests with the only pluses and minuses coming in divisional games. With that said the report card for Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Seahawks was a good one, in most areas at least. Here go the Steelers specific grades, with the usual caveat that no other grades were consulted prior writing this post.

Ben Roethlisberger’s impressive statistics mask several high passes and that he should have had at least one if not two balls intercepted. But Ben played well, made key 3rd down conversions to move the chains and was forced to make lemonade by making things happen with his feet. Grade: B

Running Backs
If it is true that Rashard Mendenhall had little in the way of run blocking much of the time which has been said before many times, his production was also uneven which has also been said many times. Isaac Redman continues to impress and fully deserves the “Play of the Week” credit awarded to him by Behind the Steel Curtain. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Bad news? Mike Wallace’s average is down. Good news? The Man is catching everything, notching is 5th straight 100 yard game. Young Money Recievers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown continue to make quality catches at key moments. And Hines Ward, well perhaps Dancing With the Stars Helped his Fancy Footwork. Grade: A

Offensive Line
Let the record reflect that the Steelers had a goal line situation and couldn’t punch it in. Let the record reflect that Ben Roethlisberger got sacked out of “punch it in position” once and made it to the 20 another time only to end up kicking a 41 yard missed field goal. The Steelers couldn’t run in the second half. And Ben had to scramble 5 times. This unit must improve. Grade D+

Defensive Line
Too old, too slow, too incapacitated by injury. Don’t tell that to Johnny Mitchell’s men. Granted, the Seahawks front 5 are no reincarnation of The Hogs, but the Steelers defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. The Steelers didn’t blitz for much of the game because they largely didn’t need to. Seattle totaled 31 yards rushing. Grade: A

This is another unit that fought back with a vengeance, helping in coverage to ensure that Pittsburgh got off the field on third down and sacking the day lights out of Jackson on the one drive where he threatened to score. Grade: A

The Steelers didn’t blitz much. Travias Jackson threw 29 times and completed 20 of those throws. Yet Seattle never crossed the 50 until the 4th quarter and was 2-12 on third down conversions. Granted, although he’s only a few years shy of 60, Steve Larget might be able to push for a roster spot in the Seahawks, but several some bodies in the Steelers secondary were doing something right. Grade: A

Special Teams
Antonio Brown 41 yard punt return gave this team a spark, and if his other returns did not bear fruit you have to like his aggressive attitude. Equally important, Seattle got nothing from its return game. Ah, but Sean Suisham, you gotta make those 41 yarders. Grade: B

Mike Tomlin clearly had his team mentally and physically prepared to play. Dick LeBeau had his defense mean and hungry. Bruce Arians had a good game and adjusted his play calling well to the inability to run the ball. The only real black mark is Tomlin’s waste of a challenge. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero
William Gay has done for the 3rd corner what Cliff Stoudt and Mark Malone did for the back up quarterback position. If there’s a corner that (some) Steelers fans love to hate it is William Gay. However Gay was trust into the starting line up, and the only time you saw he was either tight on coverage or making well-timed (legal) hits. Other than that, you didn’t hear his name, and for that William Gay is Steel Curtain Rising’s Unsung Hero of the Seawhawks game.

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Steelers Shutout Seahawks 24-0

After the Japanese successfully crippled the US fleet at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nagumo scrapped plans to launch an additional attack. The Hollywood classic Tora, Tora, Tora depicts Nagumo defending his decision out of fear the he had “woken a sleeping giant.”

For the last decade the Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the NFL’s giants, and last week during the Debacle in Baltimore the Ravens most certainly caught this giant sleeping.

If the Baltimore Ravens were the locomotive that pounded the Steelers out of their sleep, then the Seahawks were the fly that the giant’s hand found when he woke up swatting.

Although Mike Tomlin will justifiably say “we fell short of perfection” the Steelers nonetheless did what they should have done – squash an inferior opponent.

Stumbling, But Making A Statement

When giants wake they are more likely to stumble instead of springing to life. When that first stumble comes, the question is, does the giant gain his bearings or does he stumble some more and fall?

During the first drive the Steelers flashed and feigned, marching all the way to the one, only to give up easy “punch it in position” via a sack, then regained it only to fail on fourth and goal.

Could this giant be teetering, about to fall?

No. Dick LeBeau’s defense stoned Seattle allowing them one yard as they forced a three and out.

Neither team of course decided anything in that those first two series, but one thing was certain – the giant had awoken on steady feet.

Inconsistent Performance, Lopsided Result

Stat sheets are wont to deceive, and the Steelers-Seahawks game serves as a perfect example. While every unit of the Steelers had its moments, the team fell short of a consistent effort for most of the day.

In particularly, the offense worked in fits and spirits for much of the afternoon.

  • Ben Roethlisberger, despite going 22-30 for 1 TD and almost 300 yards was high on his passes and should have had one if not two balls picked off
  • Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, despite both peeling off double-digit runs, never got into a rhythm
  • Three of the Steelers trips into the Red Zone yielded 21 points – the other three yielded 3 points

No, this is no attempt to nit pick away the significance of the Steelers first shut out since 2008, but against a more talented opponent such inconsistency can prove lethal.

Against the Seattle Seahawks the Pittsburgh Steelers flashed that they have all of the elements to be a great team led by a high octane offense. But that offense remains a work in progress, particularly the offensive line.

But the fact that Steelers Nation might have to wait a while for a rebirth of a 1979 styled offense was no problem because this afternoon giant showed he had other weapons.

Dick LeBeau’s Defense – Mike Tomlin’s Big Stick

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense ranked number one in ’07, ’08 and number two in ’10. Yet after the Baltimore game, critics from coast to coast derided this unit as no longer being young enough, no longer being fast enough, and no longer being good enough.

Dick LeBeau stood by his men during the week, and his players backed him up handsomely.

Again, stats can deceive. Travis Jackson hit 11 different receivers in passing a pretty 20 of 29 with no picks. Normally that’s indicative of a pretty good day passing, but it went all for naught because of the Seahawks woeful in ability to convert third downs.

The Steelers kept the Seahawks off of the board in the first half, but their effort was largely subdued. Travis Jackson had time to throw, and Dick LeBeau was content to let the Steelers DB’s do their job.

It wasn’t until the second half that the giant fully shook off his grogginess, loosened the stiffness in his neck and shoulder, and began swinging what has been the Steelers big stick – the sack.

Troy Polamalu, Larry Foote, James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley, Steve McClendon and, yes, James Harrison, all got into the act.

If Dick LeBeau had scripted the defensive side of the game in order to answer the critics, he could not have done a better job:

  • Three of those sacks came on the one drive the Seattle actually threatened to score
  • James Harrison ended that drive with a sack on fourth down

And, to those beating the “too old” drum,

  • James Farrior ended the day for the Steelers defense by sacking Jackson for a seven yard loss.

Stiffer tests against stronger opponents certainly await Dick LeBeau’s defense, but their performance against the Seahawks should renew Steelers Nation’s confidence that they’ll be up to the task.

You can’t win the Super Bowl in September.” – James Harrison

Scoring a shut out is always good but, as James Harrison’s quote reveals, the Steelers accepted today’s win but no one at Heinz Field declared victory.

And so should it be because a roused giant still must understand that his journey still only begins with the first step. The Steelers appear to understand that.

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