Is the Steelers 2017 Defensive Line Simply Too Talented Too Contain?

In-case you haven’t noticed, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward is having himself quite the year.

  • I’ve certainly noticed, as I’ve often caught myself Tweeting or simply saying out-loud, “What in the world has gotten into Cam Heyward?”

I almost always follow that up by saying, “He’s playing like Mean Joe Greene, circa 1972.” I always say 1972 because, according to former legends such as outside linebacker Andy Russell, it was around that time when Greene was simply unblockable.

Cameron Heyward, Marcus Mariota, Javon Hargrave, Steelers vs Titans, Steelers 2017 defensive line

Cam Heyward sacks Marcus Mariota as Javon Hargrave closes in as well. Photo Credit: Steelers.com via Steel City Underground

Back to 2017, and Heyward, who, after recording two in a 40-17 romp over the Titans at Heinz Field Thursday night, perhaps surprisingly leads the Steelers with seven sacks through 10 games.

I say surprisingly, because Cam Heyward is a 3-4 defensive end, but in-case you didn’t know, this isn’t Dick LeBeau‘s 3-4 defense any longer, where it was the job of the linemen to eat up blockers so as to allow the linebackers to roam free and make tackles.

Under third-year defensive coordinator Keith Butler, the Steelers defensive linemen have been allowed to play more of a one-gap style, which has freed them up to be disruptive and make plenty of plays of their own.

Maybe this was a product of changing times, or simply a reaction to having two stud defensive ends on the field, after Stephon Tuitt somehow managed to slip to Pittsburgh in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

If Heyward, 28, is in the prime of his career (and, if he’s not, I can’t wait to see what that looks like), Tuitt, 24, is fast-approaching that point. There is no question he’s an absolute monster when he’s on the field, as evidenced by the four quarterback hits he recorded in Pittsburgh’s 20-17 victory over the Colts in Week 10. The only problem with Tuitt so far in 2017 has been injuries, injuries that have forced him to miss four games.

Then there’s second-year nose tackle Javon Hargrave, a 2016 third around pick out of South Carolina State. Hargrave isn’t your father’s nose tackle, he’s an athletic freak of nature that the legendary Casey Hampton never was, a player who, according to Behind the Steel Curtain editor Jeff Hartman, has been the Steelers most underrated lineman this season, so good, in-fact, he probably deserves more time on the field (Hargrave usually comes out of the game when Pittsburgh puts in its nickel or dime defense).

  • I can’t believe I’ve made it this far without mentioning Tyson Alualu, a reserve defensive end that Pittsburgh signed in the offseason.

Not only has Alualu, a former first round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars back in 2010, been an important part of the Steelers defensive line rotation, he’s started those four games Tuitt had to miss due to injuries.

Steelers 2017 Defensive line, Stephon Tuitt, Josh McCown

Stephon Tuitt stops Josh McCown from gaining yardage in Steelers win over Browns. Photo Credit: USA Today Steelers Wire

So, of the Steelers top four defensive linemen–three starters and a reserve–you have two first round picks (Alualu, 2010; Heyward, 2011); a second round pick in Tuitt, who surely would have been drafted in the first round had he not suffered an injury in his final season at Notre Dame; and Hargrave, a player that may have been drafted in the first round, had he not played his college ball at tiny South Carolina State.

  • Maybe what we have here is a defensive line that’s simply too talented to stop.

It seems like every offseason, we talk in absolutes about the Steelers offensive weapons, and how they’ll simply be impossible to stop if they could ever get on the field at the same time.

The Steelers tantalizing offensive weapons have spent the vast-majority of 2017 on the field at the same time, but here we are, 10 game into the season, and–Thursday night against the Titans, aside–they’ve been anything but impossible to stop.

 

The defensive line, on the other hand, has been a thing of beauty, a force that takes one back to those glory days of the early-70’s, when Dwight White, Ernie Holmes and L.C. Greenwood joined Mean Joe Green in making life miserable for offensive linemen and quarterbacks all around the NFL.

  • I realize it’s easier to double-team linemen in a 3-4 scheme. But, for one thing, you can’t double every lineman. Secondly, you still have  to deal with the four linebackers on the field.

While Ryan Shazier has continued his Pro Bowl-level play from a year ago at inside linebacker, Vince Williams is one sack behind Heyward for the team lead.

  • As for stud outside linebackers Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt, a strong candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year, they’ve combined for eight sacks so far this season.

With 34 sacks, the Steelers front seven has picked up where it left off a season ago, when it recorded 31 over the final nine games.

  • The Steelers pass-rush has simply been overwhelming in 2017.

I believe it all starts up front with the talented group of defensive linemen the Steelers employ.

They say football is won in the trenches. If that is the case, the Steelers 2017 defensive line may be too dominant to lose many battles in the foreseeable future.

 

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Coty Sensabaugh’s First Start Can Validate the Steelers Free Agency Strategy

If you’re a long-time (or even short-time) Steelers fan, you no doubt are well-aware of their tradition of not making huge splash signings during the heart of the free agency frenzy every March.

While the acquisition of highly-accomplished cornerback Joe Haden may have been a departure from how Pittsburgh had conducted its business in the past, that signing was a little fluky, as it occurred just before the start of the season, and was only made possible after Haden was released by the Browns.

  • The unusual Haden signing, aside, it was business as usual for the Steelers last spring, as they set out to underwhelm their fans by not “winning” in free agency.

The outside free agents Pittsburgh inked last spring included receiver Justin Hunter, defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, running back/return specialist Knile Davis and journeyman cornerback Coty Sensabaugh

  • Instead of difference-makers, these players were brought in as a means to fortify the roster and add quality depth.

But who cares about depth during free agency, right? As a fan, you want the adrenaline rush of that buzz-worthy deal that becomes the headline story on Sportscenter.

Coty Sensabaugh, Coty Sensabaughs first start, Marion Mack, Steelers vs Colts, Steelers vs Titans,

Marion Mack tries to leap over Coty Sensabaugh in Steelers win over Colts. Photo Credit: AP, Sharon Herald

You want Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith (no matter how much you might loathe both) loudly proclaiming that your team will be next February’s Super Bowl champion based on what it just did this March.

Again, while other teams made moves that captured the headlines and drew bold proclamations from the national talking heads, the Steelers had their own, quiet little vision in-mind.

  • Here we are, nine games into the 2017 season, and Tyson Alualu, for example, has already made a huge impact on the team.

Tyson Alualu has not only been a regular part of the Steelers defensive line rotation, and a noticeable upgrade over the likes of former reserves, Cam Thomas and Ricardo Mathews, he’s had to start four games so far due to multiple injuries suffered by budding star Stephon Tuitt.

  • In-fact, Tyson Alualu was launched to the top of the depth chart almost immediately, when Tuitt tore his biceps just two plays into Pittsburgh’s Week 1 match-up against the Browns.

While Alualu hasn’t posted impressive numbers in the eight games he’s played in 2017 (14 tackles and two sacks), he’s been far from a weak-link–and he did sack Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford on a critical fourth and goal play late in the Steelers exciting 20-15 victory in Week 8.

  • This brings us to Coty Sensabaugh, and the immediate future of the Steelers secondary, now that Joe Haden will be out indefinitely with a fractured fibula he sustained in Sunday’s 20-17 victory over the Colts.

People may forget that, before the unusual splash-worthy signing of Joe Haden last summer, Coty Sensabaugh was not only being considered for the slot corner role, he had acquitted himself well-enough that he was challenging former corner, Ross Cockrell, for the top spot, opposite Artie Burns, late in the preseason.

Of course, the Haden acquisition changed everything–including Cockrell’s spot on the roster. And with youngster Mike Hilton exploding on the scene this past summer and clamping down that slot corner spot, Sensabaugh quickly became a forgotten man in the Steelers defensive backfield.

Until now.

There is no discounting the impact Joe Haden has made on the Steelers secondary in 2017; a two-time Pro Bowl player and a veteran, Haden has been the glue to a young unit that has gone from the bottom of the league in passing yards two years ago, to near the top in 2017.

  • No matter how you slice it, or how you may try to rationalize it away, Joe Haden will be greatly missed.

The “next man up” mantra head coach Mike Tomlin likes to preach every time a top player gets injured is headline-worthy, and it perhaps galvanizes his troops in troubled times.

  • But starters are starters for a reason, and backup are backups.
  • But that doesn’t mean Sensabaugh can’t come in and provide adequate depth.

A six-year veteran, Coty Sensabaugh, 29, was on three different rosters the previous two seasons–including two in 2016–before winding up with Pittsburgh.

Coty Sensabaugh is a journeyman, no question, but his career resume (29 career starts–including 15 two years ago as a member of the Titans) suggests that he can step in and be an asset for the Steelers over the next few weeks. Who knows? Maybe Coty Sensabaugh can be the same type of free agent acquisition at cornerback as Will Allen was at safety.

If you’ll remember, Will Allen was “the other guy” the Steelers signed in their Get the Band Back Together” free agency spree in March 2010, when they welcomed Larry Foote and Antwaan Randle El. Allen didn’t do much until 2012, but he provided stability at safety from 2012 onwards, (not that anyone would confuse him with Troy Polamalu).

In the same light, Coty Sensabaugh doesn’t have to be Joe Haden. He just has to get Pittsburgh through the next several games without the defense suffering major blows because of his presence on the field.

Depth players prove their true worth, not when they come in and spell a starter during the course of a game, but when they have to take a starter’s place over the course of a few weeks.

If Coty Sensabaugh can do that in Joe Haden’s absence and not become a liability in the secondary, the Steelers will truly be free agent “winners” in 2017.

 

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JuJu Smith-Schuster & Steelers Defense Run Away with Lions Game Ball Poll

As drama goes, the Steelers-Lions game ball poll offered very little. The story of the game revolved around one wide receiver who spent the evening streching the field, and a Steelers defense who effectively shrunk the field in the Red Zone.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers vs Lions

JuJu Smith-Schuster sets Steelers touchdown reception record vs. Lions. Photo Credit: Tim Fuller, USA Today via Washington Post

The young wide receiver is of course the Steelers JuJu Smith-Schuster and the Steelers goal line defense.

  • Steelers vs Lions, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers Lions game ball winnersAs you can see, our voters here didn’t go out for a lot of nuance.

JuJu Smith-Schuster was the top vote getter by a whopping 23 votes, but he was course the Steelers goal line defense, anchored by Cameron Heyward, Tyson Alualu and Javon Hargrave.

  • Javon Hargrave led the individual voting with 4 votes, while Vince Williams followed  with 3 with another 3 for Tyson AluAlu and Cam Heyward.

Sean Davis got two votes, while Ryan Shazier polled one rounding out the defensive vote getters as Artie Burns was left shut out.

On the offensive side Ben Roethlisberger got 2 votes, the only player to draw multiple clicks.

Le’Veon Bell was shut out, which is a little surprising since he scored the team’s first touchdown and helped burn up the clock when the game’s outcome remained in doubt.

However, Bell did have a fumble, which cost the team dearly as it took 3 points off the board and gave the Lions a chance to add 3 more.

Thanks again to everyone who took time out to vote, and a special thanks to those who submitted write ins.

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4 Keys to the Steelers Success in the 2nd Half of the 2017 Season

The bye week was good to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Without improving on their 6-2 record, the Steelers gained a game on both the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North race, and saw Kansas City drop a game to the Dallas Cowboys, transforming what was once a 3 way tie for AFC dominance into a two way tie.

  • While a 6-2 record translates to a 12-4 overall record, past performance is not an indicator of future results.

And that might be a positive thing, because 12-4 almost certainly won’t be enough to secure home field advantage in the playoffs, or even enough to get one of those coveted first round byes.

So with that, here are 4 things the Steelers must do during the second half of the season.

Bud Dupree, Alex Smith, Steelers vs Chiefs, Steelers 2017 season

Bud Dupree sacks Alex Smith in the Steelers win over Kansas City. Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA Today via Yahoo! Sports

1. Put It Together on Defense

8 games into 2017, Keith Butler’s defense brought a mixed bag on game day. Consider:

  • The Steelers rushing defense got gouged left and right against Chicago and Jacksonville yet has been in shutdown mode most of the rest of the time
  • The Steelers took a strong pass defense to Detroit, and then gave up 420 yards
  • That same defense took a weak Red Zone record into Detroit and came out with one of the strongest Red Zone performances in memory

Let’s agree that the arrow is pointing up on the Steelers defense. Contributions from newcomers like T.J. Watt and Joe Haden are proving to be difference makers as is depth provided by players like Tyson Alualu and Anthony Chickillo.

But the Steelers defense needs to put it together for an entire game. Going into full shut down mode for one half might have worked against Cincinnati and Kansas City. It won’t work against Tom Brady in December…. Or, God willing January.

2. Get it Done in the Red Zone

Let’s get this straight: The Pittsburgh Steelers offense, complete with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and new comer JuJu Smith-Schuster leaves the bye week just a hair above the absolutely bottom in Red Zone effectiveness.

  • Chris Boswell is the team’s number 1 weapon inside the 20.

Sometimes it’s been because of an over reliance on the passing. Other times its been an over reliance on the run. Other times it’s been the failure to use Roosevelt Nix and the “Big Boy” Package. Other times execution has flat out failed.

Regardless of the reason, the Steelers Red Zone Offense must Improve. Period

3. Stop Ringing The Bell So Much

In hindsight, Chuck Noll made it look so easy. It didn’t matter whether he had legends like Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, journeymen like Frank Pollard, Jackson and Abercrombie or under appreciated players like Merril Hoge and Warren Williams, Noll never had a problem splitting carries between his backs.

  • Ok. NFL offenses have changed.

In fact they’ve changed so much that, in the post-Chuck Noll era, about the only time you see the Steelers splitting carries between running backs is when injury has forced their hand (think Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis in 2004).

And Steel Curtain Rising has acknowledged an unfortunately reality a multiple times:

Its also true that limiting carries of the primary ball carrier wasn’t a practical option in 2014 thanks to LeGarrette Blount’s antics, Bell’s injury in 2015, and DeAngelo William’s injuries in 2016.

But James Conner and Terrell Watson are both healthy and Le’Veon Bell is on pace for 458 touches in the regular season alone. Todd Haley must find a way to work Conner and Watson into the running game.

4. Expect and Embrace the Unexpected

OK, expecting and embracing the unexpected is stealing a from this site’s lessons from 2016 column. But the lesson remains valid.

  • Yes, the Steelers are 6-2 at the bye, and yes that’s a very good place to be.
  • And yes, Mike Tomlin teams have historically gotten stronger in the 2nd halves of seasons.

But streaks don’t necessarily carry over from the first half of a football season to the second. Did anyone have the 2007 or 2011 New York Giants pegged as Super Bowl champions halfway through the year?

  • Steelers history provides its own examples.

In 2009, the Steelers beat the Denver Broncos in their 8th game and finally looked like defending Super Bowl Champions. They then promptly went out and lost 5 straight games. Everyone remembers the 2012 Steelers for their late-season implosion, but people forget that team stacked four strong wins in the middle of the season and was looking very strong 8 or 9 games in.

  • The key here is to both expect the unexpected and to embrace it.

The Steelers lost Cameron Heyward 9 games into 2016. This site’s reaction was to say, “Cam Heyward lost for the season = “Game Over” invoking Bill Paxton’s quote from Aliens. Yet, the Steelers defense staged a remarkable turn around thanks to James Harrison re-joining the starting lineup and Artie Burns, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave playing like veterans instead of rookies.

The second half of 2017 will bring unanticipated challenges and inopportune injuries.

  • Mike Tomlin’s Steelers won’t  have a choice about the challenges they’ll face in the future, but they do have it in their power to choose how they react to those challenges.

That choice, perhaps more than anything else, will define the final 8 games of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 regular season.

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Goal Line Stand: Steelers Red Zone Defense Delivers Pittsburgh to Victory in Detroit

Head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t invoke is “We don’t add style” points dictum in his press conference following the Steelers 20-15 win over the Detroit Lions.

Tomlin’s “We don’t add style points” is simply another variation of Bill Cowher’s “It wasn’t pretty, but we found a way to win.” It’s a reminder to his team, to the press and to the fans that all wins in the NFL are created equally.

The reminder is often necessary, given the number of fans who’re really to summarily fire Tomlin and/or Kevin Colbert after anything less than a double digit win.

But perhaps its fitting that Mike Tomlin didn’t use his “Style” points reminder, because given the pat the Steelers used to secure victory, perhaps a few style points are in order.

Ryan Shazier, Tyson Alualu, Matthew Stafford, Alualu Stafford Sack, Steelers vs Lions

Ryan Shazier gloats over Matthew Stafford after Tyson Alualu’s 4th down sack. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Typical Trap Game for Tomlin’s Steelers

The Steelers went to Detroit as favorites which should have served as a warning sign. Mike Tomlin teams get too often tripped up by trap games. Following to uninspiring wins and 2 ugly losses, plus a strong win against the Ravens, Tomin’s Steelers had won hard fought contests over the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals.

They took a 5-2 record to Detroit against a 3-3 Lions team coming off a bye week with a penchant for coming back and winning games late. So just how dangerous was this game for the Steelers? Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell put it into perspective:

Classic flat(ulence) spot for the Steelers, who are 0-5 under Mike Tomlin when traveling to an NFC team after two AFC wins that include a divisional win.

In other words, Pittsburgh has historically found ways to lose games like this.And at any number of moments during the evening, the Steelers seemed set on following the script:

  • Eli Rogers dropped a gimmie touchdown in the end zone
  • Le’Veon Bell fumbled the ball away inside the Red Zone, taking at least 3 points off the off the board
  • Bell’s fumble also allowed the Lions to kick a field goal
  • Ben Roethlisberger overthrew Darrius Heyward-Bey in the end zone who nonetheless probably could have
  • The Steelers offensive line failed to dominate the line of scrimmage, allowing to Detroit to tackle Bell for a loss 5 times

The bullet points above add up to a net 14 point swing in Detroit’s favor and a lot of 3rd and long situations. Normally, those types of numbers come back to you on the score board when the clock reaches zero.

  • But, if 8 games into the season the Steelers offense still lacks the potency everyone expected it to demonstrate, it nonetheless showed resiliency.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Glover Quin, Steelers vs. Lions

JuJu Smith-Schuster burns Glover Quin. Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski, AP via Penn-Live

Antonio Brown didn’t make many fantasy owners happy, but he did convert third downs when it counted. Jesse James came up with a couple of key receptions, albeit on drives that ended in turnovers. Le’Veon Bell moved the chains late in the game, and with Martavis Bryant on the bench, JuJu Smith-Schuster served notice to defensive coordinators that the Steelers can make them pay by doubling and tripling Brown.

The efforts of the Steelers offense and particularly the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster as a real threat were necessary for victory. But they weren’t the story of the game, and that isn’t the reason why style points should be awarded.

Steelers Goal Line Stands Against Lions Define Game

In days of old when knights were bold and you wanted to protect your gold you surrounded it with a stone wall. If someone wanted to take that gold, they had to either scale the wall with hooks or ladders while dodging slings and arrow. When that failed, your only other choice was to force your way in.

  • The days of battering rams, draw bridges and flaming pitch are no more. But perhaps football gives us their modern day equivalent – the goal line stand.

It says here that Keith Butler didn’t enter the game intending to spot Matthew Stafford over 400 yards of passing.

Joe Haden, Marvin Jones, Steelers vs Lions

Joe Haden breaks up a pass for Marvin Jones in the end zone. Photo Credit: Tim Fuller, USA TODAY Sports via Steel City Insider

But an on looker from Mars might be forgiving for assuming that Butler’s plan was to yield the first 80 yards of the field, only to break the Lion’s will inside the 20. Because that’s just what the Steelers defense did.

  • Excluding field goal attempts, the Detroit Lions ran 17 plays from inside the Steelers 20 including 9 from inside the 10.

Each time Keith Butler’s defenders responded with a definitive “You Shall Not Pass!”

  • Joe Haden and Artie Burns both broke up would-be touchdown passes in the end zone
  • Sean Davis went toe-to-toe with 6’7” 270 lbs tight end Darren Fells and ripped a touchdown from his hands
  • Sean Davis returned on another drive to make two touchdown-saving tackles at the goal line
  • Mike Hilton and Ryan Shazier both defended away passes and both stuffed runners at the line of scrimmage
  • Tyson Alualu stepped up and sacked Stafford who tried to run for it on 4th down
  • On the prior play, Javon Hargrave simply ate Dwayne Washington alive

Looking at the play, it’s difficult to determine which is more impressive, Hargave’s play or the look of utter disbelief on Jim Cadwell’s face.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, that’s why they call Javon Hargrave “The Grave Digger.”

Style Points for Steelers Defense in Order

If you give even an average NFL team 17 shots at the end zone from inside their own 20 – at home – and they’re going to come away with a couple of three touchdowns.

  • The Steelers defense didn’t yield a single touchdown.

The NFL won’t award any extra style points for Pittsburgh’s defensive performance in Detroit, but perhaps it should. Against the Chiefs and then the Bengals, the Steelers defense put in stealer 1st and 2nd half efforts.

  • Against the Detroit Lions the Steelers defense went into bend but don’t yield a single blade of grass mode in the Red Zone.

While you never want to see an opponent march down the field with video-game like efficiency, getting tough inside the 20 is perhaps the greatest defensive asset a football team can possess. Against the Detroit Lions the Steelers defense proved it can deliver in the Red Zone.

At the end of the day, the NFL won’t award any style points for that, but shut down ability in the end zone is a priceless commodity that could prove to be priceless to Pittsburgh down the stretch.

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Steelers Defeat Lions in Detroit – Rapid Reaction & Game Ball Poll

Wew! What a nail biter. The Pittsburgh Steelers held on to beat the Detroit Lions to the tune of 20 to 15 in a hard fought road match up that went down to the wire. As we always do here after Steelers wins, we invite you the citizens of Steelers Nation to vote Game Ball Winners.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Quandre Diggs, Steelers vs Lions

Steelers JuJu Smith-Schuster burns Quandre Diggs in his 97 yard tochdown scamper. Photo Credit: Duane Burleson

JuJu Smith-Schuster earns the top ballot slot which is no surprise.

Steelers vs Lions, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers Lions game ball winners

The esteemed Steelers rookie was easily the star of the night for Pittsburgh catching 7 passes for 193 yards including the game sealing touchdown. Right behind him however, we’re giving a nod to the entire Steelers Goal Line defense.

  • Keith Butler’s boys couldn’t do much right outside the 20, but they were impeccable at the goal.

Really, the Steelers goal line defense did the franchise’s defensive legacy proud. Joe Greene is smiling from his perch in Texas while Ernie Holmes, L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White are smiling down from above.

After that, we’re giving Ben Roethlisberger a ballot nod. Ben didn’t have the  best of nights, but he also had 2 sure touchdowns dropped. Le’Veon Bell gets a nod. Bell, who fumbled the ball, didn’t have one of his better nights either, but he ran hard and helped burn up clock late in the game. Antonio Brown also gets a nod after a quiet night that nonetheless saw him a few critical catches. Jesse James gets a ballot slot due to his 40 yard catch.

  1. On defense, Artie Burns leads the individual nominees.

Burns led the team in tackles, and recovered a fumble late in the game. Followed by Burns, we have Vince Williams, who was spectaular at the goal line. Ryan Shazier also had a strong game including breaking up at the goal line. Cameron Heyward and Tyson Alualu, who both had sacks and both excelled at the goal line also get nods.

Rounding out the defensive nominees are Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave. Davis came up big at the goal line and was 5th on the team in tackles, while Javon Hargrave simply ate Dwayne Washington alive at the goal line.

Remember, you, the citizens of Steelers Nation are not limited to these choices. If you think someone else deserves a game ball, write their name in. Or better yet, write their name in and leave a comment stating your case as to why you think they deserve one.

The Steelers win over the Lions ended at 12:30 am here in Buenos Aires and the work day looms tomorrow. But please check back for our full analysis of the Steelers latest victory.

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Le’Veon Bell Tops Steelers Game Ball Winner Poll for 2nd Straight Week

The Steelers game ball winners poll following the Steelers 29-14 win over the Bengals at Heinz Field generated a lot of participation, with votes being cast across both sides of the ball, including several write ins and with ties resulting across the ballot.

Scroll down below the photo of this week’s top vote getter to review the full results!

Le'Veon Bell, Vontaz Burfict, Steelers vs Bengals

Le’Veon Bell gets tackled by Vontaze Burfict en route to his latest 100 yard performance against the Bengals. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, Penn-Live

  • And it should come as no surprise, that for the second straight week Le’Veon Bell led the voting.

Steelers vs Bengals, Steelers Game ball winners BengalsThe second slot yielded a pleasant surprise, as Roosevelt Nix tied with Ben Roethlisberger with 10 votes. Nix was instrumental in paving the way for Bell. The fullback is largely an anonymous (and largely disappearing) role in today’s NFL so it is nice to see Nix get recognition.

Fourth place brought yet another tie, with David DeCastro and Robert Golden netting eight votes (interesting that Golden would poll 4 times more votes than the guy who caught his pass). They were followed by yet another tie a slot below, as Bud Dupree and Joe Haden both polled 6 votes to split 5th place.

Antonio Brown drew 5 votes, followed by William Gay’s 4 votes. JuJu Smith-Schuster got 3 votes, Cam Heyward polled 2 tying with Darrius Heyward-Bey, with Tyson Alualu, Maurkice Pouncey and Ryan Shazier polling 1 a piece.

As always, Steel Curtain Rising thanks you our beloved readers for taking time out to vote and gives special nod to those who took the time to cast write in votes.

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Steelers Bludgeon Bengals 29-15, as Defense Delivers 2nd Half Knockout

The Cincinnati Bengals arrived at Heinz Field fresh off a bye week and on a 2 game winning streak intent serving notice to the Steel City that Queen City would not allow the AFC Crown to fall into Steelers hands uncontested.

  • The record shows that Cincinnati and Pittsburgh opened the game by exchanging a pair of hard body blows.

But when the dust settled, the Pittsburgh Steelers prevailed, to the tune of a 29-14 victory. And what made the win impressive was the 2nd half defensive knockout delivered by the Steelers defense.

Roosevelt Nix, Roosevelt Nix blocks, Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs Bengals, Rosie Nix

Rosie Nix renders Bengals defenders in Le’Veon Bell’s way as road kill. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla

Steelers-Bengals Toe-to-Toe For Just Shy of Two Quarters

In is no secret that the Steelers offense has failed to live up to expectations this season. What fans envisioned as the NFL offensive equivalent of the Death Star has resembled the type of offense that we could have expected Ron Erhardt, Bill Cowher’s first offensive coordinator, to field.

And perhaps the Ron Erhardt metaphor is an apt one for the Steelers offensive effort vs. the Bengals. When asked to explain his philosophy to Bill Cowher, Ernhardt’s words were simple:

  • Throw to score, run to win.

That’s exactly what the Steelers did at Heinz Field on this October day against the Bengals. The Steelers opened the game with a steady diet of Ben Roethlisberger handing off to Le’Veon Bell and throwing to Antonio Brown, and scored a touchdown on their opening drive, as Roethlisberger connected with Brown for a seven yard score.

After the Steelers and Bengals traded punts, Cincinnati got on the board with a efficient, if a little too easy looking, drive to tie the score.

  • The Steelers offense offered a new answer that we haven’t seen yet this season.

While Le’Veon Bell carried the ball for one yard, the rest of the yardage on the drive came in the form of passes to Eli Rogers, Vance McDonald and JuJu Smith-Schulster, who scored from 31 yards out. Unfortunately, that was the last time the Steelers offense would see the end zone during the afternoon. To be sure, Todd Haley’s crew provided some fireworks, perhaps most noticeably in the form of Le’Veon Bell’s 42 yard catch and run:

But the Bengals answered the Steelers touchdown with one of their own, and the Steelers could only managed a field goal in response, although the Todd Haley’s crew does deserve credit for moving 71 yards in 1:28 even if they did stall in the Red Zone to give Pittsburgh a 6 point advantage going into the half.

Special Teams Interlude

The Steelers special teams have run hot and cold this season, making a few big plays which contributed to Pittsburgh’s wins over Cleveland and Minnesota, while committing costly errors against Chicago and Kansas City.

  • Against the Bengals, Chris Boswell was a perfect 5-5 including a pair of 41 and 49 yarders – which are not gimmies at Heinz Field.

But the biggest play of the game came from the punt unit, and it didn’t involve Jordan Berry, but rather upback Robert Golden and Darrius Heyward-Bey who hooked up for a 44 yard catch on 4th and 7. Fake punts are, by definition, do or die plays, and a failure there would have opened the door wide open to a Bengals last ditch comeback.

But the pair succeeded, and gave the offense a chance to burn more time off the clock and ended with Chris Boswell knocking in his 5th.

Steelers Defense Bludgeons Bengals

As noted previously on this site, commentators both inside and outside Pittsburgh have twice sought to elevate Keith Butler’s defense to elite status, only to see the Steelers defense give up yards in gobs on the ground against Chicago and then against Jacksonville.

  • Last week, against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Steelers defense turned out almost excellent performance against what had been the NFL’s top offense.

So, when Cincinnati marched down the field and appeared ready to match the Steelers touchdown for touchdown, Steelers Nation’s collective sign of “Oh, boy here we go again. Everyone spoke too soon” was understandable.

But the Steelers closed the 1st half by limiting the Bengals to a one yard Andy Dalton scramble, things seemed to be heading in the right direction.

  • Oh, if ever there was a first half close that signaled a second half turn around, this was it.

The Steelers forced a three and out to begin the second half, and ended the Bengals second possession with a Joe Hayden interception. The Bengals next possession ended like this:

  • Sean Davis deflects a pass that William Gay intercepts
  • T.J. Watt sacks Andy Dalton on third down
  • Dalton opens his next possession with a sack by Tyson Alualu, closes with a sack by Bud Dupree
  • Dalton fails to convert a 4th and 2 by under throwing A.J. Green

When it was all tallied up, the Steelers held the Bengals to a total if 19 yards of offense in the 2nd half.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, as a franchise, has undoubtedly had stronger halves in its history. It’s possible that one of those even came in the Tomlin era, during the 2010 win at Tennessee. But the work of Keith Butler’s defense against the Bengals at Heinz Field must rank up there with the great single half performances of Steelers defenses.

2017 Steelers a Work in Progress, but Making Progress

Mike Tomlin began the year by cautioning everyone that the 2017 Steelers were a work in progress. And thus far his team has vindicated him. The Steelers sputtered, surged and stuttered their way through the season’s first five games.

  • Last week, the Steelers appeared to a step forward against the Kansas City Chiefs.

This week against the Bengals, the Steelers sustained that first step and then took another one forward. To transform itself into a true contender, the Steelers offense will need to do more than rely on Chris Boswell’s leg for entire halves of games.

But against the Bengals that was enough, as the Steelers offense delivered the body blows, while the defense landed a series of 2nd half knockout punches.

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Steelers Bears “Blame Ball” Poll

Well, it was another trip to Solider Field for the Steelers, and another loss. The Pittsburgh Steelers history against the Chicago Bears shows that the franchise has struggled in the Windy City, and their 14 visit there was no exception as the Steelers lost 23-17 in overtime.

Mike Mitchell, Jordan Howard, Joe Hayden, Steelers vs Bears, Steelers vs Bears overtime

Mike Mitchell can’t stop Jordan Howard as he smokes the Steelers in overtime. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Alas, after a substandard effort like that in so many different parts of the team, we cannot in good conscious put up a “Game Ball” poll, so instead we’re launching a “Blame Ball” poll:

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 09-18-2017 17:55:27
end_date 09-30-2017 23:59:59
Poll Results:
Which Steelers most deserve blame for the Bear's loss? (Multiple Votes allowed)

As you can see, only Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell are the only two individuals to share the dishonor of having ballot mentions.

  • However, please do not mistake that for a scapegoat of either man.

That’s because blame can be spread far and wide on this one, as this Bob Pompeani tweet summarized.

The Chicago Bears gave the Atlanta Falcons a run for their money early in the year, so perhaps this shouldn’t be considered a “Trap game.” Still, as the Tribune Review’s Joe Rutter pointed out, the Steelers have struggled mightly on the road in September, and this game proved the rule.

  • Frankly, blame for that falls squarely on the shoulders of Mike Tomlin, although both Todd Haley and Keith Butler‘s units performed piss poorly.

Danny Smith’s special teams, after being heroes in weeks 1 and 2, caused a costly mistake that resulted in a 6 point swing. Vance McDonald made a heads up play, but if Jordan Berry just lands on the ball, its a safety and the Steelers are ahead by one at game’s close.

  • And then there’s Eli Rogers muffed punt that set up Chicago’s first touchdown.

The stat sheet indicates that Ben Roethlisberger had a decent game, but he also had at least 3 passes that could have been picked off, and couldn’t get the ball to his receivers when he needed to, especially on 3rd Downs. Antonio Brown had a solid game, but that cannot be said for the rest of his wide receiving corps.

Martavis Bryant had 8 targets and only 6 catches. To be sure, some of those were not well thrown balls and/or balls that Ben Roethlisberger looked like he was forcing, but he still should have had the first bomb thrown his way, even if it was a little overthrown.

And while Le’Veon Bell didn’t necessarily have a “bad day” he’s still far, far short of the Hall of Fame level performances that characterized his play in almost every single game last year. All of that blame is not due to him, as his offensive line’s run blocking hasn’t been consistent.

  • On defense, it is hard to know where to point the finger, because the Chicago Bears ran all over the Steelers.

Ryan Shazier had a good day stastically, but it seemed like each and every defender failed to bring his man down on first contact. No matter how you slice it, the Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Tyson Alualu, Bud Dupree, Vince Williams, Shazier and Anthony Chickillo utterly failed to stop Chicago’s running game when it counted.

The Bears won despite completing only one pass to wide receivers, so perhaps the Steelers secondary can avoid blame, but we’ll leave that for you the readers to decide.

As always, write in votes are not only allowed, but encouraged. Thanks in advance for taking time out to vote, and please check back for our full analysis of the Steelers latest loss to the Bears in Chicago.

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#ICYMI: Steelers Rule T.J. Watt, Marcus Gilbert Out vs Bears

Compared to some other NFL teams (knock on wood) the Pittsburgh Steelers have remained relatively healthy during 2017, but Mike Tomlin’s men will have to win today’s matchup against the Chicago Bears without the services of starting right outside linebacker T.J. Watt and starting right offensive guard Marcus Gilbert.

  • As of Saturday evening, starting defensive end Stephon Tuitt was listed as questionable.
T.J. Watt, DeShone Kizer, Steelers vs Browns

T.J. Watt closes in on DeShone Kizer in the Steelers 2017 season opening win over the Browns. Photo Credit: Getty Images via Obsev.com

T.J. Watt injured his groin in the second quarter of the Steelers win over the Vikings, while Marcus Gilbert suffered a hamstring injury during the same game. Stephon Tuitt injured his biceps in the Steelers season opening win against the Browns.

  • Chris Hubbard will start in Marcus Gilbert’s place at right tackle, and therefore be charged with defending Ben Roethlisberger’s “sightful side.”

The question of who will start and who will play at right outside linebacker remains far more intriguing. When Bud Dupree was unable to start the Steelers season opener, Anthony Chickillo took his place. However, going into the Vikings game, James Harrison was assumed to be T.J. Watt’s backup, yet when Watt got injured the Steelers moved Chickillo over the right side.

  • Mike Tomlin explained the move as wanting to go with the “hot hand” at outside linebacker.

Tomlin’s explanation makes sense, given that Chickillo had two sacks and a special teams touchdown in the season opener (which, if you’re keeping notes, means Chickillo tied Jarvis Jones year three sack total in a single game.)

Stephon Tuitt was listed as taking snaps with the Steelers first team defense on Friday afternoon, which is a strong indicator that he’ll suit up to play against the Chicago Bears. Regardless, the Steelers defensive line coach Johnny Mitchell likes to rotate his defensive lineman, so fans can expect to see Tyson Alualu, L.T. Walton spelling Tuitt as well as Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave.

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