Should Steelers Sign J.J. Watt? No, They Must Address More Pressing Needs

J.J. Watt, one of the faces of the NFL and the best player in the history of the Houston Texans’ franchise, was released by the team on Friday per Watt’s request.

If you’re a Steelers fan, that likely means you want Pittsburgh to bring Watt to town so he can be reunited with his younger brothers, T.J. Watt and Derek Watt.

  • Would it make sense for the Steelers to sign Watt? Duh.

He’s a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and while he’s clearly already played his best football, at 31, Watt is the same age as Cam Heyward and appears to have some good years left. But would it work schematically? I don’t know much, but I do know that any defensive coach worth his salt BETTER make Watt fit into his system. Otherwise, he probably shouldn’t be a defensive coach in the NFL.

  • Of course, J.J. Watt would be a great fit for the Steelers defense.

For that matter, the eldest Watt brother would be a great fit for Pittsburgh and would arguably be the biggest sports star in town the moment he arrived.

J.J. Watt, Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs Texans

J.J. Watt pressures Ben Roethlisberger in 2014. Photo Credit: Jason Bridge, USA Today

In terms of charisma, T.J., someone who seems to be more James Harrison than he is Joey Porter, pales in comparison to his big brother. No, J.J. would be great for the Steelers and Steeler Nation…in theory.

But there is the matter of finding the creative financing to make such a deal work. As you know, the Steelers find themselves firmly in salary cap hell and are still millions above the projected number for 2021, this despite only having 30-plus players under contract.

Team president Art Rooney II has already stated that the Steelers can’t have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back for 2021 under his current deal. At first, it appeared that a simple restructuring, something the Steelers’ executives have become experts at, would be the compromise between team and player. Now, it appears that the smart money is on Roethlisberger agreeing to take less money if he wants to come back next year.

If the Steelers figure all that out with their aging franchise quarterback and are able to free up enough cap space to sign J.J. Watt, why not use that money to address more pressing areas of the team?

For example, if the Steelers could get J.J. Watt to sign with them for $10 million a year, couldn’t they convince Tyson Alualu, a pending free agent, to stay in Pittsburgh for much less? The Steelers would still have a more than formidable defensive line and, oh yes, they could perhaps use that extra money to sign slot corner Mike Hilton.

  • What about signing another tight end in free agency following the retirement of Vance McDonald?

Speaking of retirements, long-time center Maurkice Pouncey finally announced his on Friday after 11 mostly glorious years. Pouncey’s departure weakens an offensive line that was already in decline. Wouldn’t it be smarter to use that J.J. Watt money to shore up the center position?

There could be other factors involved, don’t get me wrong. Maybe Pittsburgh feels the need to lure J.J. to town just so it will be easier to lock T.J. into a lock-term deal when the time finally comes.

  • Finally, I hate to call a player of J.J. Watt’s caliber and legacy a luxury signing, but I think his addition to the team would be just that.

The Steelers have more pressing needs than another great defensive lineman. If they’re going to open up a new line of credit in the form of contract restructurings and player releases, perhaps they should use it more responsibly.

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A Super Bowl LV Believe It Or Not: One Steelers Fan Who Won’t Root For or Against Anyone

If you’re a Steelers fan, you may often feel compelled to root against a particular team in an upcoming Super Bowl that doesn’t involve the Black and Gold.

As it pertains to this Sunday’s Super Bowl LV clash between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium, who to root against?

  • Which outcome will help to ease your Steelers’ sensibilities?

While there are a lot of folks with Steelers ties to root for or against, I honestly can’t think of a single reason to do anything but hope for a fun and spirited contest this Sunday evening

Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Steelers vs Buccaneers

Le’Veon Bell celebrates Antonio Brown’s touchdown against the Buccaneers. Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images via Zimbo.com

Sure, Tom Brady will quarterback the Buccaneers, and if he wins this game…..well, what difference would that make to his legacy? Win or lose, Brady will still be considered the G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time).

I realize this won’t prevent many Steelers fans from rooting against Brady, but for me, personally, the starch was taken out of my Brady hate the moment he left the Patriots last spring and signed a deal with Tampa. All Brady can do, is continue to build his own Super Bowl dynasty.

  • As for the Buccaneers, a win would still leave them four Lombardi trophies shy of Pittsburgh.

There’s also the matter of Bruce Arians, the Steelers’ offensive coordinator from 2007-2011, going for his first Lombardi as head coach almost a decade after the Steelers’ and their fans told him he sucked at game-planning and such.

As for then, Arians was the offensive coordinator of a team that won a Super Bowl and went to another. As for now, well, you might be in the throes of some scary ex-lover territory if you’re still carrying around hatred for B.A.

But what about A.B.? That’s right, I’m talking about Antonio Brown, arguably the greatest receiver in Steelers history who left town two years ago in arguably the ugliest way any player has done so in the history of the franchise. Or the City of Pittsburgh, for that matter.

  • There’s no question that Brown is an incredibly hard character to root for.

He burned every bridge possible on the way out of Pittsburgh (and that’s a lot of bridges). Brown also hurt his share of people in his inner and outer circle both during and after his time with the Steelers. However, if you’re going to root against Brown, you would have to root for Le’Veon Bell, the former Steelers running back who, after a forgettable stint with the Jets, somehow found his way to Kansas City during the 2020 regular season.

Le'Veon Bell, Le'Veon Bell free agent,

Le’Veon Bell departing the grid iron at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: EPA, via the New York Post

  • I don’t want to try and draw an exact character parallel between Brown and Bell.

Brown may actually be a bad person–it depends on who you talk to. When it comes to Bell, however, his biggest transgressions during his time in Pittsburgh involved drug suspensions and holding out for more money. By most accounts, Bell wasn’t a bad teammate. In fact, most of his Steelers teammates and coaches seemed to love him. Heck, even most in the Pittsburgh media have had good things to say about Bell, the person, since he left town following the 2018 campaign.

  • Having said all that, there’s no question that Bell is now a heel to Steelers fans.

But no matter how you slice it, either Brown or Bell will go home on Sunday night with the sticky Lombardi in hand. Who knows? Maybe one of them will be the difference in the game. Would that hurt you? I sure hope not. After all, I still haven’t received my check in the mail for all that work I put in cheering very hard for the Giants to knock off that undefeated Patriots team in Super Bowl XLII.

Anthony Wright, Larry Foote, Steelers vs Ravens

Larry Foote hones in on Anthony Wright in 2005. Photo Credit: Ravens.com

I think it’s kind of neat how many Steelers ties there are heading into Super Bowl LV. In addition to the folks I just mentioned, Byron Leftwich, who had a couple of stints as the Steelers’ backup quarterback, is the Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator. Larry Foote, who played on all three of the Steelers’ most recent Super Bowl teams, is Tampa’s outside linebackers coach.

But I don’t care about any of that. I don’t have any animosity toward anyone in this Super Bowl. Again, I am rooting very hard for a good game. I love the Super Bowl. I cherish the Super Bowl. I love everything about it, from the hype to the festivities to the legendary moments that most of these games help to create.

I kind of feel sorry for both teams. The hype for Super Bowl LV has clearly felt a bit tempered amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Speaking of which, while the Buccaneers will be the first team from a host city to ever play in a Super Bowl, is the jinx actually broken? Thanks to the pandemic, only 22,000 fans, many of whom will be neutral observers (as is the case with a lot of Super Bowls), will be allowed to attend the game.

As for the Chiefs, due to an abundance of caution, they didn’t even fly to Tampa until the weekend of the game. How much does that suck? If you were a Chiefs player, wouldn’t you feel a bit cheated that you couldn’t enjoy the full Super Bowl experience?

Oh well, at the end of the day, it’s still the Super Bowl, so it’s hard to feel too sorry for any of the LV participants. To quote Jonathan Scott, a Dallas native and former Steelers’ offensive lineman who got to play Super Bowl XLV in his hometown: “Even if it’s in Siberia, the Super Bowl is the Super Bowl.”

I’m going to enjoy Super Bowl LV, and I hope you do, too.

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Rx for Steeler Nation: Take a Break from the Steelers? Not as Strange as It Seems.

Don’t you ever just want to get away and/or take a break from something? You know what I mean. It’s like when you leave work for the day and go to Happy Hour with a co-worker, don’t you just want to talk about everything but work?

  • Of course, you do, but you do nothing but talk about work, anyway.

But that might be understandable since we spend so much of our time at work–40-60 hours a week for most of us. And that’s just the physical toll. As for the mental grind, it’s hard to decompress from work when all you can think about is going back there when your off time is over.

However, a hobby is quite a different story. How much do you have to consume yourself with a hobby before it becomes an obsession? As it pertains to your average Steelers fan, unfortunately, we have that answer, thanks to social media.

David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Chukwuma Okorafor, Steelers vs Rams

Steelers offensive line quite simply needs to step it up. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Remember the old days, before things like Twitter, Facebook and even text messaging, when you could just get away from all things Steelers for a few months after their season ended? Maybe you’d focus on movies, the gym or even another sport — for me, that would always be men’s college basketball.

Those were the days. Now, thanks to everything and everyone being connected, it seems like the Steelers never go into hibernation. That’s obviously due to the cleverness of the NFL, a league that has mastered the art of making its season a 24/7/365 experience.

NFL coaches may not be too keen on their players engaging with fans on social media, but the league, itself, sure loves to do it. The draft, free agency, even the annual schedule reveal have all become things that fans consume as vigorously in the offseason as they do touchdowns during the regular season.

  • But do we really have to consume all things Steelers/NFL-related so vigorously?

I’ll give you a for instance: Position coaches. There was a time when the Steelers would name a new position coach in the spring, and you may not even have known about it until that summer’s training camp when the folks at Saint Vincent College convinced you to buy a seasonal guide.

Seriously. The Houston Texans just hired Ravens offensive coach David Culley as their head coach. Good for him. Who in Steelers Nation remembers that he was Bill Cowher’s wide receivers coach from 1996 through 1998? Almost no one.

That’s in part because when the Steelers struggled to replace Yancey Thigpen and Will Blackwell failed to develop, most fans didn’t know enough say, “Its David Culley’s Fault! Cowher should have fired him after the Fog Bowl II debacle!”

It’s not like that anymore.

Who will the Steelers’ new offensive line coach be? When will they name a new quarterback coach? What about credentials? How about this person’s background? Will their expertise lend itself to improving the position(s)?

  • I honestly don’t care all that much who the Steelers’ new offensive line coach is.

There will still be a 2021 season even without one, and no matter who they name, it likely won’t determine whether or not Pittsburgh wins the Super Bowl next year.

I realize that sports are a pastime and the Steelers are a passion for many, but do we have to be so passionate about every aspect of the team?

Take a break, unwind and enjoy the offseason. I guarantee you that David DeCastro is, and he’s a lot less worried about who is new position coach will be than you are.

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Steelers Vance McDonald Retires: Tight End Wasn’t Great, but He Beat the Odds

Steelers’ tight end Vance McDonald announced his retirement from the NFL on Friday after eight seasons.

Vance McDonald, who came to Pittsburgh in 2017 via trade, was a second-round pick by the 49ers in the 2013 NFL Draft. Big, fast and athletic, McDonald seemed to fit the mold of that Rob Gronkowski-type tight end that had become all the rage, the kind of matchup problem that had given the Steelers’ defense fits for years.

Vance McDonald, Chris Conte, Vance McDonald stiff arm Chris Conte, Steelers va Buccaneers

Vance McDonald stiff arms Chris Conte into oblivion. Photo Credit: AP, via Tribune Review

The emergence of George Kittle, a fifth-round pick in 2017, made Vance McDonald expendable to the 49ers, while less-than-desirable performances by their tight ends during that summer’s training camp made McDonald desirable to the Steelers. It also didn’t hurt that McDonald had just recently inked a deal with the 49ers and would be under Pittsburgh’s control for a few years.

Unfortunately for McDonald and the Steelers, he never quite realized his full potential during the entirety of his eight-year career but especially his four seasons in Pittsburgh.

Sure, he showed flashes, like on Monday Night Football in Week 3 of the 2018 campaign when he stiff-armed Buccaneers’ defensive back Chris Conte into retirement in the Steelers MNF win. Here it is again:

 

After an injury-plagued first season with the Steelers, McDonald’s stiff arm actually signaled his best year in 2018, as he caught 50 passes for 610 yards and four touchdowns. He and Ben Roethlisberger seemed to be developing the kind of rapport that the veteran quarterback had been longing for from a tight end since his buddy, Heath Miller, retired a few years earlier.

Sadly for McDonald, Roethlisberger’s elbow injury prevented the on-field relationship with his quarterback from developing further in 2019. As for 2020? With only 15 catches for 99 yards, McDonald was barely a factor in the passing game, even with a returning Roethlisberger, who seemed to fancy a new tight end, free agent pick-up, Eric Ebron.

  • For his career, McDonald caught just 181 passes for 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns.

It’s sad for the Steelers that McDonald never morphed into their version of Gronk, but kudos to him for beating the odds.

  • That’s what any NFL player who lasts in the league for nearly a decade does, ya know?

According to the NFLPA, the average length of an NFL career is 3.3 years. Not only did McDonald beat the odds on the field, but he also beat them in a financial sense. According to Spotrac.com, McDonald made over $28 million during his eight-year career. That’s not chump change, especially for a profession that often chews people up and spits them out before they can start making any serious money (by NFL standards, of course).

McDonald never made his mark in the NFL. He wasn’t an all-time great. He wasn’t even an all-time Steeler. But he’s now 30 years old and, assuming he makes sound financial decisions moving forward, is set for life.

It’s hard to say what motivates NFL players when they first get into the league, but it’s the kind of business that is always looking to replace them if they can’t meet a certain standard. It’s highly competitive. It’s dog-eat-dog. Most don’t last. Even fewer profit from it.

Vance McDonald did both during his eight seasons in the NFL. Good for him. Good for any player who has that kind of career.

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All Steelers Playoff Exits Don’t Result from Bad Locker Room Culture…

The Steelers were bounced in Hindenburg Meets the Titanic fashion from the wildcard round of the playoffs in a 48-37 loss at the hands of the Browns last Sunday evening at Heinz Field.

  • Naturally, the fans and media being who they are, heads immediately had to roll and certain folks had to be held accountable.

The first heads to be handed to the public on a pike were offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett and secondary coach Tom Bradley.

Randy Fichtner had long-since worn out his welcome with Steelers fans, many of whom have never met an offensive coordinator that they wanted to like for more than a year. As for Sarrett and Bradley? Likely collateral damage.

But coaches aren’t the only ones to blame for the Steelers’ quick and painful playoff exit. No, folks want the players to be held accountable, as well.

Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster

Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Photo Credit: Still Curtain.com

Namely, receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and rookie Chase Claypool, both of whom had some less than flattering things to say about the Browns before and after the postseason matchup.

Smith-Schuster made headlines for stating that the “Browns is the Browns” in a press conference with the media in the days before Cleveland came to town. This was seen as ripe bulletin board material and something to really rile those Brownies up something good. As for Claypool, following the Browns’ victory over Pittsburgh, he took to TikTok and said: “Bad loss, but the Browns are going to get clapped next week, so it’s all good.”

  • Considering Cleveland is playing the Chiefs in the divisional round, Claypool is probably right.

Doesn’t matter to many. Claypool is being labeled a sore loser and, like with Smith-Schuster, some are suggesting he’s showing signs of becoming the next Antonio Brown–if not in terms of talent, certainly in terms of being problematic.

Most of all, the Steelers’ talkative young receivers are seen by many as a symptom of a poor locker room culture.

  • Isn’t that always the case when Pittsburgh loses in the playoffs?

Isn’t it always about a lack of leadership and/or a toxic culture? Many fans and media members can’t wait for Smith-Schuster, a pending free agent, to leave town. In case this sounds familiar to you, they were just as eager to see Brown and Le’Veon Bell exit Stage Left.

I’m sure it won’t be long until Claypool wears out his welcome in Pittsburgh, thanks to one too many social media posts that don’t show total dedication to the game of football.

  • Why can’t the Steelers ever just lose because it wasn’t good enough?
  • Why does it always have to be about culture, attitude and a lack of leadership?
  • How many players must a team part with before there’s a perfect locker room dynamic that’s conducive to winning?

I’ll tell you how many, an infinite amount because there’s really no such thing as perfect locker room chemistry.

  • Do you really think attitude and a lack of dedication were the problem for Pittsburgh in 2020?

Of course, you do, that’s why I’m writing this article. OK, fine, but if that was the case, how do you explain the total dedication both Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner displayed in the weight room all offseason? You remember the social media posts from the summer where they seemed to be all about improving their bodies so they could be better players in the fall and winter.

How about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who not only spent the entire spring and summer rehabbing his surgically repaired right elbow, but he also appeared to lose about 20 pounds of Big Ben fat in the process?

  • If those three instances, alone, aren’t great examples of total dedication to one’s craft, I don’t know what are.

People must remember that this Steelers organization has employed many interesting characters throughout its illustrious history. Jack Lambert once said that quarterbacks should wear skirts. Greg Lloyd was called the meanest guy in football. Joey Porter used to prance around with his abs exposed before games and pick fights with any opposing players who were willing. Guess what? All three played for teams that won Super Bowls or were at least contenders.

The post-Brown and Bell Steelers were seen as a bunch of great guys, especially when they started out the 2020 campaign 11-0.

  • Funny how that all changed once they started to lose.

The Steelers didn’t lose to the Browns because they had a cultural problem. They lost because of a talent and/or game-plan problem.

Unfortunately, it’s much easier for the fans and the media to accept the former than it is the latter.

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Blame JuJu? If Steelers Go One & Done vs Browns “They” Will Say “Its All Smith-Schuster’s Fault”

The Steelers are set to take on the Browns in an AFC wildcard game at Heinz Field on Sunday night, but if you think Cleveland is in trouble thanks to several players and head coach Kevin Stefanski being placed on the COVID list, guess again.

  • Pittsburgh is the squad in serious jeopardy of going one and done. Again.

Why?

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers vs Saints, JuJu Smith-Schuster fumble

Two years ago JuJu Smith-Schuster’s fumble doomed the Steelers. This time it could be his mouth. Photo Credit: Butch Dill, AP via Tribune Review

While speaking virtually with the media during the week, Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster infected his squad with something even worse than COVID; he plagued Pittsburgh with negative bulletin board material that the Browns will surely use as an elixir to cure what ails them ahead of their first postseason game in 18 years.

“Nah, I think they’re still the same Browns that I’ve played every year,” Smith-Schuster said in a quote courtesy of CBS Sports.com. “I think they’re nameless gray faces. They have a couple of good players on their team. But at the end of the day … the Browns are the Browns. It’s AFC North football. They’re a good team. I’m just happy we’re playing them again.”

  • Ouch…if you believe in such things.
  • I don’t, of course.

Believing in bulletin board material is cute and all, but I don’t think it has any effect on the outcome of a game. Oh, sure, players and coaches might say it gave them extra motivation after a win, but what about all those times a team has lost despite going into a game equipped with bulletin board material?

Funny how bulletin board material is never mentioned after a loss. I guess that’s because the team that didn’t shut up, put up.

  • Either that, or it’s because bulletin board material doesn’t mean squat.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter what I think about bulletin board material, because if the clock strikes midnight on the Steelers’ 2020 season this Sunday evening at Heinz Field, the fans and media will have a convenient scapegoat to blame: JuJu’s mouth.

Just like with head coach Mike Tomlin’s interview with Tony Dungy back in 2017 where he mentioned a possible postseason rematch with the Patriots weeks before he knew he’d have to win a rematch with the Jaguars before even facing New England, folks will point to Smith-Schuster’s comments as the reason Pittsburgh lost to the Browns.

If you talk to someone during the offseason, they’ll bring up Smith-Schuster’s virtual press conference. If you listen to sports talk radio next summer ahead of the Steelers reporting to St. Vincents College for training camp (hopefully), they’ll cite Pittsburgh’s lack of focus and lack of respect for the Browns as to why the franchise came up short in the previous postseason.

Again, I think it’s silly, but it’s low-hanging fruit for the media and the masses, and it’s easy to blame intangibles such as quotes and a player’s social media activity than it is to acknowledge that the opposing team was just better on a certain day.

The Steelers and Browns have spent hours preparing for Sunday’s postseason clash, and to think, the outcome could actually be decided by JuJu Smith-Schuster’s perceived lack of respect for the Browns.

Unless the Steelers win, of course.

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Roethlisberger Lets It Rip vs Colts Proving Steelers Right All Along

If you are a Steelers fan who is used to “experts” telling you that you don’t know what you’re talking about, you may have been confused as to why the team kept on trying to grind it out with an ineffective short-passing game during its recent three-game slide.

  • The Steelers went from 11-0 to 11-3, while the offense went from looking unstoppable to seeming totally anemic.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs Colts

Ben Roethlisberger prepares to let it rip against the Colts. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla

The short-passing attack, one that had clearly been figured out by opposing defensive coordinators, was a bone of contention with just about everyone who watched and covered the team the previous month or so heading into Sunday’s game against the Colts at Heinz Field.

Even while head coach Mike Tomlin, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger were stating that execution was the problem, it appeared that scheme and predictability were the real culprits.

Throughout the first half of Sunday’s showdown against the Colts, Pittsburgh’s offense continued to try to execute its short-passing game vs. yet another defense that didn’t seem all that interested in adhering to social distancing.

  • The receivers were surrounded by defenders with each quick pass, and the offense accounted for a measly 98 yards in the first half.

“Why aren’t they changing anything,” you may have been screaming at your television, as the Colts opened up a 24-7 third-quarter lead. In fact, you may have no longer had a television following Pittsburgh’s pathetic four attempts to score after securing a first and goal from the one.

But, just like that, as if the Steelers were Rocky to Indianapolis’s Apollo when the former switched back to a lefty in the 15th round of Rocky II, the passing game began to open up. Roethlisberger started to go for the deep pass and hit receiver Diontae Johnson for a 39-yard score.

There were more deep throws — including one that led to a defensive pass interference penalty — and everything began to feel different. Roethlisberger’s arm didn’t look so lifeless. His supposedly injured knee didn’t seem so injured. In fact, he even moved around in the pocket a time or two.

Tony Romo, the now famed color analyst for CBS’ number one announcing crew, even mentioned that the Colts’ defenders were starting to back off. They could no longer dare Roethlisberger to beat them with intermediate-to-deep passes because he was doing precisely that.

The Steelers’ 17-point deficit had transformed into a 28-24 victory, complete with an AFC North crown that looked like a mere formality weeks ago before that puzzling slide began.

There was much speculation as to why the Steelers were so reluctant to move on from their short-passing attack that had proven to be quite successful early in the year before it no longer wasn’t.

Was it Roethlisberger’s health? Was it Roethlisberger’s reluctance to stand in the pocket behind a once-formidable line that had perhaps seen its best days? With a playoff berth already secure, were the Steelers simply protecting their most valuable asset at the expense of a few regular-season games?

We may never know for sure. But we do know a problem when we see one. NFL head coaches are fond of telling us that football is a simple game, that it’s not rocket science. Maybe that’s why we get so angry when a simple solution isn’t explored.

The Steelers did in the second half of Sunday’s game what so many fans had been insisting that they must do to get the offense moving again–and it worked.

Take a bow if you’re a Steelers fan who is reading this. Football isn’t so complicated, after all, and the answers to problems are often as simple as they seem.

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The Steelers Will Win the AFC North in 2020. That’s A Great Accomplishment

The Pittsburgh Steelers may already be AFC North Champions, by the time you sit down to read this article. That depends on what the Browns do on Sunday against those hapless Giants, of course.

Steelers 2018 Offensive line, Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouency

Maurkice Pouncey is keeping Ben Roethlisberger clean. Photo Credit: MyDaytonDailyNews

Even if they aren’t after Sunday’s action, chances are, the Steelers will clinch the title once they likely have their way with the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Monday Night Football. If that doesn’t happen, and Pittsburgh loses its third-straight game to fall to 11-3, well, it’s going to happen eventually, right? I mean, it better.

The only way the Steelers can’t win the division is by losing out and Cleveland winning out. Losing out for Pittsburgh would mean a five-game slide heading into the playoffs. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t like the Steelers’ chances of doing anything at that point.

  • No, the Steelers will win the North for the first time since 2017, and for this truly great franchise, it will be its 24th divisional crown since 1972.

Winning the division has become so commonplace for the Steelers and their fans, it’s barely even acknowledged anymore when it does happen. Nobody notices when the players and coaches wear their post-clinching division title memorabilia that usually consists of t-shirts and baseball caps. Speaking of which, do you still buy that stuff as a fan? Do you go to your local outlet malls and snatch up all the division championship shirts, hats and banners you can get your hands on, or do you at least do so online?

I’m not telling anyone how to spend their money, but you should. OK, the economy is bad, right now, and I can certainly understand if you don’t want to splurge on that AFC North gear. Fine, but you should still appreciate it. You should cherish it.

  • After all, there are teams out there who haven’t won a divisional title in decades.

The Detroit Lions, for example, haven’t been the kings of their own jungle since way back in 1993, when it was called the NFC Central Division. The New York Jets have only won two AFC East titles since the AFL/NFL merger way back in 1970, with their last one coming in 2002. The Miami Dolphins have only won the AFC East twice since Dan Marino retired in 1999. The Arizona Cardinals have only won their division five times since the merger–and three since moving from St. Louis in 1988.

  • Heck, the Cleveland Browns haven’t won a title since they came back into the league as an expansion franchise way back in 1999.

It’s really amazing when you examine the histories of a lot of franchises and discover just how rare divisional titles are. There are thousands of fans out there who would give anything to be able to buy some division champions memorabilia.

You should, too. For one thing, it really is an accomplishment. Think about it. As a team prepares for its upcoming season, the first thing it wants to do is be better than its divisional opponents. Doing so means your program is better than your closest rivals. The first step for every organization each year is to capture its division. The Steelers are on the verge of doing that.

Also, it’s just really cool to watch a team win something, anything.

And if that’s not a good enough reason, celebrating a Steelers’ AFC North title shows that you’re not taking things for granted. It’s true that the standard is and will always be a Super Bowl. However, you never know when that won’t be the standard any longer. You never know when a true fall from grace will hit any franchise.

  • Enjoy it while you can, because you just never know.

The Steelers will once again run the AFC North. Time to celebrate.

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Steelers Place Vince Williams On COVID List For 2nd Time

Looks like the inside linebacker position will be even thinner for the Steelers as they take on the Bills on Sunday Night Football.

Photo credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Just weeks after coming off the COVID list due to being considered a close contact of tight end Vance McDonald, Vince Williams is back on it again and will miss the game in Buffalo.

The Steelers have seemingly been one of the more responsible teams when it comes to following NFL COVID protocols amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but that hasn’t prevented them from repeatedly being affected by this issue.

Among those who have either tested positive for the virus or have been deemed a high-risk close contact include running back James Conner, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, running back Jaylen Samuels, center Maurkice Pouncey, special teams coach Danny Smith, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Williams and McDonald.

As it pertains to the Steelers’ current situation at inside linebacker, Williams’ latest inclusion COVID list seems them paper-thin at the position. The Steelers lost Devin Bush for the year with a torn ACL back in October and will likely be without his replacement, Robert Spillane, who left Monday’s loss to the Washington Football Team with a knee ailment.

The Steelers traded for the services of veteran Avery Williamson shortly after Bush’s injury, and he appears to be the only able-bodied inside linebacker available for Sunday night. Second-year man Ulysses Gilbert III has yet to be activated from the short-term IR due to an injury he’s been dealing with for a while.

The Steelers have some options at inside linebacker, however, including safeties Marcus Allen and Antoine Brooks Jr.

At any rate, the Steelers defense, one that is arguably the best in the NFL, has simply been ravaged by the loss of key personnel in recent weeks. Joining Bush on the season-ending IR list is outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who also suffered a torn ACL in Pittsburgh’s 19-14 victory over the Ravens on December 2.

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Steelers Report Card For 23-17 Loss To The Washington Football Team

Quarterback

In a continuation of a recent theme for the veteran quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger attempted 53 passes. Sure, he completed 33 of them for 305 yards and two touchdowns, but his 5.8 yards per attempt were rather pedestrian, and the passing game as a whole seemed very lethargic–speaking of recent themes. Still, Roethlisberger may have enjoyed a better fate if not for seven more drops by his receivers. There was also the matter of more tipped passes–including the one that was intercepted by former Steelers linebacker Jon Bostic that snuffed out Pittsburgh’s last realistic chance for victory. Grade: C+

Running Backs

If James Conner was worried about being replaced during his absence due to testing positive for COVID-19, he need not worry after Monday’s dreadful performance by his replacements. Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland and Jaylen Samuels rushed for a combined 21 yards. McFarland had a chance to be a bit of a hero when he was the target of Roethlisberger’s pass on fourth and one late in the game. Unfortunately for the rookie, the pass was a bit off and he was a bit lacking in his response to helping his quarterback out. Grade: D-

Tight Ends

Eric Ebron did have seven catches for 68 yards, but there were more notable drops as he appears to be in his own head regarding that annoying flaw. As for Vance McDonald, he wasn’t targeted once. It’s too bad I can’t give these guys brownie points for blocking in the running game. Speaking of which, Ebron gets one demerit for his pathetic excuse for a block on Snell’s failed attempt to score from the one on fourth and goal. Grade: D-

Wide Receivers

James Washington had a great effort on a 50-yard touchdown catch-and-run, which is the only thing keeping me from giving this unit an F. Again, seven more drops, including a few from JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson. Rookie Chase Claypool saw a drop in playing time and didn’t really contribute a whole lot except for drawing another pass interference penalty. Grade: D

Offensive Line

The offensive line again kept Roethlisberger clean for a fifth-straight game, but was that based on ability and talent or the fact that No. 7 now likes to get rid of the football quicker than any passer in the league? If you cite the lack of a running game along with the unit’s 2008-like habit of not being able to get any push on short-yardage plays as evidence, I’d say it was the latter. However, considering center Maurkice Pouncey was out for a second-straight game due to COVID restrictions, I will give the hogs the benefit of the doubt–at least a small one. Grade: C-

Defensive Line

The trio of Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu had a bit of a quiet night, but Tuitt did record one of the defense’s three sacks. Also, the Washington Football Team was limited to just 45 yards on the ground–including 23 on 14 carries for running back Peyton Barber–and that starts up front. Grade: B-

Linebackers

T.J. Watt was his usual disruptive self, tallying one sack and four hits on quarterback Alex Smith. As for rookie Alex Highsmith, filling in for the injured Bud Dupree, he had a decent enough showing for his first-career start. But he’s no Bud as a pass-rusher (at least not yet), and it showed. Robert Spillane had another decent night from the inside linebacker spot and recorded one sack, three tackles and three passes defended before exiting with a knee injury. Avery Williamson took his place and had a rather active night in his own right. Normally, I would say it was a decent evening for both the inside and outside linebackers–and it was–but Watt made two critical errors in the game. The first came when he was called for holding on a fourth and goal play early in the second half that kept a Washington drive alive and led to a touchdown. His second error occurred in the fourth quarter when he had a chance to fall on a fumble that he forced but seemed too intent on scooping and scoring, allowing Washington to recover. Grade: C+

Secondary

The unit came into the night missing cornerback Steven Nelson, who missed the game with a knee injury and ended the night without cornerback Joe Haden, who left in the second half with a concussion. There was no doubt these injuries were a factor, as Washington tallied 296 passing yards and the unit struggled to cover tight end Logan Thomas. Mike Hilton did have an exceptional night and probably would have been the player of the game had the team won. Grade: C-

Special Teams

Marcus Allen was called for roughing the punter early in the game, a penalty that kept an early Washington drive alive. As for return specialist Ray-Ray McCloud, he wasn’t his usual dynamic self. Punter Jordan Berry averaged 44.3 yards on six kicks and downed two inside the 20. Matthew Wright, filling in for an injured Chris Boswell, connected on two extra points and a 37-yard field goal. Unfortunately for the youngster, head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t have enough confidence in him to allow him to attempt a go-ahead 45-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Grade: C+

Coaching

Tomlin isn’t shy about absorbing the lion’s share of the blame when his team doesn’t perform well. His players jumped out to a 14-0 lead and seemed to act as if the game was in the bag after that. Then, there were the mental errors and physical errors. Plenty of blame for the head coach to absorb.

As for the offense, I’ve always been a defender of much-maligned coordinator Randy Fichtner, but his unit failed to pick up a single yard after facing a first and goal from the one. Also, there was the matter of Washington’s defenders bragging that they figured the Steelers’ offensive tendencies out.

I hate to harp on Keith Butler‘s defense too much, considering the injuries just keep piling up on that side of the ball. But I think the turning point in the game came on Washington’s first drive of the second half. Washington was backed up and faced a third and very long. Washington converted and eventually marched down the field to score a touchdown. That’s how 4-7 teams get back into games and start to believe. Grade: C-

Unsung Hero

Mike Hilton recorded six tackles, including two for a loss. One of those TFL’s occurred in the first quarter when he snuffed out a Washington running play on fourth and one.

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