Grading the Steelers 2014 Draft Class: Overall Grade B+

The picks are in. Coaches have held their press conferences. New players have done their photo ops. The latest installment of the NFL draft is history. Now it is time to grade the Steelers draft class.

  • The Steelers 2014 Draft Class that is.

Instant draft grades are as understandable as they are ridiculous. The NFL Draft IS the day when teams alternatively forge Super Bowl rosters or cement status as pretenders instead of contenders. The desire to evaluate such a momentous in real time is logical.

  • But it can’t be done. Like wine, NFL draft classes need time to mature or sour.

Just how long is a matter of opinion. Certainly you can start drawing a lot of meaningful conclusions after 4 or even 3 years. But Chuck Noll always used to say it took five years, and if that was good enough for the Emperor, who am I to argue? With that, we gladly grade the Steelers 2014 Draft Class.

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

Steelers 2014 1st Round Pick – Ryan Shazier

If ever you sought an argument against drafting for need, look no further than Ryan Shazier. By the time the 2014 NFL Draft rolled around, the Steelers depth chart at inside linebacker wasn’t exactly strong, but it was solid. Certainly, the Steelers had more glaring needs (like cornerback.)

And they were right. Ryan Shazier’s overall career statistics (7 sacks, 7 interceptions, 7 forced fumbles) might look pedestrian, but what those numbers don’t show is the timeliness with which Shazier made those plays.

Whether it was forcing a fumble in the playoffs against the Bengals, grabbing an interception against the Colts or making another play at the right time, Ryan Shazier was broaching Troy Polamaluesque lay making ability before suffering the spinal contusion that has most likely ended his career. Grade: Grand Slam

steelers, draft, grades, evaluations, bust, Kevin Colbert

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

Steelers 2014 2nd Round Pick – Stephon Tuitt

When the Steelers picked Stephon Tuitt in the 2nd round fate appeared to have stacked the deck against the rookie. The Steelers had a long history of drafting defensive lineman in the 2nd round that blossomed into busts, and they hadn’t had much luck of late in drafting players from Notre Dame.

  • But Stephon Tuitt proved that past performance doesn’t dictate future results.

Tuitt broke into the starting lineup as a rookie because of Brett Keisel’s injury and began making an immediate impact. He built on that in his “sophomore” year, was limited a bit in his next two years by injury, yet had his best year yet in 2018. Grade: Grand Slam.

Steelers 2014 3rd Round Pick – Dri Archer

What a double whammy. This is one that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomiln wanted back two times over. In the 2013 NFL Draft the Steelers traded away their 2014 3rd round pick to move up to draft Shamarko Thomas, in part because they expected to get a 3rd round compensatory pick in 2014.

  • They got that pick and promptly used it to draft Dri Archer, the fastest man in the NFL 2014 Draft.

The Steelers thought to use Dri Archer as a utility back while working him in as a wide receiver. They also wanted him to return kicks. It quickly became clear he could do none of the above. Dri Archer was so bad that when Le’Veon Bell suffered an injury before the playoffs, the Steelers had to go out and sign Ben Tate off of the couch. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2014 4th Round Pick – Martavis Bryant

Martavis Bryant is an interesting pick to grade. Clearly he is one player who never lived up to his potential, yet as a 4th round pick, with all of his issues, Martavis Bryant delivered decent value.

  • As both a rookie and in his second year, Martavis Bryant made some game-breaking plays.

After coming back from his suspension, Martavis Bryant didn’t make many game breaking plays but started making critical 3rd down catches late in the season. And, while this shouldn’t impact a draft grade, strictly speaking, the Steelers actually got a 3rd round pick for Martavis Bryant, and one that they used to draft Mason Rudolph, a potential starter.

Not bad value for a 4th rounder that you essentially took a flyer on. Grade: Quality Value Pick.

Steelers 2014 5th Round Pick – Wesley Johnson

The Steelers drafted Wesley Johnson in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and the young man made the roster, which was no small accomplishment for an offensive line which was already becoming deep. Unfortunately, injuries force the Steelers to cut Johnson with an eye towards putting him on the practice squad.

  • The New York Jets had other ideas and claimed him off of waivers.

Since then, Wesley Johnson has appeared in 53 NFL games and started 24. Not bad for a 5th rounder. Grade: Farm Team

Steelers 2014 6th Round Pick – Jordan Zumwalt

Sometimes injuries end NFL careers before they get started. Such is the case with Jordan Zumwalt. The Steelers put him in injured reserve during preseason of his rookie year. They designated him injured/waived in 2015, but took him back when no one else claimed him. They gave him another shot in 2016, but ended up cutting him.

It is hardly fair to label someone like that a Bust, but the Steelers didn’t get any value out of this pick. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2014 6th Round Pick – Daniel McCullers

At first glance, a guy as big as Daniel McCullers shouldn’t be able to fail on the football field. Yet Daniel McCullers saw a decent amount of action as a rookie, and then saw his snap count dwindle year after year.

The Steelers surprised by resigning Daniel McCullers in 2018, and then again in 2019. Still, it is hard to label Daniel McCullers NFL career as anything other than what it has been. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2014 7th Round Pick — Rob Blanchflower

Labeling a 7th round draft picks as a “bust” is a bit harsh. Yet the career paths of Brett Keisel and Kelvin Beachum serve as a reminder 7th round picks can become good players. Rob Blanchflower earned a spot on the Steelers practice squad in 2014, and got invited back to camp in 2015 but got cut at the end of summer. Grade: Bust

Overall Grade for the Steelers 2014 Draft

In 2014 the Steelers had the 15th draft position, tying 2007 for the best draft positioning Pittsburgh has had since 2004, when they picked Ben Roethlisberger. Just like 2007, the Steelers made excellent picks in the first two rounds, and made a solid pick in the 5th round, albeit one that other teams are benefiting.

Their 4th round pick had issues, but delivered value. And their 6th round pick is still in the league. Overall Grade: B+

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Steelers Cut Rob Branchflower Sign Lavon Hooks and Matt Dooley

The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to prepare for free agency by making additional moves at the bottom of their roster the most significant of which saw the Steelers cut Rob Branchflower, a tight end from UMass who was their 7th round draft pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Branchflower did not make the Steelers final roster in 2014, but spent the entire 2014 season on their practice squad and figured to get a serious look during 2015’s training camp. However, he was injured during camp, and the Steelers placed him on the waived-injured list. When no other NFL team claimed him, he reverted back to the Pittsburgh Steelers as an exclusive rights free agent.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers however are moving ahead without Branchflower.

This means that Jesse James and Matt Spaeth will provide depth behind Heath Miller, and also signals that the Steelers could look to tight end in the draft. The Steelers also waived offensive lineman Kelvin Palmer and Mitchell Van Dyk, both of whom were injured in training camp and who were exclusive rights free agents with the Steelers.

Steelers Add Bodies at Defensive Line and Long Snapper

The Steelers continued to build their training camp roster by signing defensive lineman Lavon Hooks and long snapper Matt Dooley.

The Steelers invited Lavon Hooks to their rookie mini-camp last spring, but opted not to bring him to St. Vincents. Hooks did catch on with the Green Bay Packers training camp, although he neither made the team nor the practice squad. Hooks played his college ball in the SEC, where he played his junior and senior years for Ole Miss, registering 3 sacks while appearing in 15 games.

Given that the Steelers just resigned veteran long snapper Greg Warren, Matt Dooley figures to be little more than a training camp body.

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Los Pittsburgh Steelers cayeron ante los Denver Broncos en el juego divisional

Any Given Sunday

Finalmente los Pittsburgh Steelers cayeron ante los Denver Broncos derrotados en Mile High y así se terminó la campaña 2015.

Un año repleto de adversidades, bajo las cuales muchos equipos sucumben, se desgranan y desangran.

No los Steelers.

Harrison y Big Ben

Estoy conmovido por el equipo y por sus fans.

Al menos por la mayoría de ellos que muestran su orgullo de “nacionalistas acereros” en las redes sociales, donde todos convergemos para demostrar la pertenencia a una idea ética, a una visión humana del deporte, aún sabiendo del negocio detrás del show.

En este equipo hay una esencia humana por sobre el show.
Es lo que queda, al final del día.
El honor, el orgullo, la entrega.
Es el compañero.

Nada de esto se consigue sin una cabeza. Sin un líder.

Sin el Coach Tomlin.

Este es su equipo. Son sus muchachos. No existirían estos jugadores, este tipo de jugadores sin el Coach Tomlin.

  • En este final de temporada no me interesa el juego sino cómo los Steelers jugaron el juego.

Por eso, y pidiéndole permiso a KT y a ustedes, que en realidad no sé cuántos serán, quiero hacer algo un poco inusual. Traté de traducir (y espero poder transmitir el espíritu del texto) el extraordinario monólogo del film “Any given Sunday” de Oliver Stone, en la piel del Sr. Al Pacino.

Más allá de que en esta pieza actoral se hace referencia a la trama de la obra, como es lógico, creo que se pone de manifiesto el espíritu profundamente humano del deporte.
De lo que significa la palabra equipo.

Estoy orgulloso de ser parte de la Nación Steeler.

“No sé qué decir realmente.

Tres minutos
para la batalla más grande de nuestras
vidas profesionales.
Todo confluye al día de hoy.
O nos curamos, como equipo
o nos derrumbamos.
Pulgada a pulgada
Jugada a jugada.
hasta que estemos acabados.
Ahora estamos en el infierno, caballeros.

podemos permanecer aquí
y que nos tape la mie&@#,
o podemos pelear por nuestro regreso

a la luz.
Podemos trepar fuera del infierno.
Una pulgada a la vez.

one inch at a time2
Ahora, yo no puedo hacerlo por ustedes.
Soy demasiado viejo…
Miro alrededor y veo estas caras tan jóvenes
y pienso,
quiero decir…
Tomé todas las peores decisiones que
un hombre de mediana edad puede tomar.

Yo, oh,
derroché todo mi dinero,
lo crean o no.
He ahuyentado
a todos los que me han amado alguna vez.

he ahuyentado
Y últimamente,
ni siquiera soporto la cara que veo en el espejo.
Uds. saben, cuando te pones viejo,
las cosas te son arrebatadas.
Eso, eso es parte de la vida.
uno sólo lo aprende cuando
empiezas a perder cosas.
Te das cuenta de que la vida es un juego de pulgadas.
Así como el football.
Porque en cada uno de esos juegos,
vida o football,
el margen de error es tan pequeño…
Quiero decir,
medio paso demasiado tarde o demasiado temprano
ya no lo consigues.
Medio segundo demasiado lento o demasiado rápido,
y no la atrapas.
Las pulgadas que necesitamos están
a nuestro alrededor.
Están en cada pausa de juego.
En cada minuto, en cada segundo…

En este equipo, luchamos por esa pulgada.
En este equipo, nos rompemos, y cada uno a nuestro alrededor,
en pedazos
por esa pulgada.
Nos AFERRAMOS con nuestras uñas
a esa pulgada.


Porque sabemos,
cuando sumamos todas esas pulgadas,
que eso va a hacer la pu#@ diferencia


Y les diré esto:
En cualquier lucha,
es el tipo que está dispuesto a morir,
el que va a ganar esa pulgada.
Y yo sé
que si voy a tener algo más de vida,
es porque, aún estoy dispuesto a pelear
y a morir por esa pulgada.
Porque de eso se trata VIVIR:
Las seis pulgadas frente a tu cara.

six inches in front of
Ahora, yo no puedo hacer que lo hagan.
Tienen q mirar al tipo que está a su lado.
Mirarlo a los ojos.
Ahora yo pi que van a ver a un tipo
que irá con ustedes por esa pulgada.
Van a ver a un tipo
que se va a sacrificar por este equipo
porque el sabe que llegado el momento,
Uds van a hacer lo mismo por él.

Eso es un equipo, caballeros.
Y, o nos curamos ahora, como equipo
O moriremos, como individuos.
Eso es el football, muchachos.

that's football guys
Eso es todo lo que es.

Ahora, qué van a hacer?


El Dr. de Acero



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Steelers Bengals Playoff Preview – Backup Running Backs Carry Pittsburgh’s Hopes

The last time the Cincinnati Bengals won a playoff game, Dan Quayle remained a heartbeat away from the presidency, David Letterman still worked for NBC, “car phones” were luxury items, Coke still sold in 16 oz glass bottles and Chuck Noll was still the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach.

It is the position of this Steelers Bengals playoff preview that Pittsburgh’s hopes of prolonging Bengals playoff drought likely depend on two Steelers playoff running backs – Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman– that no one in Steelers Nation had ever heard of when the Black and Gold’s initial 53 man roster was set.

  • Yes, how quickly we forget!

News that Kevin Colbert cut not one but two members of the Steelers 2015 Draft Class make way for wavier wire pickups sent Steelers Nation up in arms in a case of collective 2008 draft Déjà vu. Colbert and Mike Tomlin had fumbled away yet another draft. Or so it seemed.

One of Kevin Colbert’s wavier wire pickups was running back Jordan Todman, who could easily lead the Steelers in rushing in the Wild Card game vs. the Bengals. A day later Colbert added Fitzgerald Toussaint to the practice squad who will start tonight for the Steelers.

This could change should Pittsburgh advance DeAngelo Williams may return, but right now the Steelers playoff running backs are Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman. Ben Roethlisberger still has Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant and Heath Miller to throw to, but the Steelers success might hinge on Toussaint and Todman’s ability to put in an “above the line performance.”

  • Mike Tomlin’s “The Standard is the Standard. Next man up” philosophy is about to get another test.

When DeAngelo Williams name first appeared on the Steelers injury report, Steel Curtain Rising observed that not only was the Steelers running back depth preciously low, but that the Steelers had made a conscious choice to go into the season with a backfield that was two men deep (its obvious no one on the South Side was counting on Dri Archer).

Who are Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman?

Of the two men, Jordan Todman is a much better known commodity.

Todman has been in the NFL since 2011 having spent time on the rosters of Minnesota and San Diego that season. After that, he spent three years in Jacksonville, where he appeared in 33 games and made 3 starts.

  • Jordan Todman has authored precisely one 100 yard game, a 104 yard effort that came against the Buffalo Bills in December 2013.

For his career, Jordan Todman has rushed for 472 yards on 117 carries for an average of 4.1 yards a carry and 3 touchdowns. In Pittsburgh, Todman has carried the ball four times, for 22 yards. Todman’s carries have come in the Steelers home wins against San Francisco, Cleveland and Oakland.

The Baltimore Ravens gave Fitzgerald Toussaint his NFL break in 2014, where he appeared in 4 games and rushed 6 times for 12 yards. The Steelers activated him from the practice squad several weeks ago, perhaps to keep Baltimore from claiming him, and since then the Steelers have rushed Toussaint 18 times for 42 yards.

  • That average is unimpressive, but most of that came against Cleveland, and DeAngelo Williams wasn’t doing much better.

Fitzgerald Toussaint also scored his first points in Cleveland, when he caught a Ben Roethlisberger 2 point conversion pass. Taking our cue from the Pittsburgh sports writers, who while they can’t reveal what they see in practice do nonetheless find ways to signal important information to readers, we know a little more the Steelers plans for their playoffs running backs.

Commenting on the Steelers running game going into the Wild Card vs. Cincinnati, Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter offered this observation “Every time somebody in the organization mentions Fitzgerald Toussaint, they add what a solid blocker he is.”

Other writers have reported similar comments. Answering a question about an NFL running back by talking about his pass blocking ability is kind of like saying the blind date you were on was “nice.”

Steelers Relying on Backup Running Backs in Playoffs the 21st Century Norm

Hats off to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review for connecting some rather obvious dots. When DeAngelo Williams went down vs. the Browns, the image of Le’Veon Bell hyper-extending his knee in the season finale vs. the Bengals flashed through everyone’s mind. As well it should.

  • But as Adamski indicates, the Steelers starting backup running backs in the playoffs is nothing new.
  • Neither are late-season injures to starters, for that matter.

In 2011 Isaac Redman got the start in the Tebowing at Denver (and fans forget, Redman racked up over 100 yards) after Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL late in the season. In 2007 Willie Parker broke his leg in week 16, leading to Najeh Davenport to start for the 2007 playoffs. And as Adamski reminds us, the trend goes back to Bill Cowher’s days, when Amos Zereoue started for Jerome Bettis, although Bettis had been out for several weeks.

  • The Steelers playoff record with backup running backs starting isn’t promising.

Zereoue, only a nominal backup at that point, led the Steelers to victory in the 2001 Steelers Divisional Playoff victory over the Ravens. Other than that, the Steelers are 0fwers or winless when starting backups.

Most of the analysis of the Steelers post-season prospects, including Steel Curtain Rising’s, has focused on Ben Roethlisberger and Martavis Bryant playing better and Keith Butler and the Steelers defense getting pressure and turnovers. That analysis is sound.

  • But for all of its potency, Pittsburgh’s offense still needs some production out of its running backs.

Against the Bengals it least, it appears that the Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 playoff hopes will go as far as Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman can carry them.

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15 Key Dates that Defined the Steelers 2015 Calendar Year

Regardless of whether the Pittsburgh Steelers, with a little help from Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills, can salvage their 2015 Season, the year 2015 will always be bookended by twin losses to the arch rival Baltimore Ravens.

Here are 15 moments that defined the Steelers 2015 calendar year

1 – January 5th 2015 – Ravens Bounce Steelers from Playoffs

No this isn’t important because the Ravens got their Heinz Field monkey off their back, it is important in how they did it. Joe Flacco exposed the Steelers corners, and the Steelers were surprisingly unable to generate any pass rush – twin themes who would go hand-in-hand throughout 2015

2 – January 10, 2015 – Dick LeBeau “Resigns”

In a move that shocked both Steelers Nation and LeBeau himself, Mike Tomlin informs LeBeau that he will not be back in 2015. LeBeau is allowed to “resign.” Later, rumors that Keith Butler’s impending departure more or less forced Tomlin to make a decision are confirmed. Regardless of the wisdom of the move, LeBeau’s legacy of excellence remains intact.

3 – March 9th 2015 – Steelers release Brett Keisel

Although Brett Keisel played extremely well for the Steelers in 2014, his injury vs. New Orleans apparently sealed his fate. Brett Keisel’s release ends an era on defensive line for the Steelers, one that started in September 2000 when Aaron Smith broke the starting lineup.

4 – March 11th 2015 – Jason Worilds Retires

All season long, the question of whether the Steelers would or should resign Jason Worilds and whether they should resign him dominates the debate in Steelers Nation. Worilds takes the decision out of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s hands, by announcing his retirement lieu of a contract with potentially 8 figures worth of guaranteed money.

5 – March 15th 2015 – Steelers Resign Ben Roethlisberger and Sign DeAngelo Williams

When the Steelers resign Ben Roethlisberger to a contract, they also sign a free agent backup running back . That’s the way it worked in 2008 (Mewelde Moore was the free agent in 2008, for those of you taking notes), and that’s the way it worked in 2015. The decision to extend Ben Roethlisberger’s contract was almost pro forma, but more ignorant parties in the press and Steelers Nation kept suggesting the deal would not get done.

At the same time it looks like the Steelers are simply taking out an insurance policy, and a risky one at that given DeAngelo Williams age, as Le’Veon Bell is slated to make a full recovery. As it turns out, suspensions and injuries ruin Bell’s 2015 season, and DeAngelo Williams performs above almost everyone’s wildest expectations.

6 – March 22nd 2015 – Steelers Resign James Harrison

Deciding the James Harrison most certainly has something left in the tank and not wanting to see him finish out his days as a Tennessee Titan, the Steelers bring back James Harrison, both for the value he will offer on and off the field.

7 – April 10th, 2015 – Troy Polamalu Retires

This move is not quite a surprise as all accounts indicate that Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and Keith Butler want Polamalu to retire. Still, the Steelers do not want to cut him and see a repeat of Franco Harris in Seattle.

Moreover, the fact that they resign Will Allen the next day shows that either Art Rooney II or perhaps Dan Rooney left the door ajar for Polmalu’s return in 2015. Troy Polamlau takes umbrage to being pushed out, but the Steelers legend’s decision to retire allows him to go out quietly, on his own terms.

8 – July 23rd & 25th 2015 – Steelers Extend Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert Contracts

To the disappointment of many in Steelers Nation, Art Rooney II decides to extend the contracts of both head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert, quashing any speculation about whether the two men will enter 2015 on the hot seat.

9 – August 10th, 2015 – Jerome Bettis Enters Hall of Fame

After several years of frustration, legendary Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis takes his rightful place in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the face of the Steelers franchise. Bettis is the first Steeler of the second Super Bowl era to enter the Hall of Fame.

10 – September 10th 2015 – Missed Opportunities Cost Steelers vs. Patriots

Beyond headsetgate, the Steelers defensive struggles to stop Tom Brady, but the team is surprisingly competitive in a 28-21 loss to the Patriots. Although the Steelers last touchdown is of the garbage time variety, the Steelers did miss two field goals, which teases that the Steelers could have been competitive against the defending Super Bowl Champions.

11 – October 3rd 2015 – Steelers Lose in OT to Ravens

A shaky performance by Michael Vick (and that’s being generous) and two missed field goals by Josh Scobee cost the Steelers an overtime decision to the Baltimore Ravens. Not only do the Steelers lose their first AFC North game, but it also gives them another AFC loss. These twin realities will haunt the Steelers later.

12 – October 19th 2015 – Landry Jones Leads Steelers Over Cardinals

Never in the history of Steelers football has the third string quarterback position aroused so much passion in Steelers Nation has it has with the case of Landry Jones.

Even after a strong preseason in 2015, fans continued to question Landry Jones roster spot. The idea of “Landry Jones to the Rescue” was laughable to many. Yet Jones came off the bench to help the Steelers beat the Cardinals after an injury to Michael Vick.

13 – November 1st, 2015 – Steelers Lose to Bengals

The loss drops the Steelers to 4-4 and costs the Steelers the services of Le’Veon Bell to an MCL tear. It’s also the first game in which Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Bell play together. The Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 offense power quartet’s total time on the field together last just over 1 quarter….

14 – November 5th 2015 – Cortez Allen’s Goes on IR

Really, Cortez Allen going on IR this is a culmination of a series of disappointing events, from Senquez Golson’s season-ending surgery to Shamarko Thomas’ benching to the acquisitions of Ross Cockrell and Brandon Boykin showing that essentially nothing has gone according to plan in the Steelers secondary in 2015.

15 – December 27th 2015 – Steelers lose to Ravens

With a clear shot at the playoffs, against a 4-10 team playing its backup quarterback, another Mike Tomlin team gets tripped up by a trap game.

And that’s the way it was for the Pittsburgh Steelers year two thousand fifteen. What will 2016 bring? Mike Tomlin and the Steelers will begin answering that on Sunday vs. the Cleveland Browns on the shores of Lake Eire.

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Larger Lesson Behind Ryan Shazier’s Breakout Game vs. 49ers

The Pittsburgh Steelers 43-18 win over the San Francisco 49ers gave Steelers Nation a lot of positives to chew on. The Steelers offense, down by two of its best players, showed it could be a dominate force. And the Steelers defense showed that it had zero intent on throwing in the towel and calling 2015 a “rebuilding year.”

  • But perhaps the most encouraging sign was Ryan Shazier’s breakout game against the 49ers.

Just how good was Ryan Shazier? How about 15 tackles, 3 of them for losses, a sack a forced fumble, a QB hit and a complete neutralization of Colin Kaepernick as a running threat. But there’s larger lesson that goes beyond Shazier’s statistics.

Shazier’s performance was a potentially transformative, and fully appreciating the importance of Ryan Shazier’s breakout game requires going back to words of wisdom Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell penned a year ago.

Last October, the Steelers were 3-3, licking their wounds after a loss in which the Cleveland Browns were clearly the better team. Wexell seized upon that moment to author “Deja Vu All Over Again” in what was perhaps the best piece on the 2014 Steelers.

In “Deja Vu All Over Again,” Wexell graphically reconstructs the the Steelers 2000 season, building the back story with insights that only a true insider can offer. In a nutshell, Wexell compared Mike Tomlin’s 2012, 2013, and 2014 Steelers to Bill Cowher’s 1998, 1999, and 2000 Steelers.

In Wexell’s eyes, both teams were going through the natural rebuilding growing pains that inflict even the best franchises. Wexell recounts the key decisions made by Bill Cowher and newly arrived Kevin Colbert, enumerating both the brilliant and boneheaded ones, and reminding readers that all of them were controversial at the time. (Wexell also calls out some of the more inane arguments made at the time by certain members of the Pittsburgh media).

The crux of Wexell’s argument is that chief difference between the two eras is that Mike Tomlin benefited from having Ben Roethlisberger calling his signals whereas Cowher was stuck with Kordell Stewart. Wexell’s observations made sense, and Steel Curtain Rising thought to do a detailed, position-by-position breakdown of the Steelers 1998, 1999, and 2000 rosters with their 2012, 2013, and 2014 counterparts.

Alas, there simply wasn’t time.

  • Fortunately, there is time to connect the dots between his final argument, and Shazier’s breakout performance vs. the 49ers.

Wexell concluded this piece with this observation:

Maybe one or two of these current free agents can contribute to a championship the way Von Oelhoffen did, but to tell the truth it’s all melding together in my mind at this point.
I am certain, though, that even in this state of deja vu, I have watched an organization use patience to crawl out of a hole by making one smart decision at a time. And they have no choice but to use that method once again.

The 2014 Steelers of course went 8-2 immediately after Wexell penned that article, but 8-2 seemed like a pipe dream when Pittsburgh was at 3-3. And part of the reason for the turn around, was that the Steelers were already “making one smart decision at a time.”

Today that might seem self-evident, but that was hardly the case on draft day 2014. Going into the 2014 NFL Draft everyone knew the Steelers were going to take a cornerback. The only question seemed to be whether they get a shot at Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller, or Calvin Pryor. Were those men absent, (and Gilbert was supposedly the one the Steelers wanted), Pittsburgh would look to wide receiver.

  • Inside linebacker wasn’t on anyone’s radar screen.

Steel Curtain Rising’s 2014 Steelers Draft Need Matrix had cornerback and wide receiver at its top. The Steelers 2014 draft needs at inside linebacker was rated as 7th, citing the presence of Lawrence Timmons, improved play by Vince Williams, potential by Terence Garvin, and the possibility that Sean Spence could rebound.

  • Shazier’s game vs. the 49ers proves that it is a good thing that neither Mike Tomlin nor Kevin Colbert ever read Steel Curtain Rising.

Seriously. Tomlin and Colbert, along with Keith Butler, Dick LeBeau and Carnell Lake clearly knew that even in April 2014 inside linebacker was far deeper than defensive back for the Steelers. They also knew they’d be without the services of Jerricho Cotchery and couldn’t have seen enough of Markus Wheaton to be comfortable at WR.

  • In the end, it didn’t matter.
Steelers 70's, Draft, war room, dick haley

Tim Rooney and Dick Haley in Steelers 70’s Draft War Room

The Steelers brain trust saw a potential super star in Ryan Shaizer and did the same thing they’re Chuck Noll, Art Rooney Jr., Dick Haley, and Bill Nunn did in 40 years earlier in the Steelers 1974 Draft when they had two “good” wide receivers in Frank Lewis and Ron Shanklin. They saw the chance to grab two great ones in the form of Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.

  • And that’s the lesson behind Ryan Shazier’s breakout game vs. the 49ers.

Sure, the Steelers might be in a personnel slump with their secondary. Perhaps Pittsburgh’s playoff chances in 2015 will be limited because of it. But in just his 7th official NFL start, Shaizer showed Steelers Nation that he can be truly great.

And in picking him in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Steelers were simply “making one smart decision at a time” as Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the 49er’s offense can attest.

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Shoulder Surgery May Jeopardize Senquez Golson Rookie Season

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that Pittsburgh Steelers second round pick Senquez Golson could be facing shoulder surgery which would end his rookie season before it even begins.

The Steelers picked Golson in the 2015 NFL draft due to his tremendous ball-hawking skills, Golson nabbed 10 interceptions last year while playing for the Old Miss, despite his 5’9” size. While no one was projecting or expecting that Senquez Golson would push for a starting job, the Steelers had planed to use him in the slot.

  • Golson participated in all of the Steelers OTA’s and mini-camps without incident, but later informed coaches that he felt he injured his shoulder during those sessions.

Golson was one of 5 Steelers to begin training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, and has not suited up for practice.

Concern about the availability of Golson apparently contributed to the Steelers decision to trade for Brandon Boykin over the weekend. Brandon Boykin, like Golson, is another short cornerback who has a knack for coming down with the ball.

Golson to Continue Recent Steelers Rookie Tradition?

If Senquez Golson’s rookie season is lost to shoulder surgery it starts, he will be following in the footsteps of a number of prominent rookies during the Mike Tomlin era. In 2012, David DeCastro and Sean Spence both began the season on IR, although DeCastro returned late in the season. A year before Baron Batch’s rookie season ended on the fields of St. Vincents. Prior to that, Chris Scott, a 5th round draft pick from 2010, injured himself weight lifting in June of that year and was lost for the season.

Lawrence Timmons, Keenan Lewis, Frank “The Tank” Summers, Ryan Shazier and Markus Wheaton all saw their rookie seasons seriously curtailed by injuries.

Rookies losing valuable time to injuries is not “tradition” that anyone would wish to emulate, but unfortunately it does seem like it will continue in 2015 at the very least.

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2014 Steelers Report Card Defense, “Life’s Work” Approaches for Veterans

Taken from the grade book who experienced the bittersweet moment of seeing several of his older students reach or near the moment of graduating on to “Life’s work,”while taking in enough joy to see some of their replacements budding into maturity, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Report Card for the defense. Note, these are grades for the entire season, not a composite of each week’s report cards.

Defensive Line
This unit saw some real firsts for a Johnny Mitchell defensive line with not one but two rookies make starts in the form of Daniel McCullers and Stephon Tuitt. While neither could be called a “rookie sensation” both played well and showed a lot of promise heading into 2015. The same cannot be said for Cam Thomas, who quite frankly struggled at defensive end, and while better at nose tackle, got pushed around. Steve McLendon make much noise statistically, but McLendon returned full time to the lineup for the season’s final four games and that’s when the Steelers defense played its best ball. Those two facts are not coincidental. Brett Keisel rejoined the team as a last minute edition, and while it took time to work himself into football shape, it was clear that The Beard, still had plenty in the tank. Indeed one could argue that Keisel’s pass defense-interception vs. Houston was the play that turned the Steelers season around. The shining start of the unit was Cameron Heyward, who recorded 7.5 sacks, tying Jason Worilds for the team lead. Heyward might have started the year a little slow, maybe, by year’s end he was the veritable hell raiser that this team needed him to be. Grade: B

Things didn’t quite pan out as projected here, as Jarvis Jones, 2013’s first round draft pick, and Ryan Shazier spent large portions of the season on the inactive list due to injury. James Harrison and Arthur Moats filled in admirably for Jones, and the defense was at its most dangerous when Harrison teased at turning back the clock. In place of Shazier, both Sean Spence and Vince Williams filled in admirably giving Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler a good problem to have. Jason Worilds didn’t quite match his sack production of 2013, but he was rushed less often and had a solid season. Lawrence Timmons was this unit’s leader and continued to lead by example, making plays when needed. Although it was an overall strong year from the linebackers, lack of a consistent pass rush brings this grade down. Grade: B-

The Steelers had hoped that Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu had enough left to lead the Steelers secondary for one final year. Unfortunately, and this is as brutal as it sounds, the Steelers defense played at its best when both men were out injured at the end of the season. Cortez Allen’s season was an unmitigated disaster, and his reclamation project should keep Keith Bulter, Carnell Lake, and Mike Tomlin late into the night. On the flip side, William Gay played far better than anyone had a right to expect. You don’t get 3 pick sixes in the NFL by accident. Brice McCain and Antwon Blake were surprises. Perhaps, at the end of the day, both men were in fact below average talents playing above their heads and perhaps they came down to earth. But both men stepped up and created turnovers at critical times during the regular season, and they deserve credit for that. Even if you take those positives into account, the secondary was the Steelers big weak link in to 2014. Grade: C-

To view the Report Card for the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Offense, click here.
To view the Report Card for the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Coaches and Special Teams, click here.

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Steelers Report Card vs Ravens 2014 Playoffs at Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who saw his star student ace his final quarter in high school, only to fall flat on his face during his first semester in college, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the playoff loss to the Ravens.

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The stat sheet isn’t too kind to Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for 334 yards, on 45 passes and 31 completions with one touchdown and two interceptions. Truthfully, his first interception could have been caught and was a miracle catch by Terell Suggs. The Ravens did what they could to take away the deep ball from the Steelers and Ben had no underneath check down to rely upon. Bruce Gradkowski came into a difficult spot and made a nice throw on third down and converted a fourth down. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play his best game, but he certainly can’t be “blamed” for the loss. Grade: B

Running Backs
On the surface, the decision to start Ben Tate made sense. But if you accept that then why not sign an experienced veteran earlier in the season? Looking at the numbers Tate played a respectable game, but fumbled early and bobbled a pass that got intercepted. Josh Harris had 9 carries for 25 yards, but didn’t get a lot of running room. Tellingly, the Steelers turned to Will Johnson when they needed to convert in short yardage. Dri Archer ran once for a loss, but did catch 3 passes. The running backs weren’t asked to do a lot but, even then, they didn’t quite answer the call. Grade: C-

Tight Ends
Heath Miller came up with some clutch catches as he always does. But he also failed to come up with a few others that the Steelers needed. His fumble also made the Steelers 1 and done official. Moreover, he struggled in blocking particularly against Terrell Suggs. Miller’s catches bring the grade up, but the Steelers needed more from the tight ends than they got. Grade: D

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown caught 9 passes, including one that almost went for a touchdown that he had little right to catch. Martavis Bryant had 6 catches including a touchdown, and Darrius Heyward Bey and one catch for six yards. The Steelers put up 356 yards of passing against the Ravens, and the wide receivers came up with 250 of those. A good night. Grade: B

Offensive Line
Baltimore’s ability to control the line of scrimmage and collapse the pocket was a big difference maker in the game. The Steelers relative lack of playoff experience has been noted, but Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, and Marcus Gilbert have all started playoff games before. Pouncey and Foster have won them too. None of the savvy supposedly gained from playoff experience was evident vs. the Ravens. The Steelers needed a strong game from their offensive line. They got the opposite. Grade: F

Defensive Line
Baltimore ran the ball when it had to, in the first half. The defensive line made its adjustments, but by then the damage had been done. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt got 4 tackles a piece, with the stat sheet showing that Heyward hit Joe Flacco twice. Fair enough, but Steelers front seven generated little pressure on Flacco, and the line must share part of that responsibility. Grade: C-

Going into the game one of the story lines was how would Baltimore’s inexperienced offensive lineman fare against the Steelers edge rushers who’d been making a lot of noise of late. The underdog won this battle in a big way. Jason Worilds personal foul penalty was boneheaded to say the least and he was a non-factor in the pass rush, as was James Harrison. Sean Spence did get a sack, and Ryan Shaizer did force a fumble in a nice play. Vince Williams had 3 tackles including one for a loss. Lawrence Timmons, turned in a strong game as he has all season. Grade: D

Three of the Steelers top four tacklers were members of the secondary, Troy Polamalu, Brice McCain, and Mike Mitchell. Polamlau did help in run support and got a lick in on Flacco, but for all intents and purposes he wasn’t an impact player. Mitchell’s personal foul penalty energized the Ravens to their first touchdown. McCain got his hands on a pick, but unlike Terrell Suggs, McCain couldn’t hold on. Welcome to the playoffs Mr. McCain. Flacco simply completed the throws he had to complete, and while the non-existent pass rush helped, the Steelers patchwork secondary also was a factor. Grade: D

Special Teams
Markus Wheaton had 3 returns which averaged 20.7 yards a full four yards below his season average. On the flip side, Jacoby Jones was held to 23.7 yards per return, in line with the Steelers regular season average, but well below Jones’ average for 2014. Brad Wing averaged below 40 yards per punt, but did pin the Ravens down twice inside the 20. Shaun Susiham made all 3 of his field goals. All of that points to an average night for the Steelers special teams, but Shamarko Thomas’ blocked punt was sensational coming at just when the Steelers needed it. The fact that the offense failed to capitalize doesn’t dim the brilliance of the play. Grade: A-

The Steelers coaches have taken a lot of heat for the Ravens performance, and this comes with the territory when you lose so badly in the playoffs. With that said, its important to acknowledge that the execution vs. game plan debate is legitimate. Even so, Todd Haley’s offense couldn’t protect its quarterback, couldn’t make the run threat real, struggled in the Red Zone, but did move the ball. Haely is certainly not responsible for the turnovers. And his backup entered without the offense missing a beat.

Dick LeBeau’s defense failed to pressure the passer, and its secondary failed to shut down the Ravens when it counted. However, the unit did eliminate the running game for an entire half.

At the end of the day, the crisp execution and smart play that had characterized the Steelers during the season’s final four weeks was largely missing, and as Mike Tomlin would be the first to say, “The Steelers are what they put on tape.” The Pittsburgh Steelers final 2014 Report Card will rate the coaches more well, but this Report Card is based solely on outcome and performance vs. the Ravens. Grade: D

Unsung Hero Award
This gentleman isn’t one of the Killer Bees. He’s not the rookie sensation who specializes in catching touchdowns. The stat sheet says he had 5 catches for 66 yards, which is respectable in today’s NFL, but will do little to make him the envy of the Fantasy Football owners next season.

But go beyond the numbers, and you’ll see why he was so special to the Steelers on a night when much went wrong. Those 5 catches came on 6 targets. And here is how they broke down: 1-11, 1-11, 1-12, 1-15, and 1-17 – all but the final catch (which came on 2nd and 20) went for a first down. You can’t score if you don’t move the chains in the NFL and this gentleman kept the chains moving for Pittsburgh. While the end result remains, his individual effort deserves far more recognition than he’s getting, and for that Markus Wheaton is the Unsung Hero of the playoff loss to the Ravens.

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Ravens Defeat Steelers 30-17 at Heinz Field

The Baltimore Ravens arrived at Heinz Field Saturday night wearing an 0-3 playoff millstone around their neck, an embarrassing loss to the Houston Texans and an escape like win vs. the lowly Cleveland Browns. In contrast, the Steelers had closed their season with 4 straight wins looking as a team that had hit its stride.

Some faithful in Steelers Nation have looked to the statistics and see the Steelers coming out ahead in terms of yards, plays, and time of possession and scratched their heads asking “Why?”

In a game like this, numbers that measure fundamentals and not Fantasy Football stats are what really carry the day. And on that front the Ravens dominated where it really counted and in doing so they revealed limits of how far the 2014 Steelers could realistically aspire to.

Bubble Gum, Spit and Duct Tape Secondary Only Gets Steelers So Far

Throughout Steelers Nation, fans are fingering any number of the Steelers flaws to explain the Raven’s first playoff win at Heinz Field. Most of what’s being discussed is on point and will find its way into this article further on down. But there’s something most are missing:

  • The Steelers secondary may have been good enough to get it to the playoffs, but lacked the talent to carry them through the playoffs.

Just six days before, Cris Collinsworth – whom no one will ever accuse of favoring the Steelers – praised the job that the Steelers “spare parts” secondary had done. The secondary earned that praise, as they pushed the Steelers over the Bengals. The Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi noted how the group had virtually eliminated the long-ball in the season’s final weeks.

  • But the playoff introduce an entirely new dynamic.

And in this new dynamic, the Steelers secondary was out of its depth. Brice McCain had a shot at an interception – very similar to the one he made in the regular season a week ago. Interceptions are harder to make in the playoffs.

Steve Smith Sr., Owen Daniels, and don’t call him “David” Crockett Gilmore all had catches for over 20 yards. But the numbers only tell part of the tale. The Joe Flacco may have passed for fewer yards than Ben Roethlisberger, but he connected with his receivers when he had to….

…And there’s a reason for that.

Ravens Dictate at the Line of Scrimmage

Like all good Steelers-Ravens match ups, this one was won and lost in the trenches. It would be wrong to say the Ravens controlled the line of scrimmage all night. Saying they dominated at the line of scrimmage when they needed to would be right.

  • The Steelers defensive line offers a perfect example.

Credit Dick LeBeau and Johnny Mitchell for adjusting to shut down Justin Forsett in the second half. As Behind the Steel Curtain’s editor Neal Coolong pointed out, Forsett had fewer yards at the end of the game than he began the 3rd quarter with. All of those “Tackles for loss” look pretty on Vince Williams, Lawrence Timmons, and Jason Worilds stat sheet.

But such appearances fail to mask the reality that the Ravens imposed their will by rushing the ball down the Steelers throat during the final 26 yards of their first touchdown drive.

More importantly, the Ravens offensive line kept Joe Flacco clean, giving him the time he needed to pick apart the Steelers secondary.

  • The story is similar on the other side of the ball.

The Steelers offensive line struggled in the first half, but improved somewhat in the second half. There were times when Ben Roethlisberger had all day to throw. But the Ravens didn’t simply sack Ben Roethlisberger 5 times, Baltimore collapsed Pittsburgh’s pass protection at the worst possible times:

  • Haloti Nagata knocked the Steelers out of field goal range on their first drive
  • Elivs Dumervil ended a 3rd and 11 with a sack on the Steelers next drive, forcing another field goal
  • Brandon Williams sacked Ben Roethlisberger with the Steelers at the Raven’s ten, scuttling the series and helping force another field goal
  • Elivs Dumervil ended the Steelers final drive of the 3rd quarter by sacking Roethlisberger for a 12 yard loss
  • Courtney Upshaw’s final sack of Roethlisberger didn’t end the drive, Bruce Gradkowski kept it alive

But when Roethlisberger returned to the game, he promptly threw an interception in the end zone….

Steelers Stumble, Ravens Rumble

…It was that kind of a game for the Steelers. However, if any one word describes the 2014 Steelers it is “resilient.” The Steelers defense not only kept the Ravens pinned down against Pittsburgh’s end zone, Shamarko Thomas blocked a punt, netting a safety.

Suddenly, the Steelers were within 13 points…

…And just as suddenly, the ever reliable Heath Miller was fumbling the ball back to the Ravens.

  • And so ended the Steelers 2014 season.

Credit the John Harbaugh and his Baltimore Ravens squad – they were the better team at Heinz Field Saturday night. They made the plays when they needed to, they deserve the victory.

Ravens Advance, Pittsburgh Picks Up Pieces

The 2014 Steelers have been an erratic bunch, and for whatever reason they reverted to their early season form in the playoffs. It is impossible to know why.

  • Credit the Steelers for refusing to use the absence of Le’Veon Bell as an excuse, but clearly not having Bell hurt the Steelers.

But Bell’s absence had nothing to do with the epidemic of penalties, including three bone-headed personal fouls. Playoff inexperience may have contributed in part. But that fails to explain the poor line play (Maurkuice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, and Ramon Foster all have post-season experience) or execution failure by the likes of Heath Miller.

Steelers Nation may resist swallowing such a bitter pill, but the Ravens remain the class of the AFC North, as they have been since their November 2011 win at Heinz.

  • Baltimore proved it by advancing to the divisional playoff round.

The truth is that the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers probably went as far as their talent could take them, and for that, this team should hang its head high. For the first 3 quarters of the 2014 season, the Steelers slipped into “win a game, lose a game” mode, until late in the season when the team succeeded in stepping up its focus enough to string together four straight victories.

If this playoff loss can teach these players to apply the same lesson then next time they reach the post-season, then this loss will not be for naught.

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