T.J. Watt Is Already the Pittsburgh Steelers Sack Leader – Let that Sink In

The Steelers victory over the Browns on Monday Night Football was the essence of an “ugly win.” Anytime your defense scores more touchdowns than your offense, you know it ain’t pretty.

  • But Steelers History passed a critical milestone at Acrisure Stadium.

T.J. Watt became the Pittsburgh Steelers all-time sack leader.

T.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, Steelers vs Browns MNF, Steelers vs Browns, T.J. Watt Steelers all time sack leader

T.J. Watt sacking Deshaun Watson. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, AP via San Diego Tribune-Review

Let’s repeat: T.J. Watt became the Pittsburgh Steelers all-time sack leader. Let that sink in for a moment. We’re not talking about the Houston Texas, or the Los Angeles-Anaheim-St. Louis-Los Angles Rams.

We are talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This is the franchise that has defined defensive excellence for three generations. This is the franchise that gave us the Steel Curtain and a generation later gave is Blitzburgh. This same franchise who had a member of their defense set the record for the longest run in Super Bowl history.

The Steelers were the first, and only, football team to have its defensive line featured on the cover of Time Magazine, back when that meant something.

Effective defense in the NFL goes way beyond getting after the quarterback, but you’d be wise to start there.

So just how does T.J. Watt’s accomplishment stack up in terms of the Steelers larger legacy? Let’s take a look:

Pittsburgh Steelers All Time Sack Leaders

Before diving into the stat sheet above, let’s offer a big shout out to my friend and staff writer Tony Defeo. When the Steelers cut Woodley, Defeo put his accomplishments in context by calling out how Woodley had led the Steelers in sacks per game.

The totals above include Woodley’s full body of work, but if you look at Woodley’s career from his debut to the 2011 win against the Patriots, he averaged 0.8 sacks per game.

  • That was an incredible accomplishment, but Watt is beating him by a mile.

Kevin Greene, a Hall of Famer, is next. After that you get Joey Porter, Bud Dupree and the original Steel Curtain makes an appearance with Ernie Holmes.

What else can we learn from this?

First, the numbers reveal how the modern game has evolved. While each member of the original Steel Curtain makes this list, only Holmes is in the top half. Dwight White, L.C. Greenwood and Joe Greene are in the middle. Jack Lambert and Jack Ham aren’t anywhere to be seen, with Andy Russell only eking his way in at the bottom.

Bud Carson and George Perles’ defense didn’t need to blitz often because the NFL didn’t handcuff its defensive backs before the Mel Blount Rule.

Second, you can see the difference between great Steelers pass rushers and those who were truly special. The great ones sacked the quarterback somewhere between 40 and 50% of the games. Get beyond that, and you’re truly at an elite level.

Fourth, there’s an additional metric for differentiating players on this list, and that’s players with forced fumbles. Sacking the quarterback is critical, but so much more meaningful if you can knock the ball out while doing it. (Just ask Alex Highsmith and Deshaun Watson.)

Unfortunately data isn’t available for members of the original Steel Curtain or 1980’s stalwart Keith Willis. But it does show us that players like Jason Gildon and even Lamarr Woodley weren’t as dynamic, while driving home the fact that guys like Greg Lloyd and James Harrison had innate playmaking ability.

Finally, and not surprisingly, T.J. Watt leads the field here too – by a mile. This guy sacks the quarterback in almost every game and causes a forced fumble in just under 1/3 of his games.

My take away? Man, I’m glad T.J. Watt is a Pittsburgh Steeler.

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The Steelers 2023 Draft Class Is Amazing, But These Guys Still Have To Prove They Can Play

“The Khan Artist!”

“The Khan Man!”

“Omar Khan continues to cook!”

“Omar coming, Yo!” (The Wire).

Yes, sir, Omar Khan, the Steelers’ new general manager, is drawing tons of praise for his work in selecting the Steelers’ 2023 NFL Draft.

Rightfully so.

If you had scripted (mocked) the Steelers’ new class before the 2023 NFL Draft kicked off on Thursday, April 27, it couldn’t have come out any better.

A left tackle stud in Broderick Jones; Joey Porter Jr.; Darnell Washington; Nate Herbig‘s brother; Cory Trice, an enticing cornerback prospect they nabbed in the seventh round, etc., etc.

The Steelers addressed several positions of need in the draft, and they did so with great value in just about every round.

With the first-round tackle prospects flying off the board, and with the first-round cornerback prospects moving slower than expected, Khan orchestrated a trade with the Patriots in order to move up three spots in the first round to select Jones, the big, athletic left tackle out of Georgia. In doing so, Pittsburgh only had to part with its fourth-round pick. Not only that, but this move prevented the Jets, who were said to be in the market for a new left tackle to protect the blindside of their new starting quarterback–Aaron Rodgers–from taking Jones.

When the draft resumed on Friday night at the start of the second round, the Steelers, sitting with the 32nd pick, had the option of either trading down to accumulate more draft choices or simply taking who they thought was the best player available.

Pittsburgh went with Option B, and that player’s name was Joey Porter Jr., the stud cornerback prospect from Penn State and the son of the great Joey Porter Sr., a Steelers Super Bowl hero from yesteryear.

So, the Steelers went into the first round in search of a top-caliber left tackle AND cornerback, and they had both by the time they were done with their first pick of the second round.

You couldn’t have asked for anything better.

The Steelers actually re-acquired a fourth-round pick by moving down 13 spots in the third round. Not only that, but they still managed to land Darnell Washington, a hulking tight end from Georgia, with the 93rd pick of the draft.

So, to recap, the Steelers went into the draft with four of the first 80 picks (four in 93, after the trade to re-acquire a fourth-round selection) and managed to walk away with four players–Broderick Jones, Joey Porter Jr., Keeanu Benton and Darnell Washington–who all had first-round buzz prior to or going into last weekend.

As the cool draft kids like to say, that’s quite the haul.

The Steelers have been receiving rave reviews for their performance in the draft. They’ve been passing every post-draft review with flying colors–mostly with A’s and A+’s.

It’s a cause for celebration. It’s a reason to be happy. It’s a time for great excitement in Steeler Nation.

You simply cannot wait for the start of the rookie minicamp, regular minicamp and training camp. Get me to Latrobe, Pa. so I can see these new toys in action!

When is the first preseason game?

This is awesome!

It’s also just a group of guys who have yet to set foot on a professional football field of any kind.

Let’s remember that.

I remember how over the moon everyone was about the Steelers’ 2008 draft class, a class that included running back Rashard Mendenhall, receiver Limas Sweed, quarterback Dennis Dixon and safety Ryan Mundy. Like Porter, Sweed was said to be a first-round talent who fell into the second.

Pittsburgh got a steal, a bargain, with Sweed. Turned out, all the Steelers got was a receiver who couldn’t catch (a pretty important job for a receiver).

Dixon did play an important role by starting a few big games at quarterback when Ben Roethlisberger was either injured or suspended, but he certainly never lived up to the prospect he was said to be before injuring his knee in college.

Mendenhall, the stud running back from Illinois, did seem to be destined for a great Steelers career after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in his rookie season. Mendenhall had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons–including 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010. Mendenhall may have been Pittsburgh’s most valuable player en route to an appearance in Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 campaign. Unfortunately, there was Mendenhall’s fumble in the fourth quarter of that Super Bowl that proved to be vital to a Packers victory.

The fumble, coupled with Mendenhall’s controversial remarks about Osama bin Laden many months later, made him a very unpopular figure among Steelers fans.

Mendenhall was on his way to another 1,000-yard season in 2011 before suffering a torn ACL in the final week. He was never the same again.

Long story, short, Mendenhall, and every other pick from the 2008 class, was out of Pittsburgh by 2013.

I don’t know why I chose 2008, other than that was the last time I remembered this kind of universal excitement for a Steelers draft class.

The bottom line is this: Omar Khan deserves all the credit in the world for orchestrating such a great draft, but this is just the first step. (Btw, isn’t it amazing how head coach Mike Tomlin is getting almost zero credit for the draft haul? I guess he only has too much power when the Steelers have a bad draft.)

Fans shouldn’t get too excited about this class. They mustn’t talk in absolutes, as if most of these picks will go on to have great careers. The stats tell us that Pittsburgh will be lucky to land one superstar and maybe two more dependable starters from the class. Don’t be surprised if someone like Washington is a dud, while offensive lineman Spencer Anderson, the second and forgotten seventh-round pick from Maryland, turns out to be a stud–or at least a versatile role player capable of lining up anywhere up front.

I hate to throw a wet blanket on the excitement of the Steelers 2023 draft class, but it seems to be a bit too on the nose to work out as well as everyone is expecting.

Not to say it won’t be a good-to-great class (I certainly wouldn’t mind the latter), but Khan has a ways to go before he’s the general manager legend everyone has already made him out to be.

Enjoy the honeymoon, Omar.

Criticism’s coming, Yo!

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Steelers Draft Broderick Jones In The First Round Of The 2023 NFL Draft

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin may not be interested in keeping up with the Joneses, but that doesn’t mean he’s not interested in drafting one to keep his quarterback upright.

The Steelers finally decided to address their offensive tackle position with a serious pick on Thursday night by selecting Broderick Jones, a left tackle from the two-time defending champion Georgia Bulldogs, in the first round (14th, overall) of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Pittsburgh originally had the 17th pick in the first round but moved up three spots to ensure that it would have a chance at Jones, rated as either the third or fourth-best tackle heading into the draft. The Steelers made a deal with New England to move into the 14th spot and had to part with their fourth-round pick (120th, overall).

You can understand the strategy, given the perceived depth at the Steelers’ two biggest positions of need heading into the draft–offensive tackle and cornerback–along with how the first round played out over the first 13 selections on Thursday. Paris Johnson Jr (Ohio State), Darnell Wright (Tennessee) and Pete Skoronski (Northwestern) were taken sixth, 10th and 11th, respectively, which meant three of the top four tackle prospects were gone before 14. Conversely, Devon Witherspoon (Illinois) was the only first-round caliber cornerback drafted through 13 picks.

With that in mind, the Steelers aggressively moved up to get the last tackle with a consensus first-round grade.

Jones, 21, was a red-shirt freshman in 2020. He started four games in 2021 and helped the Bulldogs win a national title. Jones became a full-time starter in 2022 and was named First-Team SEC as he helped Georgia win back-to-back national championships.

The book on Jones, whose NFL.com Draft Profile lists him as 6’5″ and 311 pounds, is that he’s extremely athletic and someone who may have just touched the surface in terms of potential.

Will he start right away? Perhaps. Perhaps not, but with Dan Moore Jr. as the incumbent starter at left tackle, 2023 could act as a bit of a redshirt year for Jones while he learns the ropes and hones his skills at the professional level.

In any event, the Steelers went into the 2023 NFL Draft needing to address the position of left tackle, and they appeared to find a darn fine prospect in Broderick Jones.

The Steelers head into Friday evening with three picks–two in the second (32nd and 49th, overall) and one in the third (80th, overall)–and have a chance to address their other glaring need with the likes of Joey Porter Jr. still sitting on the board.

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Steelers 2023 Draft Needs @ Defensive Line: Time to Find Cam’s Replacement?

Playing defensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers isn’t just about helping the team win games, its also about maintaining a legacy.

In 2021, the Steelers defensive line was a glaring liability. Looking back at the 2022 season it is safe to say that the Steelers defensive line once again helped Pittsburgh win football games.

In the 2023 NFL Draft it is time for the Steelers to start looking for defensive lineman who can defend its legacy.

Cam Heyward, Cam Heyward Franco Harris Number 32, Steelers vs Raiders

Paying homage to Franco, Cam Heyward leads Steelers out of tunnel. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

Steelers Depth Cart at Defensive Line: The Starters

Cameron Heyward hasn’t lived up to the Steelers legacy at defensive line. Yes, you read that right. You can’t say Cam has lived up to the legacy because he has added to it. In 2022, Cameron Heyward logged 10.5 sacks, batted away 4 passes, forced one fumble and dropped 14 players behind the line of scrimmage.

And he did it at age 33.

When Stephon Tuitt announced his retirement in June of 2022, things looked bleak. Absent Tuitt, Cam Heyward had looked like a future Hall of Famer playing along side NAIA second stringers. However, Omar Khan went out and signed Larry Ogunjobi.

Larry Ogunjobi’s 1.5 sacks and 7 tackles for a loss might look pedestrian, but with Ogunjobi in the line up, the Steelers field the 8th best defense against the run instead of the 32nd best defense against the run in 2022.

The Steelers signed Montravius Adams off of the New Orelans practice squad in November 30 and he improved the defense. He started 17 games in 2022 contributing to the turn around against the run.

Steelers Defensive Line  Depth Chart: The Backups

Quantity. That’s the best way to describe the Steelers depth chart behind their starters on defensive line. Leading the way is DeMarvin Leal, the Steelers whom the Steelers drafted with their third round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Leal didn’t see much action as a rookie, but tellingly when the Steelers run defense came up soft against the run at home against the Ravens, Mike Tomlin responded by getting Leal into the line up, and the run defense improved.

The Steelers also have Isaiahh Loudermilk whom they traded up to get in the 2021 NFL Draft. As a rookie Loudermilk saw playing time on a horrible defensive line but still managed to flash. His second season was a disappointment, with Loudermilk not even suit up for the first four games and only seeing 18% of the snaps after that – down from 29% as a rookie.

Omar Khan has been aggressive in adding to the defensive line in free agency signing Breiden Fehoko and Amon Watts who look like good value signings.

Steelers Draft, Steelers Draft Needs scale

Steelers Draft Needs Scale 2023

The Steelers 2023 Defensive Line Draft Needs

The Steelers are basically in the same place they were a year ago on defensive line. They’ve got starters on defensive line, one of whom is aging, and they’re OK in the middle. Behind that they’ve got a lot of names.

“Ah, but DeMarvin Leal!” you counter? Yes he looked good in limited action as a rookie, you could have said the same thing about Loudermilk this time a year ago. While Loudermilk’s draft status will likely earn him another season, it isn’t too much of a stretch to say he’s 2023’s version of Henry Mondeaux

“Ah, but the free agency signings” you protest? Breiden Fehoko and Amon Watts do offer a lot of potential and “Upside” but they’re basically replacements for Tyson Alualu and Chris Wormley.

Put that all together and the Steelers need at defensive line going into the 2023 NFL Draft should be considered as High.

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“Don’t Fear the Reacher” – Steelers Fans Need Not Fear a Reach in the 2023 NFL Draft

The dreaded reach.

I believe Steelers fans fear this more than anything when preparing for the annual NFL Draft.

Think Terrell Edmunds, a player the Steelers definitely reached for when they selected the safety out of Virginia Tech in the first round (28th, overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Of course, Edmunds went on to have a solid-to-good five-year career in Pittsburgh before finally spreading his wings and becoming an Eagle in free agency. Just try telling that to the Steelers fans who could never get over the lack of Troy Polamalu-like splash and pizzazz.

  • Artie Burns provides another great example of a reach. 
Donte Moncrief, Steelers sign Donte Moncrief, Artie Burns, Steelers vs Colts

Steelers sign Donte Moncief, pictured burning Artie Burns in 2017. Photo Credit: Matt Kryger, Indy Star

Everybody and His Brother knew that cornerback was a prime need for the Steelers heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. The Steelers wanted William Jackson. The Bengals got him first. So the Steelers reached for Artie Burns. After a respectable rookie year, Burns started off year 2 OK but got shaky as the year progressed, opend 2018 as the starter but got benched and his career imploded shortly thereafter.

Fear not, Steelers fan, because it doesn’t look like your favorite professional football team will have to reach for a position of need when the 2023 NFL Draft kicks off on the evening of Thursday, April 27.

For one thing, the Steelers will be drafting damn-near in the middle of the first round (17th).

That’s right, unlike the 2018 draft when Pittsburgh, selecting near the end of the first round due to having an excellent 2017 regular season, missed out on three highly-thought-of inside linebackers (unfortunately, the organization was in desperation mode after the horrific spinal injury suffered by Ryan Shazier on December 4, 2017), the Steelers should have a shot at at least one high-pedigreed prospect who would address a specific position of need.

The two most important positions of need for the Steelers (in my humble opinion) are cornerback and offensive tackle (and not necessarily in that order).

If you go by the many big boards and the endless mock drafts that are produced on the regular, it’s easy to see that there are a lot of high-end prospects at both cornerback and offensive tackle.

By my count, there are no less than six corners who could go in the first round–including Christian Gonzalez (Oregon); Devon Witherspoon (Illinois); Joey Porter Jr. (Penn State); Cam Smith (South Carolina); Deonte Banks (Maryland); and Kelee Ringo (Georgia).

As for offensive tackles, there are at least five–including Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State); Pete Skoronski (Northwestern); Broderick Jones (Georgia); Anton Harrison (Oklahoma); and Darnell Wright (Tennessee).

That’s 11 prospects from two different positions who would very well go in the first round.

You throw in the handful of quarterback prospects who will likely be drafted before 17–including C.J. Stroud (Ohio State); Bryce Young (Alabama); Anthony Richardson (Florida); and Will Levis (Kentucky)–and there is no way Pittsburgh won’t have a shot at a promising cornerback or offensive tackle.

And we can’t forget about the likes of Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama; Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech; Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia; Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia; Calijah Kancey, DL, Pitt; Lucas Van Ness, DL, Iowa; Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson; Bijan Robinson, running back, Texas; Quintin Johnston, WR, TCU; and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State.

  • Many of those prospects will also be off the board by the time Pittsburgh selects at 17.

It’s going to be damn-near impossible for Pittsburgh to reach at cornerback or offensive tackle.

Also, if the Steelers, an organization that perhaps has a better grasp of its needs than I do, decides that an edge, receiver, defensive lineman or safety (can’t forget about Alabama’s Brian Branch) is too good to pass up at 17, well, they also have the first pick of the second round (32, overall) to address either cornerback or offensive tackle with a quality prospect–likely someone from the aforementioned pool of players.

Or, since the depth at corner appears to be greater than the depth at offensive tackle in the 2023 NFL Draft, Pittsburgh could snatch up one of the top linemen, knowing that a quality defensive back will probably still be there at 32.

Obviously, the draft is a crapshoot, and for every Troy Polamalu, there is at least one Devin Bush (usually three or four, unfortunately).

But the more high-end prospects there are at positions of need, the better chance a team will have of not reaching for a player.

The Steelers should be sitting pretty in that department in 2023.

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Steelers’ Defense Doesn’t Deserve A Pass In The Loss To The Patriots

The Steelers dropped their home opener to the Patriots, 17-14, at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday.

Photo courtesy of Steelers.com

It was the kind of game the Steelers have to play these days, thanks to an offense that’s been downright awful for going on two calendar years.

Pittsburgh’s offense was again atrocious on Sunday, tallying just one touchdown to go along with two Chris Boswell field goals.

It was such a shame to see a fine and solid defensive effort go to waste. Yes, sir, even without T.J. Watt, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, in the lineup, the Steelers’ defense clearly did enough to win and deserved better from the offense.

Only, the Steelers’ defense didn’t do enough to win. Why do I say that? Because Pittsburgh lost the game. I don’t know what it is about Steelers fans locally, nationally and internationally, but they love to prop up the defense and give it the benefit of the doubt no matter what. When evaluating a defensive performance following a loss, fans almost always take the big picture approach and simply cite the number of points given up, as if there is a magical amount that is always acceptable regardless of what occurred during the game.

The offense gets evaluated with much greater scrutiny, however. The Steelers could score six touchdowns in a game, but if the end result is a loss, fans take a more situational approach and cite situational football, like a particular play call, a turnover and/or red zone efficiency.

Nobody ever talks about a prolific offense being gassed or winded late in the fourth quarter after propping up a porous defense all game long–gaining yards and scoring points must rejuvenate the body.

The bottom line for an offense is this: It must continue to execute and score points until it has enough to secure a win.

Why can’t the same be true for a defense when it comes to things like the number of points it allows or a situational moment in the game where it failed?

If you watched Sunday’s game, you know it came down to a few key moments. Yes, the offense was horrible and did little to win the game, but the defense did little to pressure Mac Jones, sacking him zero times and only hitting him thrice.

To reiterate, Watt was out of action–he suffered a pectoral injury in the Week 1 overtime victory against the Bengals and will miss at least a month after being placed on the Injured Reserve list–but zero sacks? So little pressure?

Watt means so much to the team that his mere absence neutralizes good-to-great players like Alex Highsmith, Larry Ogunjobi, Tyson Alualu and Cameron Heyward?

Even without a pass rush, the Steelers’ defense may have done just enough to win on Sunday if cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon would have won the one-on-one battle against Patriots receiver Nelson Agholor late in the first half that resulted in a great combat catch by the latter and a 44-yard touchdown.

What about the drop of an easy interception by cornerback Cameron Sutton late in the third quarter, with the Steelers trailing, 10-6? Sutton could have given the Steelers prime real estate–at worst–and who knows? Maybe the offense would have come to life and actually taken advantage of the gift.

Instead, return man Gunner Olszewski muffed a punt two plays later; New England recovered and set up shop at the Steelers’ 10 before ultimately capitalizing with a Damien Harris touchdown to make it 17-6.

The Steelers managed to close the gap to 17-14 early in the fourth quarter but could get no closer.

The offense could only muster two three and outs in the fourth quarter, and the Patriots ran out the final 6:33 to secure the win.

While the offense deserves a lot of the blame for failing to do anything in the fourth quarter, the defense deserves an equal share for allowing New England to run out the rest of the clock and not giving the offense one final possession.

Would it have been a futile possession? It’s easy to say, “Yes,” but Pittsburgh’s offense was even more pathetic in Week 1 and did virtually nothing for over 69 minutes of game action.

However, unlike this past Sunday, the defense managed to give the ball back to the offense one final time, and, believe it or not, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and Co. made the necessary plays to get in range for Chris Boswell to end things from 53 yards out as time expired in the extra period.

The defense certainly did enough to beat the Bengals. Why do I say that? Because the Steelers won the game.

It’s too bad the defense didn’t do enough to beat the Patriots in Week 2.

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Examining Steelers 2022 Draft Needs @ Cornerback – Has Pittsburgh Done Enough?

It wasn’t long ago that the Steelers appeared to have things locked down at the cornerback position, so to speak. For a short spell, Joe Haden and Steven Nelson were good-to-great starters on the outside, while Mike Hilton was one of the best slot corners in the NFL.

  • But free agency, the constraints of the salary cap and age quickly changed that.

Mike Hilton was the first to leave, as he signed a deal with the Bengals at the onset of the 2021 free-agency period. Not long after that, Nelson was released due to the salary cap hell the Steelers found themselves in last spring.

Joe Haden was the only one left from that accomplished trio. But as of this writing, it appears that the Steelers have officially moved on from Haden, 33, who is an unrestricted free agent and has yet to sign with Pittsburgh or anyone else.

Justin Layne, Steelers vs Cardinals

Justin Layne’s early NFL action against the Cardinals in 2019. Photo Credit: AP, via Tribune-Review

Steelers Depth Chart @ Cornerback Before the 2022 NFL Draft: The Starters

Late last summer, right before the start of the regular season, the Steelers acquired Ahkello Witherspoon in a trade with the Seahawks. Witherspoon was a third-round pick by the 49ers in the 2017 NFL Draft. Witherspoon started 33 games during his four years in San Francisco before signing a one-year deal with Seattle last spring. Witherspoon was barely a factor for the Steelers for the majority of the 2021 campaign, but he started to earn starting reps down the stretch as a replacement for James Pierre and was arguably the team’s best cornerback at the end of the season.

Ahkello Witherspoon agreed to terms on a two-year deal with the Steelers in March and figures to be one of the starting outside corners in 2022.

Speaking of free agents and two-year contracts, the Steelers signed Levi Wallace, formerly of the Bills, to a two-year deal at the beginning of free agency. Wallace, an undrafted free agent in the 2018 NFL Draft, became a full-time starter in Buffalo by his second season and remained in that role through 2021. Playing opposite the highly-decorated Tre’Davious White, Wallace was a solid number two corner for the Bills and figures best suited for that same role in Pittsburgh.

Cam Sutton, a third-round pick out of Tennessee in the 2017 NFL Draft, spent his first four seasons serving many roles in the secondary, playing on the outside, in the slot and even at safety. But Sutton finally got his break and promotion in 2021, in addition to a new contract, and became a full-time starter. Again, Sutton is extremely versatile but perhaps seems destined to start in the slot in 2022, with the re-signing of Witherspoon and the addition of Wallace.

Steelers Depth Chart @ Cornerback Before the 2022 NFL Draft: The Backups

James Pierre, a 2020 undrafted free agent out of Florida Atlantic, struggled in 2021 after earning the most significant playing time of his short career.

After being selected in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Justin Layne has done very little to prove he even has what it takes to be a backup cornerback, let alone a starter.

Veteran Arthur Maulet, an undrafted free agent formerly of the Saints, Colts and Jets, made Pittsburgh’s roster last year and was a steady contributor in the slot.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2022 NFL Draft

Rounding out the Steelers depth chart at cornerback are Linden Stephens and Isaiah Johnson.

Steelers 2022 Draft Needs @ Cornerback

When talking about the Steelers’ three starters, the consensus seems to be that they are all solid number two caliber corners.

That’s a good number, but is that enough, even with a consistent and dominant pass rush? When you factor in the underwhelming depth behind those top 3, I would categorize the Steelers’ draft need at cornerback as Moderate-High

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Steelers Fall to the Packers, 27-17, at Lambeau Field to Drop to 1-3

At least the Steelers finally ended that pesky streak of not scoring on their opening drive. Unfortunately, other than that, there wasn’t much great you could say about Pittsburgh’s 27-17 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

Photo credit: Packers Wire

It was the third-straight loss for the Steelers after starting out 1-0. It was the fourth straight week in which the offense looked bad-to-mediocre (and that might be kind). Even the defense looked inept for the second game in a row, despite both T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith being back in the mix at outside linebacker.

The Steelers’ offense did start strong and marched 75 yards on the opening drive and took a 7-0 lead on a 45-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to receiver Diontae Johnson.

Pittsburgh’s defense did stop the Packers’ offense on its opening possession, a series that ended with a Devin Bush sack of Aaron Rodgers. Unfortunately, Green Bay’s subsequent punt was downed at the four, and after a quick three and out, the Packers’ offense had the ball again at its own 36.

Green Bay promptly marched 64 yards and tied the game on a four-yard touchdown run by Rodgers early in the second quarter.

The Packers got the football right back when defensive back Kingsley Keke stripped Roethlisberger and recovered the fumble at the Pittsburgh 23. Green Bay took the lead four plays later on a 23-yard touchdown strike from Rodgers to receiver Randall Cobb.

The Steelers offense again showed life on its next possession and seemed poised to tie the score. Unfortunately, Roethlisberger couldn’t connect with a wide-open JuJu Smith-Schuster on a play that would have gone for a 32-yard touchdown. Pittsburgh ultimately had to settle for three points on a Chris Boswell 52-yard field goal that hit the uprights before going in.

The Packers again marched right down the field and were set up with a first and 10 from the Pittsburgh 13 with 31 seconds left in the second quarter. A touchdown would have given Green Bay a 21-10 lead at the half and may have been the final nail in the Steelers coffin. Fortunately, Pittsburgh’s defense held strong and ultimately forced a field goal attempt by kicker Mason Crosby.

But just when it looked like the Packers would take a seven-point lead, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick crashed through the line, blocked Crosby’s field goal attempt, scooped up the loose football and raced the length of the field for what appeared to be a 17-14 lead for the visitors.

Sadly, cornerback Joe Haden was called for being offsides, a very questionable and disputed penalty that nullified the momentum-changing touchdown and gave Crosby a second chance to convert on his field goal try.

The Packers scored 10-straight points to open up the third quarter–including a 29-yard field goal by Crosby and a one-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to Cobb–to take a commanding 27-10 lead.

The Steelers offense continued to struggle over its next three possesions–two of which ended when Pittsburgh failed to convert on fourth and four and fourth and five, respectably.

The Steelers drew to within 10 points on a one-yard touchdown dive by running back Najee Harris with 4:40 remaining in the game, but by then, it was too little, too late.

Roethlisberger completed 26 of 40 passes for 232 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Quite indicative of Roethlisberger and his play dating back to last season was the fact that 21 of his completions went for four yards or less.

Next up for the Steelers is a 1 p.m. matchup with the Broncos next Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.

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The Steelers Fall To 1-2 After Lifeless Loss To Bengals

That 1-0 start to the 2021 regular season sure does seem like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?

Photo credit: Trib Live

Just two weeks after the Steelers buoyed everyone’s spirits with an unexpected 23-16 Week 1 win over the Bills at Highmark Stadium on September 12, those spirits couldn’t be any lower after Pittsburgh dropped its second-straight game at Heinz Field on Sunday–24-10 to the once-lowly Bengals–to fall to 1-2.

Much like the first two games of the regular season, the Steelers’ offense couldn’t effectively move the ball early on, as promising drives were stymied by penalties to various offensive linemen.

Pittsburgh did catch a huge break midway through the first period when a pass from Joe Burrow was tipped high into the air and intercepted by safety Terrell Edmunds, who returned it 15 yards to the Pittsburgh 44. Unfortunately, the Steelers could do very little with the gift and actually gave the ball right back when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was hit by defensive lineman Sam Hubbard while attempting a pass, and the errant throw was picked off by linebacker Logan Wilson, who returned it to the Steelers 42.

The Bengals took advantage and drove right down the field and took a 7-0 lead on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to receiver Tyler Boyd, who broke a tackle by outside linebacker Melvin Ingram and scampered into the end zone.

Ingram, along with Jamir Jones, started Sunday’s game, thanks to groin injuries suffered by both T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith over the first two weeks. With Watt and Highsmith both out, Pittsburgh’s great pass-rush was reduced to ashes, as the team failed to record a sack for the first time in 76 games.

The score remained 7-0 into the second quarter when Pittsburgh’s offense appeared to come to life and drove 86 yards on 15 plays to tie the game after Roethlisberger hit tight end Pat Freiermuth on a shuttle pass, and the rookie pounded his way into the end zone for a four-yard touchdown with 1:04 left in the half.

But the Bengals, who were set to receive the ball in the second half, were not content with running out the clock. Cincinnati immediately caught a break on its next possession when Ingram was called for a questionable roughing the passer penalty that set the Bengals up at their own 47. Two plays later, Burrow found rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who was one-on-one with cornerback James Pierre, for a 34-yard touchdown pass to re-establish the seven-point lead for the visitors.

The Bengals took a 10-point lead midway through the third quarter following a 10-play, 55-yard drive that culminated in a 43-yard field goal by Evan McPherson.

The Bengals offense was back on the field just three plays later after Roethlisberger was picked off for the second time by Wilson, who returned it to the Pittsburgh 19.

Three plays later, Burrow and Chase hooked up for their second touchdown of the day, this time from nine yards out, to give Cincinnati a commanding 17-point lead with 6:18 left in the third quarter.

The Steelers marched 52 yards on their ensuing drive but could get no closer than the Cincinnati 24 yard-line. Kicker Chris Boswell then missed a 42-yard field goal, his first-ever miss against the Bengals, to really take the air out what was left of the Heinz Field crowd.

Those still in attendance used their lungs to vehemently voice their displeasure when Boswell was brought on again to attempt a field goal following an 18-play, 88-yard drive that consumed 9:03 of game clock; Boswell’s kick was true from 26 yards out to pull the home team to within two touchdowns with 8:09 remaining.

The Steelers last chance to make things interesting came up infamously short when a first and 10 from the Cincinnati 11 quickly went up in flames and culminated in a questionable swing pass to running back Najee Harris on fourth and 10; the rookie was quickly swallowed up by several Bengals defenders.

For the day, Roethlisberger completed 38 of 58 passes for 318 yards, one touchdown and two very costly interceptions.

Harris gained just 40 yards on 14 carries, but he did set a Steelers rookie record for running backs by catching 14 passes for 102 yards.

Next up for the Steelers is a trip to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers this Sunday at 4:25 p.m.

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Report Card for Steelers Week 1 Win over the Bills


Photo credit: USA Today

In his first real game as a 39-year old, Ben Roethlisberger looked a lot like he did in 2020 as a 38-year old. With a young and practically brand-new offensive line in front of him, Roethlisberger seemed hellbent on getting rid of the football as fast as possible against the Bills on Sunday and didn’t appear to be all that interested in standing in the pocket long enough to even attempt a deep pass. That changed a bit in the second half, as Roethlisberger opened things up a bit with slightly deeper throws, primarily to receiver Chase Claypool and tight ends Eric Ebron and rookie Pat Freiermuth. Roethlisberger looked a bit rusty and “off” at first, but he appeared to improve as the game went along and made some spot-on passes when he had to–including a beautiful back-shoulder toss to Claypool early in the second half and perfect passes to Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster late in the game when Pittsburgh was trying to run out the clock. Roethlisberger also showed good mobility at times and even scampered for an eight-yard gain late in the final period. For the day, Roethlisberger was 18 of 32 for 188 yards and a five-yard touchdown pass to receiver Diontae Johnson. Grade: B-

Running Back

It was a rather quiet debut for rookie first-round pick Najee Harris on Sunday, as he carried 16 times for 45 yards to go along with one reception for four yards. Harris was the only back who saw any action on Sunday and, to his credit, he did appear to improve as the game went along, even scampering for 18 yards early in the fourth quarter to help set up Pittsburgh’s lone offensive touchdown. Grade: C-

Tight Ends

No tight ends were targeted at all in the first half. As for the second half? Ebron reeled in one pass for 19 yards, while Freiermuth’s first career reception (and lone catch of the day) went for 24. Zach Gentry contributed one catch in the second half but for minus two yards. Given the fact that Pittsburgh didn’t do a ton on the ground, the tight end group certainly didn’t make up for its lack of production by blocking. Grade: C-

Wide Receivers

Speaking of people who looked a lot like they did in 2020, no Steelers receiver turned in a big performance on Sunday—Smith-Schuster led the way in yardage with 52. Having said that, the group did have a knack for coming up with some huge plays, including Claypool’s previously mentioned back-shoulder catch for 22 yards. Claypool also drew a 26-yard pass-interference penalty in the second half to set up Pittsburgh’s go-ahead touchdown. The second-year receiver from Notre Dame also added another 25 yards on a jet sweep. Johnson, who led all receivers with five catches, displayed great concentration and footwork by staying with a tipped pass before reeling it in and getting both feet in bounds for a score. Meanwhile, Smith-Schuster picked up where he left off a year ago by being more tight end than receiver while pulling in short passes and then bowling over Bills’ defenders to pick up tough yards. Grade: B

Offensive Line

The Steelers went into halftime with 54 measly yards of total offense. Roethlisberger didn’t seem comfortable standing in the pocket for very long, while the ground game barely made a dent. Things did improve as the game went along, but the Steelers new hogs are going to have to perform much better if the offense is going to improve as the season rolls along. Grade: D

Defensive Line

Veteran Cam Heyward recorded four tackles, a sack and two passes defended, while recovering a fumble. Heyward also was credited with a whopping 12 quarterback pressures. It was a great day for an all-time great Steeler. Tyson Alualu looked solid as usual, as did Chris Wormley. Isaiah Buggs and Carlos Davis also factored into the rotation and reportedly acquitted themselves well. Grade: A


Speaking of all-time Steelers greats, it’s hard to not include outside linebacker T.J. Watt in those discussions in this, just his fourth season. The newly-minted $122 million man had another stellar day on Sunday, collecting two sacks and five quarterback hits, while also forcing the aforementioned fumble that Heyward recovered. Watt was credited with eight quarterback pressures, as was veteran Melvin Ingram III, who seemed almost unblockable in his Steelers debut. The Steelers generated so much pressure with four and five-man fronts, it allowed inside linebackers Devin Bush and Joe Schobert to drop back in coverage most of the day, as Pittsburgh utilized nickel and dime packages in an attempt to slow down Josh Allen and Buffalo’s potent passing attack. Grade: A+


The concern about the Steelers secondary was great heading into Week 1, but the revamped unit more than picked up where the 2020 version left off. Rookie Tre Norwood, a seventh-round pick from Oklahoma, was practically a starter in his very first game. He played the slot and also free safety in dime situations, allowing Minkah Fitzpatrick and his lethal skill-set to roam free. Norwood was credited with six tackles and didn’t seem out of place at all, while Fitzpatrick collected 10 to go along with one pass defense. Youngster James Pierre, who played outside corner in some sub-packages, had seven tackles and an impressive pass defense. As for veteran Joe Haden, you didn’t even notice him all day, which I believe is a good thing for any defensive back. The star of the secondary on Sunday, however, was Cameron Sutton, who played outside in base formations and in the slot in sub-packages. Week 1 was Sutton’s coming-out party, as he collected five tackles, including perhaps the most important one of the day when he stopped running back Matt Breida for a seven-yard loss on fourth and one. Sutton also added two very important passes defensed. Sutton was responsible for the Bills’ lone touchdown, but his coverage on receiver Gabriel Davis was so good, it was hard to do anything but tip your cap to Buffalo on that play. The Bills receivers may have tallied some receiving yards on the day–270–but they weren’t the difference-makers Buffalo needed them to be. Grade: A+

Special Teams

It was a troubling debut to the season for Pittsburgh’s coverage teams, as Isaiah McKenzie returned the opening kickoff 75 yards. But the coverage unit settled down from there, and McKenzie wasn’t much of a factor the rest of the day. The coverage unit more than made up for it early in the fourth quarter went it went into attack mode. Miles Killebrew blocked a Matt Haak punt, and Ulysses Gilbert III scooped it up and scored a touchdown to give the Steelers a 20-10 lead.

Chris Boswell was five for five on attempts–including three for three on field goals–and effectively iced the game with a 45-yard field goal to give Pittsburgh a 10-point lead with less than three minutes left.

As for rookie punter Pressley Harvin III, he struggled a bit punting in the often windy conditions of Highmark Stadium. He averaged 41.4 yards per kick and shanked one off the side of his foot while punting out of his own end zone. It wasn’t all bad for the rookie, as he downed two of his five punts inside the 20. Grade: B+


The fact that Pittsburgh won this game on the road as a 6.5 point underdog should shock nobody who knows anything about head coach Mike Tomlin. Nobody circles the wagon like Tomlin when his team is the underdog. It wasn’t always pretty, but that may have had to do with the fact that so many rookies not only played for the first time on Sunday but were being counted on to contribute heavily. It was also the NFL debut for offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who looked more like Randy Fichtner in the first half before finding the intestinal fortitude to adjust as the game went along.

I thought it was a masterful game-plan by defensive coordinator Keith Butler, as his charges generated a ton of quarterback pressure while blitzing so very little. Grade: A

Unsung hero

It’s hard to call Haden an unsung hero but as previously mentioned, he was barely noticed on Sunday. If that doesn’t scream “lockdown corner,” I don’t know what does.

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