2022 Exit Interviews: Alex Highsmith and Malik Reed

New York Jets v Pittsburgh Steelers
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

There was a stark contrast between the Steelers next two outside linebackers after T.J. Watt.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 NFL season has come to a close. Because the Steelers are among the 31 teams who did not finish fulfilling their ultimate goal, they are in the process of wrapping up their season and moving forward into 2023.

Since the Steelers conduct exit interviews with all their players, we here at BTSC thought we would do the same. By outlining two players each day, we will be able to look at their season in retrospect as well as looking toward the future. Since Coach Tomlin has previously stated he starts his interviews with rookies, first year players, and those heading into free agency, we will do the same. To start, we will pair a potential free agent with a first-year player as we work through this process to eventually cover the entire Steelers roster.

Next up are outside linebackers Alex Highsmith and Malik Reed.

Alex Highsmith

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Position: Outside Linebacker
Years with the Steelers: 3
Years in the NFL: 3
Contract Status: Signed through 2023
Contract Details: $2,953,073 salary cap hit for 2023. Would cost the Steelers $208,073 in dead money if released and would save $2,745,000.
Games played in 2022: 17 regular season
Games started in 2022: 17 regular season
Snaps (regular season): 941 (defense), 48 (special teams)
PFF score: 78.0 (24th of 120)
Notable stats: Highsmith led to Steelers with 14.5 sacks and led the NFL with five forced fumbles in 2022. Highsmith had 63 tackles, 12 of which were for a loss, and a pass defensed.

Notes: In his third season in Pittsburgh, Alex Highsmith continued his trend of doubling his sack output from the previous season. Although much more successful with T.J. Watt in the lineup— only 3.5 sacks came in the seven games Watt missed— just being another threat opposite the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is all Steelers fans could ask for. Still under contract for one more season, the bigger question for 2023 with Highsmith will be if he’s playing on his last year of his rookie deal or if they come together and get a new contract done during the offseason.

Malik Reed

NFL: OCT 30 Steelers at Eagles
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Position: Outside Linebacker
Years with the Steelers: 1
Years in the NFL: 4
Contract Status: Free Agent
Contract Details: Contract expiring with no dead money.
Games played in 2022: 14 regular season
Games started in 2022: 2 regular season
Snaps (regular season): 396 (defense), 58 (special teams)
PFF score: 63.8 (72nd of 120)
Notable stats: Reed had 25 tackles, one of which was for loss, and 1.0 sacks with two passes defensed.

Notes: Over the Steelers last five games, Reed was a healthy scratch in three of them as the Steelers took on the run-heavy Baltimore Ravens twice as well as the Cleveland Browns. Going from the third option at outside linebacker to not even getting a helmet does not say a lot for Reed and the Steelers wanting to move this relationship forward. Most expect Reed to have played his last game in a Steelers uniform as he will want to move on to a different situation and Steelers look for somebody else as the reserve option for their two talented outside linebackers.

Make sure you check back each day for another set of exit interviews. If you have missed any of the previous articles, they are listed here:

Kenny Pickett & Mason Rudolph
George Pickens & Miles Boykin
DeMarvin Leal & Larry Ogunjobi
Connor Heyward & Zach Gentry
Mark Robinson & Devin Bush
Jaylen Warren & Benny Snell Jr.
Calvin Austin III & Derek Watt
Najee Harris & Terrell Edmunds
Pat Freiermuth & Trent Scott
Dan Moore Jr. & Jesse Davis
Isaiahh Loudermilk & Chris Wormley
Tre Norwood & Damontae Kazee
Pressley Harvin III & Marcus Allen
Kendrick Green & J.C. Hassenauer

2023 NFL salary cap hits record high

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Los Angeles Chargers
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL set its salary cap for 2023, and it’s a new record high.

The 2023 offseason is in full swing for 30 of the 32 NFL franchises. While the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles prepare for the Super Bowl, the rest of the league is looking ahead to the start of the new league year and free agency.

The NFL’s official tampering period will begin on March 13th, with the new league year beginning March 15th. That is when teams can start to make moves and bring in veteran talent via free agency.

Up until this point, no one knew what the 2023 salary cap number would be…until now.

Per Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, the new salary cap number in 2023 is a whopping $224.8 million.

After the league negotiated new television deals this past offseason, it was expected the salary cap would increase, but not many predicted it to go all the way to $224 million dollars.

What this means for all teams, especially the Pittsburgh Steelers, has yet to be known. Teams are currently in the midst of signing free agent players to future/reserve contracts, and plenty of moves have to be made to create and manipulate the salary cap. Throw in the rollover money from 2022 and this number can look vastly different for teams.

In other words, this number will fluctuate between now and the start of the new league year, so be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the start of the new league year and free agency.

Steelers Burning Question: When will the Steelers be in another AFC Championship?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Jacksonville Jaguars
Photo by Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

It’s been a while since the Steelers were in an AFC Championship game. When will they be back?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been deep in offseason preparation for the past several weeks after the 2022 team came up just shy of the postseason with a 9-8 record. We all know the story of how the team started slow and turned it on at the end, but after watching the Kansas City Chiefs narrowly beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship game, it begs the question of when the Steelers will be back in the AFC’s big game?

Before getting to the question, it’s important to dissect the team and figure out how far they might be from not just making the postseason, but making a run at the Super Bowl.

Offensively, the Steelers could run back the same 2022 offense, if they wanted. The only free agent of note for the offense is Zach Gentry, and his value is based solely on those who are breaking down his game. The offense, mainly the offensive line, started to kick it in gear down the stretch and finished the season on a high note. Protecting the football and running the ball were paramount, but scoring points on a consistent basis remained a problem.

Defensively, the Steelers have some difficult decisions to make. The following key contributors on defense are entering free agency this offseason:

  • Terrell Edmunds
  • Larry Ogunjobi
  • Damontae Kazee
  • Cam Sutton
  • Robert Spillane
  • Devin Bush
  • Chris Wormley

Not all of those players will be back, and more may leave than stay, but the Steelers defense will have holes to fill this offseason both by free agency and the NFL Draft.

When it comes to the other tangible aspects of the team heading into the offseason it is important to note the amount of salary cap space the team currently has. If you’ve been paying attention to the updates here at BTSC, provided by Dave Schofield, you’ve seen the overall number dwindle as the team has started to sign players to future/reserve contracts and fill out their 90-man offseason roster. Nonetheless, with a few decisions by Omar Khan the team could free up significant amount of cap space to operate this offseason.

On top of that, the team also possess three draft picks in the Top 50 in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft. Sure, they have to hit on those picks, but the prospects are intriguing, to say the least.

When you add all that up, you have to wonder how long it may take until the organization has built a roster capable of making a serious run. And by serious run I’m talking about being in the AFC Championship game, on win away from the Super Bowl.

Let us know your thoughts by voting in the poll below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the NFL offseason.

This was also the topic of my “Let’s Ride” podcast last Friday where I dove head-first into this topic and then some. Check it out in the player below if you missed it:

Why the Steelers need to keep Larry Ogunjobi

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

With major questions marks looming at defensive line, Ogunjobi provides stability and effectiveness at a lower cost.

T.J. Watt. Cam Heyward. Minkah Fitzpatrick. All three are bonafide superstars, and all three immediately come to mind when considering the Steelers’ formidable defense.

The aforementioned trio is far from the only impactful players on D. Alex Highsmith burst onto the scene in his third year with 14.5 sacks. Terrell Edmunds served as a key chess piece, whether stopping runs at the line of scrimmage, generating pressure or playing coverage at the back-end. Cam Sutton emerged as a playmaker, notching three interceptions and posting a 69.9 passer rating allowed — the seventh-lowest in the NFL among defensive backs to play 900+ snaps.

And yet, one player has remained notably under-recognized: Larry Ogunjobi.

When deliberating what the Steelers should do regarding their upcoming free agents, fans and analysts alike debate the merit in returning Edmunds and Sutton, not to mention Devin Bush, Derek Watt and Robert Spillane. However, little chatter has emerged about retaining Ogunjobi, a fallacy that doesn’t align with both his production and team needs.

Despite dealing with a glut of injuries all season, Ogunjobi tallied 30 pressures in his first season in Pittsburgh, tied for 36th in the league among defensive linemen. Collectively, Ogunjobi has collected 30 or more pressures in four of the last five seasons. Consider some of the names that have also accomplished that feat: Aaron Donald, Chris Jones, Cam Heyward, Javon Hargrave, DeForest Buckner, etc. Although he posted only 1.5 sacks, Ogunjobi had 7.5 a season ago with the Bengals on only 11 more pressures, meaning his sack production should theoretically have been higher.

Beyond just the pass game, Ogunjobi was impactful in other facets. The veteran amassed seven tackles for loss, fourth on the team, plus 23 stops.

When working in tandem with Heyward, Ogunjobi helped form a defensive line duo that was largely disruptive game in and game out. There’s little reason not to want to maintain that going into 2023, especially with major needs at nose tackle and DL depth — more on that in a bit.

It’s not only Ogunjobi’s production that’s warranted attention. Ogunjobi has played for three teams in the AFC North but is only 28. On top of that, the 6-foot-4 DL has taken part in 47 combined games the last three campaigns and has suited up for at least 63% of defensive snaps in every year since 2018. Coming off a major foot injury in the 2021 postseason, Ogunjobi has proven to be durable and noteworthy with a glut of experience.

Contractually, too, returning Ogunjobi is sensible. Though Ogunjobi had initially agreed to a three-year, $40.5 million deal with the Bears last March, the framework fell through due to a failed physical. Instead, Kevin Colbert swooped in to offer Ogunjobi a one-year deal worth $8M.

According to Spotrac, Ogunjobi’s market value is two years for roughly $7 million. If anything, that may be a bargain for a player of his caliber. A contract of two years and $14 million may be more realistic; nevertheless, Ogunjobi should not command nearly as much as Chicago offered, due in part to flying under the radar plus a strong free agent DL class.

At the moment, Pittsburgh’s projected defensive line looks like this: Heyward, Montravius Adams, DeMarvin Leal. With Ogunjobi, Chris Wormley and Tyson Alualu all slated to hit the open market, the team is in need of immediate production and a number of bodies. Sure, Leal showed flashes, but integrating Ogunjobi only creates a more solidified defensive foundation.

In fact, without keeping Ogunjobi, Pittsburgh will very likely be handicapped into drafting a defensive lineman early — at either Pick 17 or 32. DL could very well be in play at those spots regardless — and the Steelers must reinforce their primary three D-linemen, especially the backup unit — but it becomes that much more of a dire need if Ogunjobi departs.

Options like Hargrave, Daron Payne, Zach Allen and Fletcher Cox are appealing but likely wouldn’t be cheap. Likewise, swinging a trade for Grover Stewart or Ed Oliver should not be counted on. And, I hate to break it to you, but J.J. Watt isn’t going to unretire — not even to play with his two brothers.

No, he isn’t the flashiest or most household name available. But, Larry Ogunjobi provides a major need for the Steelers: standout defensive line play in both the run and the pass, not to mention youth and likely a smaller cap hit. Pittsburgh has no shortage of crucial free agents, but ensuring Ogunjobi is back in the Steel City must be one of the team’s top priorities.

Mock Draft Monday: Steelers look to add a disruptive CB with top pick

COLLEGE FOOTBALL NOV 19 Illinois at Michigan
Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the latest mock draft, the Steelers look to add another “Witherspoon” to their defensive secondary.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are heading into the 2023 offseason. With free agency as the next big event to shape next season’s roster, it will be followed by the NFL draft in April. The Steelers will have a number of decisions with players who were on the 2022 roster and will have the opportunity to add some free agent acquisitions before making their first draft selection. The NFL combine and player pro days will also shape the team’s big boards before the draft.

When talking about mock drafts or NFL free agency, you have to first identify the team’s main needs for the offseason. Before any gains or losses in free agency, there are some who would like to see the Steelers go with either offensive line or defensive line with their first-round pick. Others feel inside linebacker or cornerback could be on top of the list. With plenty of chances for the Steelers to shape their roster prior to April, their goal is usually to get into position to draft the best player available rather than target a specific position. When it comes to what position the team will select with their first pick, it is certainly up for debate.

In one of the latest mock drafts by Pro Football Network, they have the Steelers addressing the cornerback position before anything else. With one of the Steelers top corners in Cam Sutton being a free agent, the Steelers could use some additional talent either through the draft or free agency. Since the Steelers could go in any number of directions with their first selection, it is important to look at all the possibilities presented by various mock draft outlets.

Check out the Steelers 17th pick:

17. Pittsburgh Steelers | Devon Witherspoon | CB | Illinois | JR |

Being early in the draft process, there may be some players most fans are not familiar with. If this is the case, here is a breakdown of Witherspoon according to thedraftnetwork.com:

Devon Witherspoon NFL Draft Scouting Report

CB, Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon is an aggressive, physical cornerback with man coverage skills and ball production, making him a mighty fine NFL draft prospect who can serve in a high-impact role. Witherspoon is very combative at the catch point and is eager to transition into a tackler’s role, offering an NFL team a viable inside or outside option at the next level.

Originally committed to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, Witherspoon experienced a late flurry of offers ahead of the start of his freshman year after he elevated his grades and avoided being academically ineligible. He ultimately settled on signing with the Illini, joining the team his freshman year after missing the start of summer camp. He went on to become the only member of Illinois’ 2019 recruiting class to start a game as a freshman and led the team in special teams tackles that season. By 2020, he was a starter at corner and he hasn’t looked back—making him a three-year starter at a premier NFL position with special teams success also lingering on his resume; a healthy mix.

Witherspoon has an impressive nose for the football in every way. He does well to find the football in man coverage and play the hands of receivers, and he has excellent rally skills from depth to step up and find the football in run support on the perimeter. He’s developed a reputation this season as a big hitter thanks to some instinctive plays to flash and react to the football on quick-hitting plays outside—he brings excellent confidence in his tackling form through contact to generate big hits and collision ball carriers. I have been impressed with his timing as a defender to sync his challenges of the football in the air with the arrival of the ball, allowing him to rake the hands of receivers and break up passes. These instincts are impressive when you consider that he’s only been playing football since his junior year of high school, leaving room for even more upward growth in his play as he continues to immerse himself in the game.

I do think he’s a better man defender than he is in zone, although he was effective at both during this past season with Illinois. But eyes in the backfield take away his rarest quality as a man corner and open the door for him to be manipulated and moved by savvy quarterbacks. The hitting power Witherspoon offers in spite of his stature is a testament to his form and confidence, but he is a player who will have some size questions about playing in the NFL—ideally, your man defender can press up in the face of receivers and disrupt the timing of the route early at the line of scrimmage. Witherspoon’s ability to do so was present in college but is a bit of a projection to the NFL if he’s going to play around his current listed weight. If not, he may be destined to play the nickel. The good news? Nickel defenders have never been more valuable in the NFL—especially ones who can tackle and fit the run like Witherspoon. But there is always a stigma on positional value for a “third” corner, so the question will be which NFL teams have conviction that he can stay and thrive outside.

Witherspoon should have little issue appealing to NFL teams with his play style, physical skills, and versatility. The question will be whether or not teams grant him the chance to play outside or if they feel his frame limits him to only be effective in the slot. I believe he has a chance to be a winning player on the perimeter and therefore would offer him the opportunity to play there first. With more refinement, he could thrive in a man-heavy system and be an impact starter.

Top Reasons to Buy In:

Experience and success in man coverage

Tremendous ball skills

Tone-setting personality

Good tackler

Special teams resume

Top Reasons For Concern:

Lean frame offers questions against powerful perimeter WRs

Can be over-eager to make a play at times

Will teams try to box him into playing the slot?

For all you who are preparing yourself for the draft, what do you think of the selection? Would you be on board with the Steelers taking Witherspoon with their first pick? Or do you feel there is a better player at this position, a different one who may still be available, or that Witherspoon will not make it to the 17th pick? Personally, much like last week, I have no problem with this selection as long as the Steelers feel Witherspoon is the right fit for what they want to do in the secondary. To reiterate again what K.T. Smith has said previously, there are cornerbacks selected at the top of the draft that are so talented they can succeed regardless of scheme fit, but most others need to be the right player for the style of defense. Additionally, Witherspoon has been rising up draft boards in recent weeks so it’s difficult to see if he will continue to rise or settle back down to be a selection much lower than 17. Ultimately the NFL Scouting Combine as Witherspoon’s pro day will be a big factor as to whether he will be off the board or considered a reach at pick 17.

How the Steelers flipped the script for the second half of the 2022 season

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

From 2-6 to 9-8, what really drove the turnaround.

The Pittsburgh Steelers limped into the bye week with only two wins. One win was the stunning victory over the defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, and the other a victory over Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6.

There are some easy factors to point to their early season struggles. First, the Steelers toughest part of their season was in the first half, with five of their eight games coming against eventual playoff teams, including two teams that are playing in the Championship round. The Steelers record was 2-3 against those playoff teams though. The Steelers would end the season with a 3-5 record against playoff teams. With those wins the Steelers could afford to go 7-2 against teams that would miss the playoffs and end up 10-7, a record that would have put them in the playoffs.

The problem is the Steelers went 0-3 against teams that would finish the season with a losing record in the first half of the season, before going 6-0 against non-playoff teams in the second half.

So what was the difference? In Weeks 2-4 the Steelers lost to the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Cleveland Browns by a combined 19 points (-6.3 per game). The second half they would beat teams with similar records by an average of 7.5 points per game. That’s a two-touchdown flip in the scoring. And the teams weren’t that different. Outside of the 4-12-1 Colts, the Steelers played one team with 8 wins, six games against teams that would end up 7-10, and one game against a 6-11 team. These weren’t drastically different teams.

The narrative that the schedule got easier explains the blowout losses to Buffalo and Philadelphia, it doesn’t explain the flip in record and scoring differential in games against non-playoff teams.

On The Surface

If you look at those games, the Steelers averaged 17 points a game, and gave up 23.3 points a game in their three losses, they scored an average of 21.3 points a game and gave up 13.8 points a game. A 4-point increase from the offense and a 9.5 decrease in points allowed by the defense. Those numbers point to a big improvement on defense and a mild improvement on offense leading to the change. And that lines up with a stat that I love, the T.J. Watt effect.

The Steelers were 0-3 against non-playoff teams without T.J. Watt (1-6 overall) and 6-0 against non-playoff teams with T.J. Watt (8-2 overall). That lines up with previous seasons where the Steelers consistently win at a top of the league rate with T.J. Watt and win less than anyone else when he is out.

When you look at yards, the Steelers averaged 282.7 yards a game in their three losses, and 343.5 yards a game in their six second half wins. If you project those averages over a season, that’s the difference between the 15th ranked team in yards gained and the 31st ranked teams in yards gained. On defense, the Steelers gave up 417.3 yards per game in their three losses and gave up 249.8 yards per game in their six second-half wins. That’s the difference between being the best defense in the league by a good margin, and being the worst defense in the league by a good margin.

On the surface, the case is closed. In the first half of the season, the Steelers defense without T.J. Watt was bad, and then T.J. Watt returned and it was great. The offense was bad and then was less bad.

But when you dig deeper there’s much more going on here.

Doing Stats Right

Yards per game and total yards rankings will line up in every case except the 2022 Bengals and Bills, who played one less game than every other team in the NFL. The Bills defense allowed the fewest yards of any team in the NFL this season. But they also played one less game. When you look at per-game stats, the Bills rank 8th in yards per game allowed. Still top ten, but not the best in the NFL. You can’t look at the Bills or Bengals seasons as equal to other teams seasons in counting stats because they only played 16/17ths as many games.

The same problem exists in comparing one game to another game. Each game has an unknown number of possessions, and every possession is an opportunity to gain yards and score points. No team can score more than 8 points with a possession, and the only points you can score without possession of the football is a safety. In the same way with only 100 yards on a field, there is a limit to how many yards you can gain in a single possession. The Bills defense shows how impactful the difference having 16 games instead of 17 can make, a 5.9% difference in games played is the difference between 1st and 8th for their defense. But possessions per game can vary even more.

For example, in the Week 9 matchup with the Bengals, the Steelers had 13 possessions, four weeks later against the Panthers, the Steelers had 9 possessions. That’s a 31% difference in opportunity to score. And it goes for both teams as almost every game the two teams are roughly equal in possessions, the vast majority of games see teams within one possession of their opponent, and I’ve never seen a game with a difference of three. The Steelers had 177 total possessions in 2022, their opponents had 177 total possessions in 2022. They tend to balance out.

This is why I prefer per drive stats, especially when there is a big difference in number of possessions between two games or teams. Similar to how any discussion of team yards and points for the 2022 season has to be couched in per game stats or the numbers for the Bengals and Bills will not be relevant, a big difference in possessions will greatly alter the total stats, no matter what the teams were actually doing.

The Example I gave earlier, the Week 11 Bengals game having 13 drives and the Week 15 Panthers game having 9 is a great example. The Steelers offense scored 30 points in Week 11, achieving Todd Haley’s dream for exactly one game in 2022. It was clearly their best offensive game of the season, right? Meanwhile in Week 14 the Steelers scored 24 points, barely above league average.

But when you look at points per possession, how many points you scored divided by the opportunities you had, 30/13 is 2.3 points per possession, while 24/9 is 2.7 points per possession.

The Steelers offense was far more effective against the Carolina Panthers than they were against the Bengals, even if final stats say otherwise.

The key to remember is that possessions aren’t just a one-sided stat. In the Week 11 loss the Bengals also had 13 drives. The Panthers had only 8 in Week 15. The more drives you have, the more chances to score you have, but that also means your opponent has more chances to score. If you think 2.3 points on 13 drives is better than 2.7 over 9, imagine the opposition averaging 2.5 points per drive.

The reason we are talking about this is the biggest change between the first half and second half of the season was the number of possessions per game. Before the bye week the Steelers had 88 possessions, and after the bye they had 89. The difference is the Steelers played one more game after the bye. The difference in drives per game from the first half to the second half of the season is 10.1%, significantly bigger than the 5.9% difference in games played for the Bills and Bengals. If you can see that per game stats are important when two teams play one less game, you should also see why per drive stats matter a lot when comparing the first and second half of the 2022 Steelers season.

Beneath the Surface

The reason for the difference in drives is not hard to show. Here’s the Steelers rankings in per drive stats for each time period.

First half:

Total drives (pace): 12th.
Yards per drive: 31st.
Time per drive: 20th.
Scoring percentage: 31st.
Turnover percentage: 24th.
Touchdown percentage: 32nd.
Field goal percentage: 14th.
Interception percentage: 32nd.
Scoring chance: 28th.
Scoring – Turnovers: 31st.

Second Half:

Total drives (pace): 30th.
Yards per drive: 3rd.
Time per drive: 1st.
Scoring percentage: 8th.
Turnover percentage: 3rd.
Touchdown percentage: 17th.
Field goal percentage: 1st.
Interception percentage: 6th.
Scoring chance: 2nd.
Scoring – Turnovers: 3rd.

The first stat is just the total number of drives, or pace. The more drives you have, the higher the scoring should be on both offense and defense. The first half of the season the Steelers played at an above average pace, playing more drives than most teams. The only other stat that was better than 20th was field goal percentage, but the Touchdown percentage was so low the Steelers were still second worst in the percentage of drives that resulted in a score.

Then look at the second half. The only stats that aren’t top ten are pace, where the Steelers had the third fewest drives over the last nine games, and Touchdown percentage. Don’t forget that, we’ll get back to it.

Look at how many key stats the Steelers weren’t just top ten, but top three on offense. Yards per drive, time per drive, third fewest turnovers, and first in Field Goal percentage. The last two stats are my own metrics. Scoring chance is just how many drives ended with either a touchdown or field goal attempt. It adds missed and blocked field goals into scoring percentage. The Steelers ranked 28th in the NFL in the first half, 2nd in the second half of the season. The Steelers were one of the very best offenses in the NFL at moving the ball into field goal range. They ate clock, they moved the ball and got into field goal range at a better rate than even the San Francisco 49ers.

Scoring minus Turnovers is a stat that just combines two important numbers, subtracting the number of turnovers from the number of scores. Turnovers are very bad, and greatly increase your opponent’s odds of scoring on the ensuing drive. A kickoff is as good as a punt, so scoring is always a great result. It’s a stat that usually lines up with playoff success.

All four teams left in the playoffs rank in the top 7 in scoring minus turnover percentage in the second half of the season. The Steelers ranked ahead of all four of them. Those four teams also rank in the top 7 in touchdown percentage, the Steelers ranked 17th.

When Art Rooney II stated that he brought back Matt Canada because of the second half improvement, and the biggest place to improve was scoring touchdowns instead of settling for field goal attempts, you can see why he would say that now. Because really, the difference between the Steelers offense and the 49ers offense, when you look purely at results, is finishing drives with touchdowns. I say that is the only real difference, but I also understand how huge of a difference a touchdown makes compared to a field goal.

Impact on Defense

So the offense controlled the clock and moved the ball better, if they still aren’t scoring touchdowns how much does that even matter? The answer to that is simple. The Steelers offense kept possessions down and dominated time of possession, and the Steelers defense with Watt back forced more 3 and outs early in games.

Those two factors combined resulted in the Steelers defense playing the fewest snaps of any defense in the NFL. Which naturally should result in better defensive play later in the game, which shows up in the number of game sealing defensive stands the Steelers had in the second half of the season. But perhaps the best way to show how fewer defensive snaps benefitted the defense is this stat: before the bye week the Steelers averaged 20 snaps a game with Cameron Heyward off the field. After the bye week, that number dropped to 11 snaps a game on average. The last 5 games of the season that number dropped even more to 7 snaps a game.

T.J. Watt being back made the defense more effective, but the offense controlling the game helped mitigate the Steelers weak defensive depth. The defense did improve a lot, but the surface level view that the offense improved slightly and the defense made a massive leap isn’t accurate. The offense improved a lot, and the defense improved a good amount as well.

And the truth is the defensive improvements helped the offense and the offensive improvements helped the defense. It’s a team sport, that’s how it works. But it is important to note how important the Steelers turnaround on offense was to the end of the season, and why Art Rooney II decided to keep Matt Canada for another season.

Steelers continue their draft meetings at the Shrine Bowl

TCU v West Virginia
Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are at All-Star games getting to know potential draft picks.

The Pittsburgh Steelers new, and hopefully improved, scouting department is on the scouting trail as major All-Star games are happening this week. The East-West Shrine Bowl is happening as of now, and the Senior Bowl is slated to begin Tuesday in Mobile, Alabama.

As you can imagine, the Steelers and all 32 NFL teams are present at these games and are doing their diligence on potential prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.

At the Shrine Bowl, players are starting to state who they’ve met with. The first player to admit he met with the Steelers was West Virginia University wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton.

Wheaton, playing his college football in the BIG 12, was able to show some decent skills for the Mountaineers. Nonetheless, for those who don’t know much about Ford-Wheaton, here is a draft profile on him from The Draft Network:

Top Reasons to Buy In:

  • Blend of size and ball skills is an exciting mix
  • Nose for the end zone and explosive plays
  • Difficult to press with physicality at the line
  • Developmental upside

Top Reasons For Concern:

  • Struggles with separation
  • Inconsistent hands yield too many drops
  • Currently a one-dimensional player whose college offense leaves a lot of growth
  • Developmental curve will take time and patience to work through


Height: 6’3”

Weight: 225 lbs

Ideal Role: Traditional X-receiver

Scheme Fit: Vertical passing offense

Prospect Comparison: Preston Williams (2019 NFL Draft)

The other player who said he met with the Steelers during the lead-up to the Shrine Bowl was UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

The Steelers looking at quarterbacks might seem foreign to some, considering they drafted Kenny Pickett in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. However, Mason Rudolph is likely to leave via free agency, and the future of Mitch Trubisky is in doubt considering his salary cap hit entering the 2023 season.

This would be a reason why the team is looking at young quarterbacks to fill out their quarterback room. Want to know more about Thompson-Robinson, get the low down on him as a prospect in the draft profile from The Draft Network:

Top Reasons to Buy In:

  • Athleticism
  • Arm strength
  • Football character

Top Reasons For Concern:

  • Accuracy
  • Poise
  • Decision-making


Height: 6’0”

Weight: 205 lbs

Ideal Role: Developmental quarterback who can help in certain packages

Scheme Fit: Spread offense

There will be more meetings being announced this week, and not all will be made public, but we will do the best we can to let you know who the Steelers have met with throughout this week of workouts.

Be sure to keep tabs on all the meetings the Steelers have had so far with the Pre-NFL Draft Meeting tracker in the link below:

In the meantime, stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the team as they prepare for the rest of the offseason.

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Get the latest BTSC podcast content in the ‘Podcast Roundup’.

We here at BTSC, and our podcast platform, are here with you every step of the way as the Steelers set the stage for 2023. With so much going on, make sure you check out our ‘Podcast Roundup’ article to keep up with the latest podcasts that cover everything Steelers for your black-and-gold knowledge, curiosity and enjoyment.

With that being said and typed, have fun with the shows below with a brief description of each podcast.

The Homies: North looking for a ring

With the season over the “We Run the North Crew” switch over to their offseason moniker, “The Homies”. Join host Kevin Tate and his Homie crew Brandon “B-Dirt” Herriott, Pay Saunders & Shawn “Big-G” Gurley from the “KnoItAllz” podcast in a barbershop type discussion about everything football. This week Tate Boy Fresh and the Homies discuss Chiefs vs Bengals, QB1 Mahomes vs Burrow, Draft & Trade Talk, 3 Moves for each AFC North team going into 2023.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Bengals vs Chiefs
  • Mahomes vs. Joe
  • 3 moves for each AFC North Squad
  • Draft and Trade Talk

Listen to the show on the player below:

Let’s Ride, Monday: The Khan artist’s job is only half-done

The Pittsburgh Steelers new GM has done a great job thus far, but Omar Khan’s job is far from complete. Check out this, as well as Jeff Hartman’s Monday AM Conversation with Michael Beck on the latest episode of the “Let’s Ride” podcast. BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman diagnoses that subject and gives his thoughts on everything Steelers on the latest episode of “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Great so far, but front office is not done.
  • and MUCH MORE!

Be sure to check out this and all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE


Google Play: CLICK HERE

2023 NFL Playoffs: Bengals vs. Chiefs game time, news and open thread

NFL: AFC Championship-Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It is time for the NFL Championship Round of the playoffs!

The NFL is preparing for their Championship weekend, and most football fans would say this round of the NFL Playoffs is the best, and most competitive, round of football as the field of 4 gets trimmed to the two teams who will play in the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers finished just on the outside of the playoff picture after they didn’t get the help needed despite winning four straight games to finish the season 9-8. Nonetheless, it is time to take a look at the upcoming slate of games, and we, as a staff, make our picks for the weekend’s actions.

Take a look at game times, odds and our picks below:

(Odds are courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook, and are subject to change.)

Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs — 6:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: CBS
Location: Arrowhead Field, Kansas City, MO
Odds: CIN (+1.5)
O/U: 48
Moneyline: CIN +100 / KC -120

Enjoy the games with fellow black-and-gold faithful, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they press on throughout the NFL offseason.

2023 NFL Playoffs: 49ers vs. Eagles game time, news and open thread

NFL: NFC Wild Card Playoffs-Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It is time for the NFL Championship Round of the playoffs!

The NFL is preparing for their Championship weekend, and most football fans would say this round of the NFL Playoffs is the best, and most competitive, round of football as the field of 4 gets trimmed to the two teams who will play in the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers finished just on the outside of the playoff picture after they didn’t get the help needed despite winning four straight games to finish the season 9-8. Nonetheless, it is time to take a look at the upcoming slate of games, and we, as a staff, make our picks for the weekend’s actions.

Take a look at game times, odds and our picks below:

(Odds are courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook, and are subject to change.)

Sunday, January 29th

San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles — 3:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: FOX
Location: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Odds: SF (+2.5)
O/U: 46.5
Moneyline: SF +130 / PHI -150

Enjoy the games with fellow black-and-gold faithful, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they press on throughout the NFL offseason.