Steelers make a number of roster moves coming out of the bye week

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made a series of roster moves prior to their Week 8 game vs. the Cleveland Browns.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back to work coming out of the bye week with their regular weekly routine as they prepare to take the practice field on Wednesday in preparation to face the Cleveland Browns in Week 8. Ahead of practice, the Steelers have made several roster moves in order to help prepare for the upcoming matchup.

The activation of Anthony McFarland Jr. to the 53-man roster is of little surprise after Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin alluded to the situation in his press conference on Tuesday.

“I’m anticipating us activating him,” Tomlin said. “I think the week’s work will determine if there’s a role and, if there is, what that role is.”

McFarland returns to the Steelers after missing the first six games of his second season. As a rookie, McFarland appeared in 11 games for the Steelers were he had 113 rushing yards on 33 attempts along with six receptions for 54 yards.

In order to make room on the 53-man roster for McFarland, the Steelers finally placed defensive tackle Carlos Davis on the Reserve/Injured List. Missing the last five games, yet still taking up a roster spot, Davis will not be eligible to return until the Steelers’ Week 11 matchup in Los Angeles against the Chargers.

Due to gaining a running back and losing a defensive tackle on the active roster, the Steelers have made two corresponding moves to their practice squad in order to balance out their numbers. The Steelers have signed defensive tackle Chris Slayton to the practice squad. Coming out of Syracuse, Slayton was a seventh-round draft pick of the New York Giants in the 2019 NFL draft. Failing to make the Giants’ roster, Slayton spent the 2019 season or the Giants’ practice squad. In 2020, Slayton spent a short time on the practice squad of the Buffalo Bills before landing with the practice squad of the Atlanta Falcons where he spent the 2021 offseason.

To make room for Slayton, the Steelers released running back Jaylen Samuels from the practice squad. Drafted it in the fifth round by the Steelers in the 2018 NFL draft, Samuels appeared in 42 games in three seasons and had eight starts. In his Steelers career, Samuels had one rushing touchdown and for receiving touchdowns. The highlight of Samuels’ time with the Steelers came in 2018 when he started for an injured James Connor against the New England Patriots and rushed for 142 yards on 19 rushing attempts.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for continued coverage as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to take on the Browns this Sunday in Cleveland at 1 PM.

Podcast: Bye Bye, Bye and a Week 8 Breakdown

Join BTSC’s Jeremy Betz for weekly fantasy football talk as it pertains to the Pittsburgh Steelers, your draft and for success in any of your leagues.

Now that the Steelers’ bye week is complete, all eyes are on the Steelers traveling to the Buckeye State. Will it matter if the Browns roll out Baker Mayfield or Case Keenum against a suspect secondary? Is Najee Harris going to be able to run against a stout Browns front seven? What about the Steelers defense against the best run-team in the NFL? Get those answers and more as BTSC continues with the new weekly show surrounding all aspects of the world of fantasy football with a black-and-gold twist. Welcome to the Steelers Fantasy Football Fix. Join BTSC’s Jeremy Betz for weekly fantasy football talk as it pertains to the Pittsburgh Steelers and for success in any of your leagues.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Previewing the Steelers vs. Browns for any of your fantasy leagues.
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeremy Betz of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers in the landscape of Fantasy Football and then some.

Check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

What we know: Latest news on Texans QB Deshaun Watson as NFL trade deadline looms

The NFL trade deadline is a little more than a week away, and the most pressing question is about the future of disgruntled Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Watson demanded a trade in January. What complicates his future in the NFL, however, are the 22 civil lawsuits against him that stem from sexual misconduct or sexual assault allegations from a total of 23 women. 

The trading deadline is 4 p.m. ET on Nov. 2.

Here’s what we know about the situation surrounding Watson.

What is the status of civil lawsuits against Deshaun Watson?

Twenty-three women have accused Watson of sexual misconduct or assault and 22 of them have filed civil lawsuits against him. According to the suits, the alleged incidents occurred at a variety of locations in four different states. Most of the women, who filed the lawsuits using the pseudonym “Jane Doe,” are described as licensed massage therapists, estheticians or business owners.

Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, in April called the allegations “meritless,” though he did acknowledge that there were “sometimes consensual encounters” during Watson’s massage sessions. When later asked by a reporter to clarify, Hardin said “we’ve never run from it” and the question “has always been about consent.”

The Houston Police Department also announced in April that it would be investigating a complaint against Watson after a report was filed. The New York Times later reported in September, citing documents obtained, that Houston Police has spoken to at least 10 women about the allegations against Watson.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson

OPINION: How many women does it take, NFL, before you take action against Deshaun Watson?

What about the NFL’s investigation into Deshaun Watson?

The NFL indicated it would be investigating Watson’s case to determine whether there was a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy.

In August, Hardin said the NFL had not yet contacted Watson. It is unclear whether that has remained the case in the months since, but Hardin said Watson would cooperate.

The NFL also confirmed in August it would be reaching out to Watson eventually as part of the investigation.

What has Deshaun Watson said about the complaints?

Aside from a social media post March 16, Watson has not publicly commented on the suits filed against him. But in that March statement he posted on Twitter, he denied the allegations and said he looked forward to clearing his name.

Which teams have been linked as possible destinations for Deshaun Watson?

The team most frequently and prominently tied to Watson as a potential suitor is the Miami Dolphins, who fell to 1-6 Sunday after a 30-28 loss against the Atlanta Falcons. While the Dolphins have a young passer in second-year pro Tua Tagovailoa, multiple reports indicated team owner Stephen Ross wanted to bring in a star-caliber player at the position. 

On Monday, however, NBC Sports reported that Ross was not pushing Miami’s front office to make a trade for Watson at the moment.

Dolphins coach Brian Flores, meanwhile, has reiterated as recently as Wednesday morning that “Tua is our quarterback.”

The Carolina Panthers had also been linked to Watson after The Athletic reported that the team was expected to be involved in trade talks after a 25-3 loss to the New York Giants. On Wednesday, however, NFL Network and The Athletic both reported that the Panthers were no longer expected to pursue Watson.

One final point: Watson has a no-trade clause in his contract, which means he ultimately will dictate which team he wants to play for and will have to approve any potential deal. NFL Network reported that, as of Wednesday morning, the Dolphins were the only team for which Watson has waived his no-trade clause.

What are the Texans looking for in a trade for Deshaun Watson?

On Sunday, Fox Sports reported that Houston was looking for at least three first-round picks, as well as two additional picks. In a vacuum, that price makes sense for a player of Watson’s caliber. A three-time Pro Bowl player who is 26 years old, Watson has all the physical gifts to do well.

Yet the implications of the pending civil and criminal cases against Watson complicate this situation. At the moment, there is no guarantee he would even be available to play in the future, as the league could consider suspensions or discipline against him, pending the outcome of those cases. Teams considering parting with such a massive amount of draft capital have to weigh the potential risks.

Will Deshaun Watson land on commissioner’s exempt list?

At the NFL owners meetings Tuesday in New York, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league was not at the point where it was ready to make a decision about placing Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list.

“We don’t have all the access to that information at this point in time,” Goodell said. “We pride ourselves on not interfering in (the legal process). We’re being as cooperative as we can to make sure we get all the facts, but that process is still ongoing. And until that process isn’t ongoing and we have enough data and enough information to make a determination on whether he should go on the commissioner exempt (list). We don’t feel that we have that necessary information at this point.”

Under the NFL’s personal conduct policy, the league stipulates that a player can be placed on it “when a player is formally charged with a crime of violence, meaning that he is accused of having used physical force or a weapon to injure or threaten another person, of having engaged in a sexual assault by force or a sexual assault of a person who was incapable of giving consent …” The policy goes on to state that those “formal charges may be in the form of an indictment by a grand jury, the filing of charges by a prosecutor, or an arraignment in a criminal court.”

But Goodell also has the authority to place a player on the list “when an investigation leads the Commissioner to believe that a player may have violated this Policy by committing any of the conduct identified above, he may act where the circumstances and evidence warrant doing so.”

In the past, the commissioner’s exempt list has been used in similar circumstances when a player has been facing criminal or off-field issues that could result in disciplinary action. Putting the player on the list would allow him to remain on his team, though he would not count against the active roster used for game days. In essence, it is paid administrative leave. If placed on the list, the player will not be allowed to practice or participate in games until removed. 

The NFL has not placed Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list because the Texans made it clear they would not consider playing him this season after Watson demanded a trade in January. Watson had been present during the team’s training camp, but Houston kept him mostly away from participation in practices. In each game this season, the Texans kept Watson on the inactive list.

If he is traded, however, the team that acquires him would almost certainly want him to play, so the league would need to make a determination on his status. On Sunday, NFL Network reported the expectation is that Watson’s case doesn’t fall under the language used for the commissioner’s exempt list and he would not be placed on it if he were dealt before the deadline.

Keep reading this sports article on USA Today - NFL Top Stories.

Checking the PFF grades for the Steelers offense so far this season

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In the grades provided by PFF, the Steelers best player on offense is one who needs to be even more involved moving forward.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off the bye week, and many are assessing how the players have performed through the first six games. As a team, the Steelers are 3-3 which is the most telling number possible. But how did the individual players grade out?

For this exercise, we will be looking at the player grades from Pro Football Focus (PFF) for their entire 2021 regular-season performance. Before going any further, I must give the typical disclaimer that PFF grades are subjective. While some people rely on them heavily, others are quite skeptical of the process in which they are determined. It is completely up to each person as to how much stock they put into PFF’s grades. For me, I often look at the grades to see if my own “eye test” lines up with what others viewed as how a player performed. If nothing more, the grades create a discussion about how accurate, or inaccurate, they are for the season.

Instead of looking at the entire team at once, we break up the scores into offense and defense. Next up is the offense. Included will be all the players who played at least one snap this season (except for Minkah Fitzpatrick who has three snaps on kneel downs) and the total snap counts for each player will be included. For reference sake, the Steelers played 397 snaps on defense so far this season. Also, for players who meet PFF’s snap minimum, their rank at their position is included.


Top 5 (regardless of position)

TE Pat Freiermuth: 73.8 (201 snaps); 15th of 67
WR Diontae Johnson: 73.7 (277 snaps); 30th of 119
RB Najee Harris: 67.8 (343 snaps); 33rd of 65
OT Joe Haeg: 67.2 (109 snaps)
WR Chase Claypool: 67.0 (257 snaps); 65th of 119

Bottom 5 (regardless of position)

OT Chuks Okorafor: 55.2 (304 snaps); 62nd of 77
WR Ray-Ray McCloud: 49.7 (141 snaps); 116th of 119
FB Derek Watt: 48.3 (28 snaps)
TE Eric Ebron: 44.7 (185 snaps); 66th of 67
RB Benny Snell Jr.: 43.1 (28 snaps)


QB Ben Roethlisberger: 58.8 (397 snaps); 29th of 34

Most Steelers fans know that Ben Roethlisberger gets no love from PFF. While his play has not been stellar at times in 2021, what is confusing is seeing Roethlisberger compared to other players. Seeing others scored above him such as Zach Wilson, Jared Goff, Sam Darnold, and Gino Smith seems a little off. But PFF does not do it on a comparative basis simply on grading each play.

Running Backs

RB Najee Harris: 67.8 (343 snaps); 33rd of 65
RB Kalen Ballage: 57.0 (26 snaps)
FB Derek Watt: 48.3 (28 snaps)
RB Benny Snell Jr.: 43.1 (28 snaps)

The snap counts here seem to be extremely telling. The Steelers are definitely riding the Najee Harris train. While Harris is in the top five scores for the Steelers, he’s only ranked in the middle of the pack when it comes to other NFL running backs. Being his first six games of his career, his trajectory over the next 11 games will be telling.


TE Pat Freiermuth: 73.8 (201 snaps); 15th of 68
WR Diontae Johnson: 73.7 (277 snaps); 30th of 121
WR Chase Claypool: 67.0 (257 snaps); 65th of 121
TE Zach Gentry: 63.4 (97 snaps)
WR Cody White: 60.1 (27 snaps)
WR James Washington: 59.9 (150 snaps); 90th of 121
+WR JuJu Smith-Schuster: 59.2 (222 snaps); 94th of 121
WR Ray-Ray McCloud: 49.7 (141 snaps); 118th of 121
TE Eric Ebron: 44.7 (185 snaps); 66th of 68

Although it is encouraging that Pat Freiermuth as the top offensive grade for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s more of an indictment on the Steelers offense. Freiermuth is only the 15th ranked tight end in the entire NFL yet that tops out the Steelers offense. I have no problem with Freiermuth staying on the top of this list if he continues to grow higher in both score and ranking.

Offensive Line

OT Joe Haeg: 67.2 (109 snaps)
C J.C. Hasenauer: 63.4 (12 snaps)
G Trai Turner: 62.1 (386 snaps); 40th of 74
G B.J. Finney: 61.5 (22 snaps)
G Kevin Dotson: 61.2 (386 snaps); 43rd of 74
OT Dan Moore Jr.: 60.6 (381 snaps); 54th of 78
C Kendrick Green: 57.7 (385 snaps); 27th of 36
OT Chuks Okorafor: 55.2 (304 snaps); 63rd of 78

It is discouraging with the three players who are not starters on this list holding three of the top four spots. But with the Steelers young offensive line, it’s not surprised that these player started out rough and have gradually had increasing scores. More than anything, these numbers should act as a baseline for each player and their amount of improvement since the bye week would be a true measurement of their season.

So, what do you think of the above grades? Do they pass the eye test? Let us know your thoughts on the Steelers’ defensive grades in the comments below.

Steelers Vertex: Breaking down the Steelers improved third-down defense

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers have deployed a new personnel package on third downs over the last two games, and so far it has paid off.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming out of their bye week on a two game winning streak. While there are a number of factors which could be attributed to the last two victories, one area in which the Steelers have improved is their third-down defense. By using a different approach with the players they put on the field, so far the package has been working. This is the topic for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex– a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

Just so everyone is on the same page, I am breaking down the numbers into the first four games of the season, and the last two games and Steelers have played. The reason for this is because of the personnel change the Steelers have made on many third downs since Week 5 against the Broncos.

In the first four games of the season, the Steelers gave up a combined 44.6% of third downs. The breakdown per game was 44.4% against Buffalo, 35.7% against Las Vegas, 33.3% against Cincinnati, and 60.0% against Green Bay. They were 56 total plays over those four games and the Steelers gave up 25 first downs. The breakdown is the Steelers gave up 17 first downs through the air on 23 completions on 37 attempts, and eight rushing first downs on 14 rushing attempts. The average distance to go in those games was 6.73 yards on third down. Additionally, the Steelers have surrendered four touchdowns on third down, one coming in each of their first four games.

On the positive side, the Steelers did force a fumble on one occasion against Buffalo and had four total sacks on third down— two against the Bills and two against the Packers. In all, the Steelers averaged 6.3 yards given up on third downs in the first four games.

As for the Steelers games in Week 5 and Week 6, the numbers are much better. Since deploying a new third-down defensive package, the Steelers have only surrendered 20.8% of third downs over the last two weeks. Looking per game, the Steelers surrendered 16.7% against Denver and 25.0% against Seattle. The average distance their opponent had to gain on third down was 7.36 yards and they gained an average of 6.0 yards. Additionally, the Steelers gave up no touchdowns on third down and had three sacks.

Although the new defensive package looks to really be doing the job, one weak point comes in rushes on third down. Only having two rushing attempts go against the Steelers on third down over the last two games, The total rushing yards surrendered were 75 yards. The reason for this is there was one third-down attempt rushing the ball for the Denver Broncos which went for 49 yards and one rushing attempt on third down against the Seahawks which went for 26 yards. But when it comes to defending the pass, the Steelers have only surrendered three first downs in the last two games despite allowing 12 completions on 19 attempts. So even if the Steelers are willing to give up the catch, they are not surrendering the yardage for a new set of downs.

So there are the numbers behind the Steelers improved results on third down on defense. Exactly what they been doing to get the job done? Let’s check the film.

The Film Line:

The Steelers success on third down has swung drastically from their first four games to their last two games. But as Dave mentioned, it’s mostly based on defending the pass in 3rd and medium to long yards. To dig into this we need to look back.

Steelers v Raiders, 3rd quarter, 7:09.

Hunter Renfrow is the second receiver from the top.

Hunter Renfrow beats Tre Norwood with a nice double move, slowing down to sell a lateral cut before accelerating upfield for the first down. But the story here is Derek Carr with all the room and time in the world. In the first half of the game, T.J. Watt was terrorizing Carr and driving him to get rid of the ball quickly and less accurately. With time in the pocket He was able to carve up the Steelers defense, extend drives and lead the Raiders to a win.

Steelers v Bengals, 1st quarter, 5:20.

Ja’Marr Chase is the receiver to the top of the screen.

Ja’Marr Chase runs a nice route, but look at Joe Burrow’s pocket. Burrow has pressure coming from Melvin Ingram (edge rusher to top of screen) but has a nice pocket to step up and throw in. Cameron Heyward comes across the formation to get in his face, but he can’t get there in time to disrupt the pass.

Steelers v Packers, 2nd quarter, 11:03.

Randle Cobb is the second receiver from the top of the screen.

A simple in route for Cobb that turns into a touchdown with a beautiful pass from Aaron Rogers. Look at Rogers’ pocket as he has all day. He can stand there, survey the field, and throw cleanly when he finds the throw he wants to take. Coverage is largely irrelevant if you give Aaron Rogers that much time and let him throw the ball cleanly. He’s too good.

The Steelers weren’t crashing the pocket, and when NFL quarterbacks can throw cleanly, almost all of them are great. Very few quarterbacks make it to the NFL without the ability to find an open receiver and make the throw when they have time and a clean pocket. I want you to go back and look at the previous three clips and watch the defensive tackle to the top of the screen. Look at the lack of pressure from that position, and how the opponent used that space. Especially the Bengals throw where they double Chris Wormley to drive him back and make sure that throwing lane is wide open for Burrows to hit Ja’Marr Chase.

Lastly, if you can find Joe Schobert (#93, he’s near the line of scrimmage) in each clip you can see him blitzing twice, and delivering nothing in terms of pressure.

The Steelers had to get more pressure on the quarterback to stop the third down conversions, and that meant mixing up the personnel in the front five in their dime sets.

Steelers v Seahawks, 1st quarter, 5:12.

Tyler Lockett is the receiver to the bottom of the screen.

Tre Norwood has a really nice pass break up here, but it isn’t just him generating this defensive play. I know there’s a big difference between Geno Smith and Aaron Rogers in talent level, I get that, but look what the pressure does to Smith on this throw. He is stepping backward with his front foot to get rid of the ball here. He doesn’t have his feet set, this is all arm. It’s thrown a bit early and there isn’t enough zip on it because Smith doesn’t have a good base, and Norwood gets to the ball.

Also, look at Robert Spillane (just below Cam Heyward) here. He is on the back. He comes up quick to hug blitz, and is able to still cover the back when he slips out of the pocket. Look at the right guard, who has to account for Spillane if he blitzes. Spillane doesn’t blitz, but it leaves the line one blocker short compared to the rushers.

Steelers v Seahawks, 1st quarter, 11:04.

Alex Highsmith is the edge rusher to the top of the screen.

The stunt between Heyward and Ingram doesn’t work here as the Seahawks triple team the duo, but that leaves Watt and Highsmith in 1v1 situations. Highsmith wins his and the pressure leads to a throw underneath when there’s a receiver going deep that is wide open. Cam Sutton is reading Smith’s eyes, and when he looks off that deep route, Sutton doesn’t cover it.

It works, because Smith has pressure on him and doesn’t have time to go back to that read. You can see Robert Spillane is a little less fluid in coverage than Joe Schobert, and we see that here as he collides with Terrell Edmunds on crossers.

The result of better pressure on third downs is quicker throws that aren’t thrown as well, and teams having to scheme to not get sacked or give up a big play.

Steelers v Broncos, 2nd quarter, 6:33.

The front five, bottom to top: Alex Highsmith, Melvin Ingram, Cameron Heyward, Robert Spillane, T.J. Watt.

This is third and goal. The Broncos throw a screen, essentially giving up on scoring a touchdown here. The Steelers double stunt into the middle, and that’s a ripe opportunity for a screen, but this just leads to a shorter field goal.

The Broncos had seen the Steelers third down pressure enough to call this play and settle for 3 points. This is winning football. When teams are just trying to survive your defense instead of attacking it, you’ve won the battle.

The Point:

With the Steelers defensive line missing Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, they are having to get creative to have success in areas that used to be a given strength of the team. Switching in Melvin Ingram for the second defensive tackle and swapping in Robert Spillane for Joe Schobert gave the Steelers more pass rush threat while increasing their vulnerability in coverage and to runs against that dime set. The Steelers aren’t just choosing this change, they had to. Coverage becomes irrelevant if you give the opposing quarterback enough time, and a good pass rush can cover for failings in coverage.

Kevin Stefanski non-committal on Baker Mayfield playing in Week 8

NFL: Denver Broncos at Cleveland Browns
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers might not know which quarterback they’ll face until, at the earliest, the end of the week.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns are going to square off for the first time in 2021 this Sunday in Week 8, and it is the first time they are meeting since the AFC Wild Card game at Heinz Field last season.

Entering the game Sunday, one of the biggest question marks is the health of several key Browns players. The biggest name most fans want to know is quarterback Baker Mayfield. Head coach Kevin Stefanski met with media briefly Tuesday, and when pressed about Mayfield’s availability, he was tight-lipped.

This from the SB Nation site, Dawgs By Nature:

So will Mayfield be able to practice this week? Head coach Kevin Stefanski was asked that on Monday and he was very succinct in his answer, according to a team-provided transcript:

“We will see.”

So can Mayfield play against the Steelers if he does not practice all week, coach?

“We will see.”

Stefanski did say he is not ruling anyone out for Sunday’s game just yet, nor will he feel any pressure to name a quarterback until he sees how Mayfield is feeling and if he is able to practice.

If Mayfield can’t play, the job will fall upon Case Keenum’s shoulders for the second straight week. It was Keenum who got the Browns their fourth victory in Week 7 on Thursday Night Football when they defeated the Denver Broncos.

During Mike Tomlin’s Tuesday press conference, he was asked about the Browns’ quarterback situation, and if Baker Mayfield brings something different to the table compared to Keenum. As it turns out, Tomlin doesn’t see much of a difference.

“Not based on where I sit here today. Just specifically looking at the schematics and how they attacked and the things that they did a week ago, it was the Cleveland Browns. They just plugged in 5 [Case Keenum]. But that’s what a veteran quarterback provides you. He provides you an opportunity to maintain your personality. It appears that they’re capable and they have done that.”

Wednesday is the first reported practice for the upcoming AFC north game, and while the Steelers seem to be a very healthy team coming off the bye, all eyes will be on the Browns’ injury report.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Browns this Sunday in Week 8.

19 players mentioned by Mike Tomlin during Tuesday’s press conference

Denver Broncos v Pittsburgh Steelers
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Steelers head coach held his weekly press conference with the Pittsburgh media on Tuesday heading into Week 8.

The 2021 NFL regular season is underway and teams are starting to get into a routine with what occurs during a typical game week. Coming out of their bye week, the Steelers began their preparation for their first road AFC North matchup. As expected, head coach Mike Tomlin held his regularly scheduled press conference on Tuesday. With many players discussed, it’s time for another players mentioned by Coach Tomlin during his media time. Remember these are current players where a specific question was asked during the Q&A period.

Najee Harris & Kalen Ballage

Through the first six weeks of the 2021 NFL season, rookie running back Najee Harris has played 343 of the Steelers 397 offensive snaps. Coach Tomlin was asked about the Steelers running back depth and if he is concerned about Harris‘ workload. In his response, Coach Tomlin brought up Kalen Bellage.

“I haven’t had a lot of exposure to our running back depth. A lot of the reasons have to do with things that don’t necessarily involve them. There have been some weeks where we haven’t had a lot of fluidity in terms of our run. Like we’ve talked about throughout the course of this thing, that minimizes opportunity. That’s less opportunities not only for Najee, but for others. Last week, I thought we got some things from KB [Kalen Ballage] and we had enough fluidity in our run game where you were able to see some of the depth things and the division of labor at that position. Hopefully, as we continue to grow and trend in the right direction in terms of our run game, I’ll be able to better answer that question about the quality of our depth and the components of our depth that round out our group. We’ve just had some challenges at the early stages of the journey that really make that a difficult question to answer directly.”

Stephon Tuitt, Carlos Davis, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Isaiah Buggs, & Henry Mondeaux

With injuries on the defensive line, the Steelers have had to fill-in a large amount of snaps with other players. Coach Tomlin was asked if there was an update on Stephon Tuitt, and how he feels about players who have had to fill-in. In answering the question, Coach Tomlin mentioned a number of players on the defensive line.

“No, no update on him. His return is not imminent this week. I don’t anticipate it although it’s going well. He’s progressing but not close enough for participation. We’ve had some challenges in the defensive line, not only the two that you mentioned, but Carlos Davis has missed some time. But it has provided opportunities for growth. I’ve been pleased with the general growth and development of Loudermilk. We’re challenging Isaiah Buggs to step up and be a consistent varsity contributor. He’s a guy that’s been around here a number of years now and opportunity is knocking for him due to the misfortune with Tyson. That’s the component of this thing that makes football the ultimate team game. Some challenges associated with the guys that you’ve mentioned not being available, but it’s also an opportunity for others. We’re excited about continuing to watch the growth and development of some of those others and watching them answer the bell and rise up and meet the challenges.”

In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked about what needs to improve in stopping the run and he mentioned some of his young defensive lineman again.

“Fundamentally,guys have got to be in gaps, guys have got to tackle well. It’s not anything mystical. We’ve got to do a better job than we’ve done at times, and a lot of that has to do with some young guys gaining growth and development and exposure that’s associated with play. It is reasonable to expect that to get better. It has in some instances. Loudermilk, Buggs, the guys we’ve been talking about, Henry Mondeaux, they’re getting better,but it can’t happen quickly enough, particularly when you go into a stadium like we’re going into this weekend.”

Chase Claypool

After a very impressive rookie season, some have been disappointed in the production of Chase Claypool in 2021. Coach Tomlin was asked about Claypool taking a second-year jump and in what areas he still needs to develop.

“He’s very much still writing that story. We’re only about a third of the way through the season. I’ve liked some of the things that he’s done. He’s doing really well in all areas. He’s getting better in all areas. But the games that lie ahead will ultimately determine the question that you asked in terms of the significance. Stepping up in stages like the one we’re about to go to on Sunday will be a significant component of it as well. Divisional road game play is big.”

Diontae Johnson

With the loss of JuJu Smith-Schuster, there are a number of receivers who could be playing in the slot position. Coach Tomlin was asked if he wanted to have a specific player in the slot or if he was looking more to exploit a matchup. In his response, Coach Tomlin brought up the aforementioned Chase Claypool as well as Diontae Johnson.

“It’s whatever the matchup brings us. Particularly when you’re losing a guy like JuJu, like I mentioned, it’s not a one-man job. Oftentimes, it’s a multiple-man job. But even when we had JuJu, we do things schematically. We’ll put JuJu outside, put Chase Claypool inside, put Diontae inside, and most of those alterations are matchup related.”

Anthony McFarland Jr.

One player who has been designated to return from the Reserve/Injured List but has not been put on the 53-man roster yet is running back Anthony McFarland. Coach Tomlin was asked if he anticipates activating McFarland and what his role could be going forward.

“I’m anticipating us activating him. I think the week’s work will determine if there’s a role and, if there is, what that role is.”

Melvin Ingram III, T.J. Watt, & Alex Highsmith

The Pittsburgh Steelers are still figuring out the rotation at the outside linebacker position, mainly due to a number of injuries early in the year. Coach Tomlin was asked about the diminished snap count of Melvin Ingram and if there was a specific reason behind it. In his response, he brought up T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmtih.

“Reps change based on player availability. T.J. has missed some time, Alex Highsmith has missed some time. The time that you just mentioned, in reference to the question, both of those guys are back from injury. When you have everybody available, there’s gonna be less snaps. It’s just football.”

Coach Tomlin was asked a follow-up question about Alex Highsmtih and his improved play the last game. In his response, Coach Tomlin compared him to another second-year player in Chase Claypool.

“Yeah, he’s playing well, and we need him to. Much like the conversation we’re having regarding Chase Claypool, what lies ahead is definitely going to write his story. I like what I’ve seen but stay tuned. Divisional road game play. Guys that are looking to take a step, that’s a good environment in which to do it.”

Kendrick Green, Dan Moore Jr., & Pat Freiermuth

This Sunday will be the first matchup with the Cleveland Browns since the Steelers were defeated at home in the wildcard round of the 2020 NFL postseason. Coach Tomlin was asked if the loss to the Browns would be a point of emphasis this week, and in his response he named several rookies in which the previous game meant nothing.

“I’m sure it comes up in some form or fashion,but not as a rallying cry or not as a focus of a meeting. There are a lot of variables that are 2021 that should have our attention. We’ve got a lot riding on this game. We’re going to play a really good team in their venue. It’s 2021. Last year’s game means nothing to Najee, it means nothing to KG (Kendrick Green), it means nothing to Dan Moore, it means nothing to Pat (Freiermuth), etc., etc. You’ve just got to acknowledge that, in the game of football, things change year in and year out and seemingly low hanging fruit is oftentimes irrelevant to some of the people in the room. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about old stories or old news.”

Zach Banner

Coming back off the Reserve/Injured List, Zach Banner will be available this week for the Steelers. Coach Tomlin was asked, with a players such as Banner and Dan Moore in the mix, how he feels about the depth and competition at tackle.

“Love it. Love it. Good problems to have. And that’s what I was referring to at the opening when I said we’ll sort out the division of labor. I’m not overly concerned about and I’m excited about it.”

Ben Roethlisberger.

Before the Steelers Week 6 game against the Seattle Seahawks, inside linebackers’ coach Jerry Olsavsky took time away from the team due to the death of his wife. Coach Tomlin was asked about Ben Roethlisberger’s comments about wanting to spend more time with Coach O, and what it means to have an offensive player wanting to be supportive of a defensive coach even though they aren’t directly connected.

“I would strongly disagree with that. We’re all connected. It doesn’t matter what area you work in. That’s one of the beautiful things of team and, particularly, football being the ultimate team game. There’s intimacy. There’s codependency professionally. And you have unique and close relationships because of that. Ben has worked with Jerry a long time, and so, to me, that’s appropriate and a reasonable perspective to have, and it’s appreciated at the same time. Jerry is working his way back to us. I’m not going to get too much into that. Just know that we’re in full support of him and whatever he and his family needs, we will provide.”

Minkah Fitzpatrick

One player who has yet to come up with a splash play on defense is All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Coach Tomlin was asked if it is more circumstantial or if it’s something they are looking to do different.

“Circumstantial. Stay tuned. Minkah is a playmaker. He makes plays. I’m sure when we’re looking back at this, you won’t have that question.”

For more information on Mike Tomlin’s press conference, check out the podcast below:

If you want to watch Mike Tomlin’s press conference, you can do so below:

The Steelers were so bad over the first month, my mom thought an 11-point lead was a miracle

Denver Broncos v Pittsburgh Steelers
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

You might not think a double-digit Steelers lead is a miracle, but my mom sure did when it happened vs. the Broncos in Week 5.

My mom is so Catholic. How Catholic is she? She’s so Catholic that she has a different saint she prays to for every occasion.

Did you lose your pen? She has a saint for that. Can’t find your keys? That’s covered. Struggling with your fantasy football team? I’m sure there is a saint for that. Are you having trouble reckoning your newfound love for Tom Brady, now that he’s away from the evil empire up in New England? I’m sure my mom knows a saint.

Anyway, I’m not sure if my mother knows any priests, but she may have thought it was necessary for one to visit Heinz Field over the first four weeks of the Steelers 2021 regular season, you know, to deliver last rites and such? Why? You remember the offense, right? That unit was placed on life support the moment the regular season kicked off in Buffalo. As for the plethora of groin injuries, my mother may have wanted the same priest to perform an exorcism in order to rid the Steelers’ locker room of that particular injury demon.

You might think I’m joking, but my mother believes in that kind of stuff. Unfortunately, much like a lot of Steeler Nation, her faith in her favorite professional football team had been lacking for some time, especially over the first four weeks of the regular season. I’ve concluded this based on a conversation we had right after the Steelers ended their three-game slide by knocking off the Broncos, 27-19, at Heinz Field in Week 5.

When discussing the game the very next day, my mom told me that she didn’t have her television on at the start of the matchup that Sunday afternoon. No, she was busy doing choirs and also saying her Hail Marys. She was even praying to a bunch of saints—not sure if it was about retrieving pens or some other problem.

She said that after she finished her choirs and her praying, she decided to turn the television on to see how the Steelers were doing. She wasn’t expecting much. Why do I say that? Because she told me that she was “shocked” to discover that Pittsburgh had a 17-6 lead. Not only was she shocked, but she thought it was an actual miracle, one that was brought about by all the praying she had just done (even if it wasn’t Steelers related).

I can only imagine what her feelings were when the Steelers briefly held a 24-6 lead early in the fourth quarter—I’m guessing maybe that it was a miracle on par with the whole Lazarus deal.

What’s my point in all of this? My mother, a woman who used to say things like, “They’re down by three points in the first quarter? The guys on the radio said they’d win!” had lost so much confidence, so much faith in the Steelers that any sort of success—especially a double-digit lead—was deemed to be miraculous.

You can say what you want about the national pundits and their negative Steelers’ predictions all throughout the offseason, but when you perform so poorly for so long that a 71-year old Catholic woman, one who used to have so much faith in you and automatically assumed you’d win every game—even when you played one at Gillette Stadium—thinks that even modest success is the result of prayer, well, your professional football organization has likely hit a very rough patch.

Hopefully, these 2021 Steelers can build on their two-game winning streak coming out of the bye. If they can do that, maybe victories will seem less miraculous to my mom in the not-so-distant future.

Besides, my mom ain’t got time to be praying for a professional football team. There are too many missing pens and keys to worry about.

Podcast: Steelers vs. Browns is as big as it gets in the regular season

BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman presents his AM studio show to the BTSC family of podcasts with the Wednesday episode of “Let’s Ride“.

The Steelers will travel to Cleveland on Sunday for a huge game at this point of a regular season. Outside of the playoffs, it doesn’t get bigger than this for both teams at this particular juncture. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the flagship morning show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on the Wednesday episode of “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Steelers News and Notes
  • The Live Mailbag
  • Much More!

Jeff Hartman of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the black-and-gold.

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE


Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Steelers HC Mike Tomlin Denies NCAA Speculation

Despite some speculation from talking heads that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin could leave Pittsburgh for the NCAA, the head coach made it abundantly clear today that he has no interest in pivoting to college football.

“Hey guys, I don’t have time for that speculation,” Tomlin said when asked about the rumblings. “That’s a joke to me. I have one of the best jobs in all professional sports. Why would I have any interests in coaching college football? That will be the last time I address that and not only today but moving forward. Never say never — but never. OK? Anybody else have any questions about college jobs? There is not a booster with a big enough blank check.”

Mark Kaboly of The Athletic provides a great explanation of how we even got to this point. A handful of pundits had previously connected Tomlin to jobs at USC and LSU, and Kaboly opines that the whole story was a “media creation.”

As Kaboly writes, Tomlin’s connection to neither the USC job nor the LSU job made a whole lot of sense. He has no connection to the schools, he’d be taking a proverbial step back in terms of job status, and the salary improvement would be insignificant. However, even if there was no truth to the “rumors,” those whispers got loud enough to warrant a question at a press conference.

Tomlin has spent 14 years in Pittsburgh, making nine playoffs and winning one Super Bowl.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.