Podcast: 5 reasons the Steelers and Pittsburgh are better than the Ravens and B-More



Join BTSC’s newest podcast, the Steelers Power Half Hour for weekly Steelers Power Rankings in may a black-and-gold category

It’s late in the 2021 season, but traditional rivals, the Steelers and the Ravens, have not faced one another as of yet. When it comes to rivalries, this one is one of the finest in all of sports. So, of course, there’s going to be a lot to rip on when it comes to the Ravens. Welcome to the Steelers Power 12 Hour. Join BTSC’s Chris Pugh, Joe Frost and Paul Yanchek for weekly power rankings as it pertains to the Pittsburgh Steelers. This time it’s a look at Steelers AFC North nemesis, the Baltimore Ravens.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • 5 reasons the Steelers and Pittsburgh are better than the Ravens and B-More
  • and MUCH MORE!

Chris, Paul and Joe of BTSC walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Ben Roethlisberger Expected To Retire

Ben Roethlisberger enters Week 13 as the NFL’s longest-tenured quarterback starter, having been in his Steelers QB1 post since early in the 2004 season. But the veteran Pittsburgh passer is unlikely to play a 19th season in 2022.

The future Hall of Famer has informed some within the organization and some ex-teammates he is not likely to return to the Steelers in 2022, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter). Roethlisberger has not announced any retirement plans and is unlikely to do so before season’s end, but Schefter adds it is “highly unlikely” the Pro Bowl passer plays for another team.

While Big Ben put retirement on the table years ago, he instead opted to play a few more seasons. He had the Steelers back in the playoffs in 2020, after they had missed the previous two brackets, and did so after suffering the most significant injury of his career. Roethlisberger endured extensive rehab on his surgically repaired elbow, which ended his 2019 season that September. He returned to throw 33 touchdown passes — the second-highest total of his career — in 2020.

The third quarterback drafted in 2004, Roethlisberger has outlasted both Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. Manning capped his career at 16 seasons, while Rivers walked away after 17. Of the trio, Roethlisberger is easily the safest bet to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. The former No. 11 overall pick started in three Super Bowls, winning two, and led a game-winning drive to defeat the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. Big Ben, 39, is a six-time Pro Bowler whose numbers improved in his 30s compared to playing on defense-powered teams in his early years.

Roethlisberger’s 410 touchdown passes sit eighth all time, while his 62,870 passing yards are sixth in league history. Although injuries have taken a toll on the increasingly immobile passer, he has started 241 career games.

Other than a COVID-19 contraction earlier this year, Roethlisberger has started each Steelers game since returning from elbow surgery last year. QBR tabs him 24th through his 10 starts this season, however. The Steelers revamped their offensive line this offseason and have been inconsistent on both sides of the ball, sliding to 5-5-1 after mounting a run earlier this season.

The Steelers reached a pay-cut agreement to bring Big Ben back this season, and they still have not identified a true heir apparent at quarterback. Roethlisberger retiring would put the onus on the organization to do so, though the team does have backup Mason Rudolph signed beyond 2021. Dwayne Haskins can be retained as a restricted free agent in 2022.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Activate T.J. Watt 

The Steelers have activated T.J. Watt from the Reserve/COVID-19 list, per a club announcement. This means the star linebacker will be eligible to play in tomorrow’s game against the Ravens. 

[RELATED: Steelers Place Ebron On IR]

Watt, 27, has 12.5 sacks, four passes defensed, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries through nine games this year. Even with the time he’s missed due to hip and knee injuries, his 12.5 sacks are good for second in the NFL behind Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. The Steelers, stationed at 5-5-1, are getting him back at a critical juncture. A win would keep their slim playoffs alive; a loss would virtually rule them out of a Wild Card berth.

Watt has spent the week away from the team in quarantine, but coaches have been keeping him in the loop. The Steelers have been sending him practice footage (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Aditi Kinkhabwala), getting him up to speed on their plan to contain Lamar Jackson.

While the Steelers will have Watt, cornerback Joe Haden, defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs, and inside linebacker Robert Spillane will not be on the field against Baltimore. The Steelers may or may not have Cam Heyward available — the defensive lineman was held out of practice yesterday with an undisclosed illness.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Place T.J. Watt On COVID-19 List

The Steelers have placed linebacker T.J. Watt on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, per a club announcement. His availability moving forward will hinge on his vaccination status and test results. 

[RELATED: Steelers Place Ebron On IR]

Per league rules, vaccinated players who test positive can return after two negative tests, provided that they are asymptomatic. Unvaccinated players, on the other hand, are ruled out for a minimum of ten days.

Watt missed Week 11 against the Chargers with hip and knee injuries but returned on Sunday to face the Bengals. Now, his status for this week’s game against the Ravens is in flux.

Through nine games this year, Watt has 12.5 sacks, four passes defensed, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries to his credit. The Steelers, stationed at 5-5-1, can ill afford to lose him at this stage of the season.

The Steelers still have a 10% chance of making the postseason, per Five Thirty Eight, but a loss to the Ravens would make it a near mathematical impossibility.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

32 things we learned from Week 12 of 2021 NFL season: Playoff picture keeps shifting

The 32 things we learned from Week 12 of the 2021 NFL season:

1. Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was playing on a bad toe, behind a beat-up offensive line and while facing elite pass rushers Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd of the Los Angeles Rams. Didn’t matter … and if you didn’t know Rodgers was hurt – even after he stuck his mangled foot in our collective grills last week – well, you wouldn’t know he was hurt. He hung 307 yards on LA through the air while accounting for three TDs (including one on that toe) in the Pack’s 36-28 win, which keeps them right on the heels of the Arizona Cardinals for home-field advantage in the NFC. Now Rodgers gets a much-needed week off before returning to face the Chicago Bears – an opponent you’ll recall AR12 owns.

2. Meanwhile, the careening Rams haven’t won in a month despite all their glitzy additions. QB Matthew Stafford has thrown a pick-six in three straight games, part of the reason the Rams have allowed 95 in that period.

3. The last time a home team won on Thanksgiving was 2018. Turkey Day visitors will take an eight-game winning streak into 2022.

4. The Las Vegas Raiders are 6-0 this season when QB Derek Carr passes for at least 300 yards … and 0-5 when he doesn’t. Trend?

5. If you need another indication that running the ball effectively is no longer a panacea in the 21st-century NFL, how about the Philadelphia Eagles churning out 208 yards on the ground Sunday … while watching the floundering New York Giants beat them 13-7. 

5a. At a time when his team had an opportunity to close the reeling Dallas Cowboys’ NFC East lead to 1½ games while moving into wild-card position, Eagles QB Jalen Hurts – after seeming to solidify his standing in recent weeks – again showed his limitations as a passer, serving up a trio of interceptions while missing on 17 of 31 throws. Expect the quarterback of the future debate to heat up again in the City of Brotherly Love.

6. Cowboys fans should just give thanks that the Giants offense left behind by former Dallas coach Jason Garrett was juuust good enough to foil the Iggles … even if Big Blue’s D (4 takeaways) did most of the heavy lifting.

7. Holiday Lenny? Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette (131 total yards, 4 TDs) carried his offense and outshone Indianapolis Colts counterpart and emergent MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor (97 yards, TD) as the Bucs hung on for a 38-31 victory in Indy, Fournette sprinting 28 yards for the game-winning score with 20 seconds left.

8. Maybe “Hard Knocks” will tell the tale, but the Colts – Indianapolis retreated to .500 – could ultimately rue this loss, a game when Taylor was limited to 20 touches as Indy chose to attack Tampa Bay’s depleted secondary rather than take on its top-ranked run defense. QB Carson Wentz committed three of the Colts’ five turnovers in what might prove a crippling loss in a congested AFC playoff picture.

9. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady is up to 30 TD passes after throwing 40 in 2020. Jameis Winston hoisted 33 TDs for Tampa Bay in 2019 before being replaced by TB12. No other Buc has cracked 30 through the air.

10. Brady’s former team looks just fine, too. The New England Patriots, who have a league-best six-game win streak, rolled the Tennessee Titans 36-13 to reclaim first place in the AFC East – and are now only a half-game out of the overall AFC lead. The Pats defense was at its bend-but-don’t-break best, while QB Mac Jones threw for a season-best 310 yards and two more scores to strengthen his position as offensive rookie of the year front-runner.

Adrian Phillips #21 of the New England Patriots celebrates with teammates after a defensive play against the Tennessee Titans in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

11. Meanwhile, the Titans fell out of the AFC’s catbird seat as it became obvious their issues go far beyond the absence of injured RB Derrick Henry. Tennessee ran for 270 yards Sunday (165 more than New England) but didn’t get anything out of QB Ryan Tannehill or the defense while turning the ball over four times. The Titans effectively have a three-game lead on the Colts, whom they already swept, in the AFC South but have a lot of work to do if they’re going to be a legitimate playoff threat.

12. The AFC’s new No. 1 seed? How about the Baltimore Ravens (8-3), who survived QB Lamar Jackson’s four-interception night to outlast the Cleveland Browns 16-10 Sunday. Maybe switch it up, Lamar, given all those picks were on passes to your buddy Mark Andrews?

12a. Yes, the Harbaugh Brothers definitely got the best of Ohio over the weekend.

12b. But the Ravens definitely can’t afford to get comfortable, four of their final six games against tough divisional opponents … the other two dates against the Packers and Rams.

13. The Cincinnati Bengals completed their first season sweep of the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2009 in decisive fashion with Sunday’s 41-10 runaway. (The Bengals outscored Pittsburgh 65-20 this year.)

13a. Cincy even had fun in the end zone … something we can’t recall since the long-gone Chad Johnson era.

14. And given Taylor’s humdrum showing, maybe it’s time to give Bengals RB Joe Mixon at least some MVP consideration. He’s got a pair of TDs in each of the past four games – a Cincinnati record and something no player in the league had done in the past 15 years – and hasn’t been denied end zone entry since Week 3. Mixon’s 165 rushing yards Sunday represented a career high. Now averaging a personal best 84 yards per game on the ground, Mixon still has a reasonable chance to overtake Taylor for the rushing title, too.

15. Got free agency cap dollars to burn? Consider investing in pass rushers. The Patriots’ Matt Judon, Bengals’ Trey Hendrickson and Raiders’ Yannick Ngakoue all have at least eight sacks after switching teams, and their respective defenses have reaped the benefits while helping lead their teams to winning records.

16. Don’t bury the Miami Dolphins just yet … not that dolphins ever get buried? But after a 1-7 start capped by a seven-game slide, the Fins have come up for air to win four in a row while sniffing January relevance. They are now 16-7 under coach Brian Flores after the month of October.

17. And credit Miami WR Jaylen Waddle, who caught nine passes for 137 yards and a TD in Sunday’s 33-10 walkover against the unraveling Carolina Panthers. Waddle’s 77 receptions lead all rookies.

17a. Extra credit conferred for Waddle waddling post-paydirt.

18. Alabama (Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa, 230 yards and TD passing) > Auburn (Carolina QB Cam Newton, career-worst 5.8 passer rating).

COVID-19. On and on we go. The Denver Broncos were without LT Garett Bolles. The New York Jets were without QBs Mike White and Joe Flacco … though, so what, right? But those Cowboys. You hate to say unvaccinated WR Amari Cooper might’ve cost his team two wins by virtue of his absence … but the case could be made. And Dallas’ issues aren’t going away this week, despite Cooper’s likely return, with other members of the organization dealing with virus protocols as the team prepares for Thursday’s game at New Orleans. Just Monday morning, we learned head coach Mike McCarthy won’t be available against the Saints after he tested positive. League-wide, COVID-19 protocols will intensify … just as the virus apparently is with the omicron variant coming to the forefront. 

20. A career-best 108 rushing yards? The legend of Atlanta Falcons “RB” Cordarrelle Patterson continues to grow.

21. A rushing TD in three consecutive weeks? The legend of San Francisco 49ers “WR” Deebo Samuel continues to grow. (No other receiver in the Super Bowl era – since 1966 – has matched this accomplishment.)

22. Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert has 55 career TD passes – more than any other second-year passer in league history … not named Dan Marino (68).

22a. However the Bolts youngster won’t remember Sunday fondly – unlike Denver rookie CB Patrick Surtain II, who swiped Herbert twice, including a game-sealing pick-six off a deflection. Surtain is the first Broncos rookie with multiple INTs in a game since Hall of Famer Steve Steve Atwater in 1989.

22b. The gritty Broncos (6-5) won 28-13 and pulled even with the Chargers and Raiders for second place in the AFC West, just one game back of the idle Kansas City Chiefs.

23. NFC wild card? How about the Niners (6-5), who have quietly strung together a three-game hot streak while moving up to the conference’s sixth seed. Tough and multi-faceted, this could be the team no one wants to see in January.

23a. NFC mild card? The Minnesota Vikings (5-6) are clinging to the NFC’s final postseason slot but have persistent defensive struggles, watched RB Dalvin Cook carted off Sunday with a shoulder injury and continue to witness teeth-gritting moments from statistically stellar QB Kirk Cousins. 

24. The New York Jets’ league-worst defense was too much for the Houston Texans’ league-worst offense, allowing season lows in points and yards (202) in their 21-14 win. Underrated NYJ DL John Franklin-Myers could get AFC defensive player of the week honors after collecting two sacks and a pretty interception, which he returned 32 yards.

25. Could be a “valuable” loss for the Texans, though, as they remain in line for the second overall pick of the 2022 draft.

26. The AFC East went 4-0 in Week 12. Per ESPN Stats & Info, that’s only happened one other time in the past decade.

27. The Buffalo Bills have 11 turnovers in their past four games but have managed to split them – though that 2-2 stretch opened the door for the Patriots to leapfrog them in the division standings. But the Bills must manage the miscues – QB Josh Allen served up his first-ever red-zone INT (after 62 TD passes) Thanksgiving night – given they’ll see New England, a team that takes advantage of mistakes, twice over the next four weeks.

28. Why has Dallas never bothered to sign WR DeSean Jackson? He has four TD receptions covering at least 50 yards in AT&T Stadium. No other player, Cowboy or otherwise, has more.

29. Flag Day is celebrated on June 14, but don’t tell that to the Raiders and Cowboys, who combined for 276 penalty yards Thanksgiving afternoon after they were flagged 14 times apiece. It was the first game since 2003 with two teams committing at least 14 penalties for at least 100 yards. 

29a. Dallas was penalized for 110 yards on third down.

29b. Cowboys CB Anthony Brown was called four times for pass interference, infractions that cost Dallas 91 yards. His 33-yard PI in overtime led to the Raiders’ game-winning field goal.

30. Dallas’ Micah Parsons now has nine sacks, breaking DeMarcus Ware’s record for Cowboys rookies. Parsons’ effort is all the more remarkable considering he’s not a full-time pass rusher.

31. Why are we still doing this? To make the Sin City Raiders feel at home in Texas?

32. Nice of the Giants to actually win on the day they retired Hall of Famer Michael Strahan’s jersey, a courtesy they did not extend to Eli Manning earlier this season.

***

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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

Steelers Place TE Eric Ebron On IR

Following a knee injury Eric Ebron sustained in last week’s loss to the Chargers, the Steelers placed the veteran tight end on injured reserve. His time in Pittsburgh might be over as well.

Surgery has emerged as a possibility; that would most likely put an end to the tight end’s season. Ebron had missed two games earlier in the season with a hamstring injury but had returned to normal snap counts in the past two weeks. Ebron’s two-year Pittsburgh contract expires at season’s end.

Rookie Pat Freiermuth has become the primary tight end for Pittsburgh this year, and the second-round pick will only see his usage increase as a result of Ebron’s absence. Ebron’s production has been limited in his second Steelers season; he has pulled in just 12 receptions for 84 yards and one touchdown. The Steelers also have backups Zach Gentry and Kevin Rader — the latter promoted from the practice squad ahead of Week 12 — to help pick up the slack.

In corresponding moves, Pittsburgh promoted guard John Leglue to the active roster and moved guard J.C. Hassenauer to the IR alongside Ebron. The team also bumped up defensive lineman Daniel Archibong and wide receiver Anthony Miller from its practice squad for week’s matchup against the Bengals.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Activate Minkah Fitzpatrick

The Steelers have activated Minkah Fitzpatrick, per a club announcement. After a short stint on the COVID-19 list, the star defensive back will be eligible to play against the Bengals on Sunday. 

Fitzpatrick tested positive on Nov. 15, forcing him to the reserve list, per the league’s protocols. The Steelers clearly missed him last week against the Chargers, allowing 41 points in a losing effort. They were also without edge rusher T.J. Watt and cornerback Joe Haden, but both players are trending towards returning as well. Watt, who suffered a hip and knee injuries against the Lions, returned to practice on Wednesday. Haden, meanwhile, is expected to practice tomorrow.

Through nine games, Fitzpatrick has 64 tackles, one pass defensed, one tackle for a loss, and one forced fumble. Besides linebacker Joe Schobert, he has more total stops than anyone on the Steelers.

Fitzpatrick has been a cornerstone of the Steelers’ D, ever since the mid-2019 trade that brought him to Pittsburgh. The Steelers sent first-, fifth-, and sixth-round picks to Miami in the trade, but they’d do it again in a heartbeat. In 2020, the 25-year-old tackled on yet another First-Team All-Pro nod with four interceptions, 79 total stops, and eleven passes defensed on the year. He also took one of those interceptions back for a pick six, giving him four defensive TDs for his career.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.