Realistic expectations for the Steelers offense in 2020

Pittsburgh Steelers v New England PatriotsPhoto by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

What should the be the expectations of the offense going into this season?

As much as the Steelers offense sputtered in 2019, expecting everything to fall back into place would be setting the team up for failure. So what should fans realistically expect from various positions going into 2020?

Quarterback

Heading into 2020, the Steelers are operating with the assumption they will have a fully healthy Ben Roethlisberger. It may be hard for the Steelers to truly know how healthy Ben is due to restrictions with Covid-19. While Roethlisberger does not participate in every practice during training camp or game in the preseason, this offseason was going to be especially crucial for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Their defense is Super Bowl caliber today, but overall team success will solely be on the shoulders of number 7.

Running Back

Pittsburgh has acknowledged they need to get better at running the football. This proud franchise had once established an identity of great defense and running the football. Obviously the game has changed, but for the Steelers, finishing 28th in rushing is unacceptable. When Ben went down, everything changed for the Steelers offensively and it was never going to put up the numbers it was capable of with Roethlisberger than without. The return of Big Ben makes everyone’s job easier and will certainly help out the running game. Given the potential for a shortened preseason and/or training camp, I expect the Steelers to go back to old school Steelers football. Don’t expect 40 rushing attempts a game, but I certainly expect the pass to run ratio a lot closer to 50/50 than in recent years when Roethlisberger was healthy. Kevin Colbert can say they think Ben may come back better than he was pre-surgery, but it does not mean they need to go out and throw the ball 40 times a game either.

Defense

A good defense can help build a good offense. To me, this is the key for the Steelers offense heading into 2020. Their defense is stout enough that the offense just needs to not turn the ball over and score at least 20-24 points a game. The Steelers are in win now mode and their defense is championship caliber, so the offense just needs to be slightly above average. I hate to use this term for Roethlisberger, but he needs to be a great game manager and utilize his elite defense.

Wide Receivers

It is fair to assume JuJu Smith-Schuster will also have a strong bounce-back year after an extremely disappointing 2019 campaign. JuJu dealt with injuries all year and suffered from inconsistent quarterback play. He will also be entering the final year of his rookie contract and if the Steelers do not extend him prior to the start of the 2020 season, he will just have more motivation to bounce back. Diontae Johnson had a great rookie season all things considered. Pittsburgh found another receiver gem in the middle rounds with Johnson. He figures to put up monster numbers with the return of Roethlisberger. James Washington also figures to develop more with Ben returning as Washington’s conditioning and work going into last season really paid off.

Tight End

Eric Ebron was signed as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, giving the Steelers a weapon at the tight end position they have not had since Heath Miller retired. Ebron is not Miller because he is not as complete of a tight end like Miller was, but his athletic ability as a pass catcher is something the Steelers have simply not had. He will drop the occasional pass, but if the Steelers get the 2018 version of Ebron, they will be very pleased.

Over All

Expect Roethlisberger’s return to have a huge impact not only on offense but for the whole team heading into 2020. Putting all these things together while not asking Ben to do everything will ultimately determine the Steelers success throughout the season and beyond.

At the NBA restart, team equipment is a challenge to manage

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Rob Pimental spent a good amount of time thinking about everything the Miami Heat would need for what could be a three-month trip to Walt Disney World.

He is the Heat equipment manager. Every jersey, sock, sneaker, whatever the team needs, it’s his responsibility to have it ready. So, when it came time to figure out what was getting packed for Disney, Pimental came to a realization.

“Pretty much everything,” said Pimental, who confessed to having a few sleepless nights of worrying. “I’m the type of guy who wants everything on hand, so I literally packed up my entire equipment room and brought it with me.”

He’s not alone.

All 22 teams in the NBA restart had to pack more than ever, for a road trip like none other. Every team is assured of spending at least five weeks at Disney, and some could

Terrelle Pryor Attempting Comeback

Things have not gone well for Terrelle Pryor lately. Following a terrific 2016 campaign with the Browns — his first full season as a wide receiver after converting from the quarterback position — Pryor badly misjudged the free agent market for his services. He was hoping for a long-term deal worth about $15MM per season, but when that didn’t materialize, he eschewed the multi-year offers he did have to take a one-year, $8MM contract with the Redskins.

He hoped that, if he built on his breakout effort in Cleveland and proved that it wasn’t a fluke, he would land a $15MM/year deal the following offseason. But his one year in Washington didn’t go as planned, as he played in just nine games (two starts) and caught 20 passes for 240 yards and a TD. He was hampered by an ankle injury for most of the season and ultimately landed on IR.

So instead of getting the massive payday he was seeking in the 2018 offseason, he settled for a one-year, $4.5MM pact with the Jets. He lasted just six games with Gang Green, catching 14 passes for 235 yards and two TDs. A groin injury slowed him a bit, and he was released in October 2018. The division-rival Bills scooped him up shortly thereafter, but he played just two games for Buffalo before being cut again.

Pryor signed with the Jaguars in May 2019, but he never played a regular season game for them. He was put on IR during final cutdowns and released several days later.

In November, Pryor was stabbed in the shoulder and chest by a woman in an incident that saw both parties criminally charged. Pryor, though, tells TMZ Sports that he is fully healthy and is ready for a chance to resume his NFL career.

He says he has been in contact with five teams, including the Patriots, about a potential contract. We don’t know who the other four teams are, but Pryor indicated he would also like to play for his hometown Steelers.

New England, though, seems like a better fit. Pryor’s abilities as a deep threat — assuming he still has them — would complement the rest of the Pats’ pass catchers nicely, and on paper it looks like New England needs more receiving help than Pittsburgh.

Regardless, it will take only a minimum commitment for any team to bring Pryor into the fold. Given his recent history, though, the 31-year-old may need to wait until COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted so he can prove to interested clubs that he’s ready to go.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Best and worst case scenarios for the Steelers record in 2020

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

PFF released their projected best and worst case records for each team, and given Pittsburgh’s less than stellar projections, are the Steelers destined for another average season?

The 2020 NFL season is surrounded by a cloud of uncertainty. As other leagues across America are scrambling to begin playing again, the NFL has remained optimistic they will start on time. But whether or not that will be possible remains very much in the air. I think most NFL fans can agree that no football in 2020 would be a worst-case scenario for the Steelers, but if the season does take place, what would realistic worst case, and best case, scenarios look like?

Earlier this week, Pro Football Focus released their projections for these best and worst case situations. Through their research and development team they were able to perform a large number of simulations which predicted how each game would end up. They then used those results to predict what a season in which everything goes right, or everything goes wrong, for a team would look like. Much to my dismay, their projections for the Steelers did not show a high amount of optimism for the team this season. Here’s what they had to say:

10th percentile outcome: 5-11

How they get there: Ben Roethlisberger isn’t the same guy upon his return. Either he is rendered unavailable by another injury or he continues the downward trend we saw from 2017 (86.5 PFF grade) to 2018 (78.2 PFF grade). In both cases, this offense is in trouble. The Steelers would be hard-pressed to field a worse offense than their 2019 unit — a group that ranked dead last in expected points added per play — but even more things going wrong could lead to a result like this. The turnovers they secured in bunches in 2019 aren’t there anymore, and their success in close games swings in the opposite direction.

90th percentile outcome: 10-6

How they get there: Roethlisberger’s return makes this offense viable again, which is all it needs to be with one of the better defenses in the NFL returning. The pass rush may have lost Javon Hargrave, but it returns a healthy Stephon Tuitt — who was enjoying a tremendous start to his 2019 season before going down with an injury. It’s a pass rush that led the NFL in team pressure rate last season. The secondary, anchored by Minkah Fitzpatrick, Joe Haden and Steven Nelson, continues to build on its strong play, and very few teams have much success against the unit as a whole.

To be fair, these predictions did not take into account the top 10% and bottom 10% of simulations. There were probably a few simulations which had the Steelers win 12, 13, or even 14 games, but since it occurred such a small percentage of the time, they considered them to be outliers and left them out. Still, considering the Steelers went 8-8 last season without their quarterback and with numerous other injuries plaguing the team, these projected win totals seem awfully low. Other teams with the same upper and lower limits for their win totals include the Lions, Bears, Cardinals, Falcons, Redskins, Eagles, Raiders, Broncos, Dolphins, and Bills. While a few of these teams should certainly have similar predictions as the Steelers (The Eagles and Bills, for instance) the fact that the Redskins and Dolphins are being given the same minimum and maximum win totals as the Steelers is somewhat ridiculous. Obviously these are just best and worst case scenarios and not an indication of what the actual predicted win total is for these teams, but it is still shocking to see the Steelers in the same boat as some of the NFL’s weakest teams.

In terms of a worst-case scenario season, I can’t see how anyone could predict a 5-11 season from this Steelers team. For starters, they are being coached by a man who has never had a losing season in 13 years with the team. Last season may have been the best example of his inability to finish worse than 8-8 as despite a 1-4 start and lack of starting quarterback he still managed to finish at .500. This season, they are getting back that starting quarterback and are keeping almost all of their key pieces on both sides of the ball. Even if Ben Roethlisberger isn’t the same player he was before his injury, it’s hard to see him playing worse than last year’s quarterbacks especially with the cast of developing offensive playmakers around him. Considering Juju Smith-Schuster and James Conner both also missed significant time last season, it’s hard to imagine a world where the Steelers finish with a significantly worse record than their 2019 campaign. Even in a worst case scenario, a 5-11 record just doesn’t seem realistic.

At the other extreme, 10-6 seems like a pretty low cap for a team that’s getting back and adding so much talent this season. It wouldn’t be surprising if Ben Roethlisberger returns playing at or even above his level of play from 2018 when he threw for over 5000 yards. The Steelers defense has no real holes for the first time in years, so if the offense can return to their 2017/18 form, why can’t the Steelers win 12 or 13 games. Given that the Bears won 12 games back in 2018 with Mitch Trubisky at the helm, there’s no reason the Steelers star-studded defense can’t carry them to that same total. Additionally, the Steelers have one of the easiest strength of schedules for this season. If you base it off of last year’s winning percentages, in the entire NFL only the Ravens have an easier schedule than the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s opponents have a combined 2019 win percentage of just .457 so 10 wins just seems like a very conservative “best case scenario” for a team with so many things going for them in 2020. I’m not going to say an undefeated season is at all realistic, but I also don’t think it’s unlikely that the Steelers only lose 4 or 5 games and enter the playoffs as the 2 or 3 seed in the AFC.

So what do you think a realistic ceiling for the 2020 Steelers? And what about a floor? Let us know in the comments.

Basketball you can watch today: Draft prospect Deni Avdija in action and semifinals in The Tournament

By | July 12, 2020

There’s nothing like NBA basketball, but if you want to get your hoops fix somehow, there are some pro competitions underway around the world with a bunch of players you will recognize.

These are today’s contests in The Tournament, Israel, China and New Zealand.

THE TOURNAMENT

4:00 pm: Golden Eagles vs. Red Scare (ESPN)
Players of NBA interest: Former Laker Darius Johnson-Odom, former Raptor Dwight Buycks, former Clipper Jamil Wilson, former Pacer Travis Diener

6:00 pm: Overseas Elite vs. Sideline Cancer (ESPN)
Players of NBA interest: Seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson, former Celtic Jordan Crawford, former Kings Pooh Jeter and Bobby Brown, former Cavalier DJ Kennedy, former Magic Jamel Artis, former Clipper Diamond Stone

ISRAEL

12:25 am: Hapoel Jerusalem vs. Hapoel Holon (Winner League TV)
Players of NBA interest: Former Cavalier John Holland, former Grizzly Jeremy Pargo, former Nugget Emmanuel Terry, potential

Keep reading this article on HoopsHype - NBA.

LeBron won't wear social justice message on Lakers jersey

LeBron James says his thoughts on social justice can’t be contained on the back of a basketball jersey.

The Los Angeles Lakers superstar won’t wear one of the NBA-approved social justice messages on the back of his jersey when the NBA resumes competition later this month in the Orlando bubble.

“It was no disrespect to the list that was handed down to all the players,” James said Saturday in a confernece call from Florida. “I commend anyone that decides to put something on the back of their jersey. It’s just something that didn’t seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal.”

As part of the NBA’s recognition of the nationwide invigoration of the social justice movement sparked by the death of George Floyd, NBA players are allowed to choose from a lengthy list of possible messages for their jerseys during the league’s restart. James is among just a few who

Where do Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell rank among most prolific lob duos?

By | July 11, 2020

As the Utah Jazz now resume basketball activities, there are major issues they need to fix regarding stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.

After so much time off due to the coronavirus pandemic, there will be a lot to iron out for all rosters. But the recent gap also exposed some harsh truths about the two best players on the Jazz.

In a recent story, Tim MacMahon reported that Gobert feels he should receive more lobs from Mitchell (via ESPN):

“Gobert rarely hesitates to let teammates know if they miss him when he is open around the rim. He’ll occasionally point up during play in animated fashion, sometimes as he is running back on defense, to note that a lob should have been thrown …  Gobert knows his lobbying for lobs wears on teammates to the point of

Keep reading this article on HoopsHype - NBA.

Steelers’ Bud Dupree Files Grievance

Less than an hour after news emerged of Shaquil Barrett‘s grievance to be tagged as a defensive end, Bud Dupree followed suit. The Steelers’ franchise-tagged linebacker file a grievance to be tagged as a D-end, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

Dupree signed his tender earlier this offseason. He stands to make $15.8MM on the linebacker tag. This year’s defensive end tag is worth $17.8MM.

Regarding a long-term deal, Dupree and the Steelers are not close on numbers, per Rapoport. While Dupree did not submit a stunning breakout season in 2019, he did register a career-high 11.5 sacks — 5.5 more than the former first-round pick’s previous single-season best. It would make sense if the Steelers sought a rental season to see if the inconsistent pass rusher can replicate his 2019 performance.

The three 3-4 outside linebackers to be tagged this year — Barrett, Dupree and Matt Judon — have either filed grievances or saw a preemptive pay raise. The Ravens gave Judon a $1MM raise from the linebacker tag, agreeing to pay him $16.8MM on his tag this season. It doesn’t hurt for Dupree to push for a similar arrangement, even if the sixth-year defender does not win a grievance.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Biggest early NBA surprises and disappointments so far

Which NBA teams and players have surprised the most after one week of basketball? Who have been the biggest disappointments?

Only four teams (the Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets) remain undefeated, and the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans are still looking for victories.

Our experts answer the big questions about the season so far, including big takeaways, best rookies and do-over predictions.

More: NBA Power Rankings | Reunion tour


1. What has been your biggest takeaway from the first week of games?

Bobby Marks: Three teams projected to finish at the bottom of their conferences — Minnesota, Cleveland and Phoenix — failed to get the message. The general manager of a playoff squad told me last week that the teams with new head coaches and low expectations are the ones you do not want to face early in the season. Teams with a fresh start can surprise before the middle part of the season, when losing becomes a habit and players start looking toward the offseason.

Royce Young: It was hard not to leave the arena somewhat affected by the Golden State Warriors‘ dismal performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. Their first half was one of the worst you’re ever going to see an NBA team play, in all facets: rebounding, defense, turnovers, shooting, dribbling, running, walking. The Warriors rallied Monday against New Orleans, and they are dealing with injuries at key spots, but the abrupt fall from clear contender to this is still jarring.

Andrew Lopez: The East might be a little bit deeper than we thought. Philadelphia and Milwaukee were expected to waltz to the conference finals, but that might not be the case. The defending champion Raptors aren’t going away easily. Miami is quietly cooking down in South Beach. Trae Young has looked mighty good, and Detroit might even make some noise with the way Derrick Rose and Andre Drummond are playing.

Tim Bontemps: The 76ers are going to win a lot of games in very ugly fashion. Philadelphia’s size across the board gives the team a chance to end this season with the NBA’s best defense, which will likely need to be the case given that Philly can’t shoot. The Sixers have gone 31-for-104 from deep so far, but with their size and defense, it isn’t going to matter most nights.

Kevin Pelton: NBA teams are pushing the pace even further. This time last year, there were an average of 105.4 possessions per 48 minutes for each team, portending the league’s jump over 100 possessions per 48-minute game for the first time in nearly three decades. That’s up again so far this year, with an average of 106.3 possessions per 48 minutes. Although pace tends to drop over the course of the season, we’re still likely in for our fastest season in recent memory.


2. What has been the biggest surprise so far?

Lopez: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but it looks like early reports of the Spurs’ demise have been greatly exaggerated. Every season, people try to say the end of the Spurs is imminent, and every season, San Antonio seems to bounce right back. San Antonio went 3-0 in the opening week, and FiveThirtyEight still gives the team just a 15% chance to make the playoffs.

Marks: The Suns. Their biggest offseason addition was not Ricky Rubio, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes or Kelly Oubre. That honor goes to new head coach Monty Williams. In Saturday’s win against the LA Clippers without Rubio and Deandre Ayton, Williams used the next-man-up approach in steering the team to a win. Remember this is the same Phoenix that didn’t win its second game until Nov. 2 last year.

Young: I predicted they’d get the East’s last playoff spot, but the Atlanta Hawks look like they’re taking a real step forward. For every young team, it has to come at some point … or not at all. The Hawks look like a group of young, talented players who are developing while learning how to win. Trae Young has a great chance to be an All-Star, and 40 wins doesn’t feel at all unattainable.

Pelton: Even though I was higher on the Suns than most because of their strong statistical projections, I didn’t expect them to start 2-2 against a difficult schedule with a win over the Clippers and a pair of one-point losses to Denver and Utah. Phoenix has been shockingly competent on defense and has thus far survived Ayton’s suspension without missing a beat.

Bontemps: Miami Heat rookie Kendrick Nunn. Nunn’s going from barely starting in the G League last season to averaging more than 22 PPG is the latest impressive success story for Miami’s player development department. Even when Jimmy Butler comes back following the birth of his child, Nunn will be a starter or remain a core part of Miami’s rotation.

(Nunn ended up in the G League after going undrafted in 2018 in part because of a 2016 guilty plea to a lesser charge of misdemeanor battery stemming from an incident in which a woman told police that he choked her during a dispute over an unpaid debt. Nunn denied choking her but admitted to pouring water on her head during the argument.)

3. What has been the biggest disappointment so far?

Pelton: Despite a comfortable win Monday over a short-handed Pelicans squad, I’m still going with the Warriors, who have the NBA’s third-worst point differential (minus-12.0 PPG). Although hot opponent 3-point shooting isn’t sustainable and Golden State will get healthier in the frontcourt, the lack of competitive fight in the team’s first two losses was shocking to see. It forced Steve Kerr to play his “break glass in case of emergency” option and turn to Draymond Green at center far earlier than he wanted.

Lopez: I didn’t know where to put the Kings before the season, but I didn’t think they’d end up getting blown out by the Suns on opening night. The Kings followed that with a 10-point loss to Portland before a 113-81 loss to Utah. Sacramento put up a fight against Denver on Monday before falling to 0-4. Things don’t look so bright in Sactown early this season.

Bontemps: I was out on the Pacers to begin with, but this has been a truly dreadful start. Two losses to the Detroit Pistons without Blake Griffin and being blown out by the Cleveland Cavaliers — perhaps the league’s worst team — is far from the way the Pacers hoped to start, even with Victor Oladipo sidelined. The Pacers badly miss Bojan Bogdanovic, and they’ve continued their blah offensive performances from the previous season. They have several more soft games coming up to try to get themselves right. Indiana better do it quickly.

Young: Zion Williamson‘s injury. The Pelicans mostly have been competitive without him, but not having Zion has been a major bummer for them and the league. The Pelicans need to tread some water in the weeks they’ll be without him, or they risk falling into a tough hole in a deep Western Conference. That’s especially important for a young team trying to find its way.

Marks: Sacramento. The Kings look more like a team that will be analyzing lottery combinations than one competing for a final playoff spot. They rank near the bottom in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Even the backcourt of the future of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield looks less than formidable. Because the Kings have been so poor on defense, they can’t generate as many fast break points as they did last season, when they ranked first in the league.


4. Which rookie has made the best first impression?

Pelton: Nunn has made the most of his opportunity as a starter in Miami, averaging 22.3 PPG while making 58% of his 2-point attempts and 42% of his 3s. I’d like to see Nunn look to make more plays for teammates, but that won’t matter if he remains so efficient as a scorer.

Lopez: Yeah, take a bow, Kendrick Nunn. He showed out in the preseason with a 40-point contest against Houston and has made the most of Jimmy Butler’s paternity leave with efficient shooting in 31.7 minutes per night.

Marks: Agreed on Nunn. His play — and the early returns on Tyler Herro — make veteran guard Dion Waiters expendable, though Waiters is likely close to untradable.

Bontemps: Nunn has been terrific, but I can’t help but pick Ja Morant after watching what he did again the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday. Not only did Morant make a game-tying shot late in regulation, but he also blocked Kyrie Irving‘s potential game-winning jumper and assisted Jae Crowder on the clincher in overtime. The Grizzlies are in good hands with him running the show for years to come.

Young: Morant’s closing sequence in regulation against Kyrie and the Nets is going to stick in a lot of people’s minds all the way to Rookie of the Year voting. That’s the kind of early statement that can build momentum and carry throughout the season. One less splashy name: Rui Hachimura, who looks smooth and versatile as a hybrid 3/4 in Washington.


5. You get one preseason prediction do-over. What is it?

Bontemps: I thought the Bulls had a chance to be pretty good and contend for a playoff spot. That isn’t looking so hot after they lost to the Hornets, barely beat the Grizzlies, got pounded at home by the Raptors and blew a lead against the Knicks. Unless things change quickly, this could be another lost season for Chicago.

Young: The Warriors making the playoffs. It feels knee-jerky, but like I said, I was affected seeing it firsthand. If things get worse, there has to be some consideration to peeling back, resting Steph Curry and Draymond Green periodically and tanking the season. It takes all pressure off Klay Thompson to return quickly, letting the team focus on the young players and target a lottery pick to prepare for a retool.

Lopez: Before Zion Williamson’s knee injury, he was my pick for Rookie of the Year. Then I changed it to Michael Porter Jr. With my third shot at this, let me move on to Morant. In his first three games, Morant is averaging 18 points and six assists per game while shooting 51.2% overall and 50% from 3. Perhaps the most impressive thing has been his basketball IQ. His dish to Crowder for the game winner on Sunday was a veteran move.

Marks: Although my early July prediction of Golden State not making the playoffs is trending toward likely, I’ve missed the mark (so far) on the Kings getting in. If there were a do-over, Sacramento would be out, and the Mavericks would get the nod. Luka Doncic looks like an All-Star, and the return of Kristaps Porzingis has the Mavericks with two bona fide franchise players. This roster is deep enough to sustain an injury and still compete in the West for a 7- or 8-seed.

Pelton: If I were picking my eight West playoff teams today, I wouldn’t include the Warriors.

More: NBA Power Rankings | Reunion tour