The Most Important Game of Mike Tomlin’s Career

mike tomlin pittsburgh steelers
Photo I shot of Tomlin at camp in Latrobe (2018)

So the 0-3 Steelers will be taking on the 0-3 Cincinnati  Bengals in Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football.  This may be the biggest game of Mike Tomlin’s career.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that if the Steelers lose that the Rooneys will fire Tomlin.  That’s just simply not the way the best owners in football work.  What I’m saying is that one team tomorrow night will pick up significant momentum.  If the Steelers win they are 1-3, only one game out of first place in the AFC North.  Additionally, the Steelers get the Ravens the week after while the Browns head to San Francisco.  That means that back to back division wins and a Niners victory and unimaginably the Steelers could be tied for first place in the AFC North.  On the flipside, the team that loses tomorrow night is 0-4, no 0-4 team has ever made the playoffs.

Contrary to the opinion of a lot of Steelers fans, I like Mike Tomlin and think he’s a pretty good coach.  After 16 seasons, Tomlin has never had a losing season, he’s been to two Superbowls, he’s one and one in the big game.  His career overall winning percentage is .636, with a .644 regular season winning percentage.  Honestly, that’s pretty damn good.  One of Tomlin’s image problems is our expectations as Steeler fans.  To steal one of his phrases, “the standard is the standard,” and in Pittsburgh the standard is a Lombardi Trophy.

The Steelers have been incredibly successful under Tomlin.  But 16 years is a long-time, it’s been too long since there’s been a Superbowl win in Steeltown.  Especially given that for the last few years this team has had three of the best offensive players in the NFL, one of the best NFL offensive lines and has never produced like they should have on paper.  There’s potentially a big rebuild coming.  Ben may or may not return, the offensive line is aging.  It might be the right time to find a new coach to guide the next generation of Steelers forward.

However, if Tomlin gets a win on Monday night, if the Steelers climb back into the divisional race, hell if they make the playoffs, he might be the damn coach of the year this year in the NFL.  So Monday Night Football this week might be the biggest crossroads games of Mike Tomlin’s career.  Here we go!

Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 Practice Squad

pittsburgh Steelers, logo, latrobe

The Pittsburgh Steelers announced their 2019 practice squad today.  Given that Christian Scotland-Williamson has an exemption the Steelers have one spot still open on the squad.  Also, as players mover around the league there is likely to be some additional changes to the squad.

  • Tevin Jones, WR
  • Trey Edmunds, RB
  • Christian Scotland-Williamson, TE (IPP exemption)
  • Kevin Rader, TE
  • Patrick Morris, OL
  • Derwin Gray, OL
  • Henry Mondeaux, DL
  • Robert Spillane, ILB
  • Marcus Allen, S
  • Trevon Mathis, CB

Pittsburgh Steelers 53 – Man Roster

Steelers, nfl

Quarterback (3)

  1. Ben Roethlisberger #7
  2. Mason Rudolph #2
  3. Joshua Dobbs #5

Running Back (3)

  1. James Conner #30
  2. Jaylen Samuels #38
  3. Benny Snell Jr #24

Fullback (1):

  1. Roosevelt Nix #45

Wide Receiver (5)

  1. JuJu Smith-Schuster #19
  2. Donte Moncrief #11
  3. James Washington #13
  4. Diontae Johnson #18
  5. Ryan Switzer #10

Tight End (3)

  1. Vance McDonald #89
  2. Xavier Grimble #85
  3. Zach Gentry #81

Offensive Line (9)

  1. Maurkice Pouncey #53
  2. David DeCastro #66
  3. Ramon Foster #73
  4. Alejandro Villanueva #78
  5. Matt Feiler #71
  6. B.J. Finney #67
  7. Chukwuma Okorafor #76
  8. Zach Banner #72
  9. Fred Johnson #74

 

Defensive Line (6)

  1. Cameron Heyward #97
  2. Stephon Tuitt #91
  3. Javon Hargrave #79
  4. Tyson Alualu #94
  5. Daniel McCullers #93
  6. Isaiah Buggs #96

Outside Linebacker (5)

  1. T.J. Watt #90
  2. Bud Dupree #48
  3. Anthony Chickillo #56
  4. Olasunkanmi Adeniyi #92
  5. Tuzar Skipper #51

Inside Linebacker (5)

  1. Vince Williams #98
  2. Mark Barron #26
  3. Devin Bush #55
  4. Tyler Matakevich #44
  5. Ulysees Gilbert III #54

Cornerback (6)

  1. Joe Haden #23
  2. Steven Nelson #22
  3. Mike Hilton #28
  4. Artie Burns #25
  5. Cameron Sutton #20
  6. Justin Layne #31

Safety (4)

  1. Sean Davis #21
  2. Terrell Edmunds #34
  3. Jordan Dangerfield #37
  4. Kam Kelly #38

Specialists

Placekicker (1)

  1. Chris Boswell #9

Punter (1)

  1. Jordan Berry #4

Long Snapper (1)

  1. Kameron Canaday #57

Pittsburgh Steelers Roster Cuts

steelers

The Steelers have made their cuts, players can sign players to the practice squad starting at noon Sunday.  As I predicted in my last post, Skipper turned out to be impossible to cut.

Steelers also picked up a sixth round pick from Tampa Bay for Jerald Hawkins.

QB Devlin Hodges
RB Trey Edmunds
RB Travon McMillian
RB Malik Williams
WR Diontae Spencer
WR Brandon Reilly
WR Eli Rogers
WR Johnny Holton
WR Brandon Reilly
WR Trey Griffey
WR Tevin Jones
TE Kevin Rader
TE Trevor Wood
TE Micky Crum
TE Christian Scotland-Williamson
OL Derwin Gray
OL JC Hassenauer
OL Damian Prince
OL Garrett Brumfield
C Patrick Morris
DL Winston Craig
DL Greg Gilmore
DL Conor Sheehy
DL Henry Mondeaux
DL Casey Sayles
OLB Jayrone Elliott
OLB Sutton Smith
LB/LS Christian Kuntz
LB Tegray Scales
LB Robert Spillane
CB Trevon Mathis
CB Jhavonte Dean
S Marcus Allen
S Marcelis Branch
S Dravon Askew-Henry
S PJ Locke
K Matthew Wright
P Ian Berryman

Steelers NFL Preseason Game 4

Steelers NFL Preseason Game 4

mason rudolph

So the last preseason game is often a play for your resume kind of experience.  Most of the guys on the field were playing to put something on tape for another team.  Next, guys who are likely heading to the practice squad were playing to make sure they get that offer.  A couple of guys werre trying to get off the bubble and make the 53 man roster.  Finally tonight for the Steelers, Mason Rudolph and Joss Dobbs were making their final arguments for being the team’s backup quarterback.

The resume guys did their thing although honestly, other than Holton, I didn’t see anyone who really set themselves up to get on someone else’s practice squad, possibly Griffey.  It was particularly ugly for Jerald Hawkins and Zach Banner, Hawkins had a holding penalty and completely whiffed on a block that damn near got Devlin Hodges killed.

I didn’t see a lot of movement on the practice squad either, I’ll leave it to other sites to make their predictions on the specifics but a lot of the names that have been thrown around are likely there.  I would like to see a number of outside linebackers on the practice squad to give us some depth.

Of the bubble guys I will say this, it’s going to be really, really hard to cut Skipper.  The kid just keeps coming and I really think has earned a roster spot.

I think the big thing that came out of this game was a solidification of Mason Rudolph as the backup quarterback this year.  Dobbs looked shaky, legs were good as usual but just didn’t look like remotely starting quarterback talent.  Sure, preseason game 4, so terrible line, not the best receivers, but bad defense as well.  Rudolph came in with a similar situation and just looked more composed and in charge of the offense.  A big bomb for a touchdown didn’t hurt and I think the job has got to be his.  Also, given his last two outings, give up any hopes of trading Dobbs which means Devlin Hodges is going to get cut.  Anyone who shows Hodges on the practice squad is someone you should stop reading, never gonna happen.

Enough of garbage time, it’s time to get it on and create some havoc in Foxboro, here we go!

Steelers NFL Preseason Game 3

Steelers NFL Preseason Game 3

Going after the quarterback is like playing kind of the mountain. When you get the quarterback, you’re on top of the mountain. ~ Joe Greene

Finally!  The starters were in for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The first team offense came on the field and stalled, Vance McDonald let a perfect pass slip through his fingers.  A couple of other drops hurt, but on the second drive out of the no huddle, James Connor was James Connor and JuJu was JuJu who broke inside on a nice post pattern for the touchdown.  Maybe more impressive was the o-line that totally manhandled and abused the Titans starting defense.  Then of course the starters began to call it a night.  I’d give the first team offense an A- for the night, the only wrinkle were a couple of drops and things being just a tiny bit off in the passing offense.

The starting defense was even better.  They played solid and sent Mariota out of the game 0 for 3.  Ryan Tannehill fared a bit better but it ended in a lot of field goals.  The Steelers looked good on defense, the pass rush was super.  Heyward, Tuitt and Dupree all got home and Skipper stacked up another strip sack.  The very first non-penalty play on defense was Devin Bush in the backfield making a tackle, starting to look like that 10 spot move in the draft was a damn good idea.

More than anything else tonight the defense looked fast!  Not just Bush, but Edmunds was flying around as were Kelly and Davis.  Some really nice hits across the defense.  If this level of defensive play rolls into the regular season kids, we might just have one helluva season coming.

I think Mason Rudolph has solidified the number 2 quarterback spot.  Not so much because he played spectacularly but because he was again solid.  He made one mistake, or maybe Washington did, they weren’t on the same page and it led to an interception.  But they also connected on a nice deep touchdown pass.  Dobbs was once again Dobbs, one minute brilliant the next a high ball in the red zone leading to an interception.  I don’t think Rudolph has separated himself, I just think he has both a higher upside and has an extra year on his rookie contract.

James Washington once again looked like a stud, he’s playing great and if that rolls over to the regular season we have a lot of weapons for Ben to look for.  Across the board the receivers look good and that’s why we didn’t see the young guys or guys on the bubble until the third quarter.

All in all it was a good audition for the regular season.  However, it’s the New England Patriots in Foxboro week 1, not the Tennessee Titans in the preseason.  Quite honestly the first three games of the season are going to be tough, and the first six no picnic.  If the Steelers are 3-3 at that point, could be a solid year.  If they’re 4-2 at that point, start thinking superbowl.

 

The Most Important Game of Mason Rudolph’s Life

The Most Important Game of Mason Rudolph’s Life

mason rudolph

Give me a 6 pack, half-hour of rest and lets go play them again – We can beat them.                     ~ Jack Lambert

So tomorrow night the NFL preseason continues and the Pittsburgh Steelers will be playing the Kansas City Chiefs.  Now that camp has ended, the battle for the backup quarterback position for the Steelers fires off in earnest.  All reports from camp have been that Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph have both been having a good camp.  Rudolph perhaps has had a slight edge and looked like a better passer last week.  However Dobbs has an extra dimension, he showed that with his legs last week, and so even after the first preseason game there isn’t a ton of separation between the two.  That’s why tomorrow night is so important for both of them.

Game 3 of the preseason will be the test run for the starters, so there will be limited time for Dobbs and Rudolph.  Game 4 will be the Hodge’s show, with the surprising number four quarterback getting to audition for the rest of the league with a bunch of guys doing the same, guys desperate for a special teams roster spot or just plain ending their NFL fantasy.  So that leaves tomorrow night’s game and the practice field and game play weighs a lot more in the coaching staff’s decision.

I predict that if Mason Rudolph has a great game tomorrow night he will be the backup for the Steelers this season.  I think it also means that Josh Dobbs becomes trade bait and gives Hodges a shot at being the number three quarterback for the Steelers.  However, if Rudolph doesn’t have a great game, or if he and Dobbs look to be on the same level, I believe Rudolph will once again be the number three quarterback and that’s really bad for his career.  Potentially leading to being a career backup with no hopes of becoming a starter, anywhere.

So while there will be a lot to watch for tomorrow night, particularly at outside linebacker, tight end and receiver, the real battle tomorrow night will be Rudolph and Dobbs.  I’ve made no secret that I think Rudolph is the better choice.  In my piece about the Tennessee Volunteer to the Steeler connection, I talk about how inconsistent Dobbs was at Tennessee, one series looking brilliant and the next three completely lost.  We’ve seen that a bit at the NFL level as well, which makes me think he doesn’t have what it takes to be a long-term (4 games or more) solution if Big Ben gets hurt during the season.  But it’s up to Mason Rudolph tomorrow night, he has to show he’s got the goods.

Preseason NFL: Steeler Game 1

Preseason NFL: Steelers Game 1

Steelers, nfl

Ahhhh, football is back!

Ok, sure it’s preseason, so we’re not talking about wins and loses. The big guns are on the bench. So it’s time to check out the young guns, the camp battles, the camp phenoms and the Cinderellas.

THE young gun is first round pick Devin Bush. He was absolutely as billed, fast, furious and flying to the ball, 7 solo and 3 assisted tackles, great start. Just missed a pick 6!

Benny Snell was a little slow, but kept coming all game, great start.  Justin Layne similarly improved,  he was terrible in the 1st quarter, way too much cushion.

For the receivers, James Washington played a great game. Horton can fly, Tevon Jones looked good in garbage time.

On the defense,  Big Dan continues to play well, but Dirty Red was wreaking havoc including a sack/fumble.

All of the QBs looked, no real separation between Rudolph and Dobbs. Rudolph is throwing a bit better but Dobbs’ legs bring an extra dimension.

Surprise of the night had to be Spillane, good in coverage,  caused a fumble on a kickoff and was around the ball a lot. Skipper looked good on the pass rush, should have been 2 sacks except for intentional grounding.

All in all a typical first pre-season game but it’s good to have football back.

 

Steeler Post Draft Analysis

Steeler Post Draft Analysis

devin bush, steelers, nfl

Give me a 6 pack, half-hour of rest and lets go play them again – We can beat them.                      ~ Jack Lambert

The NFL draft is over and it’s time to take a look at what the Steelers did and how it should impact the upcoming season.  Of course the roster is not completely set for camp, rookie mini-camp shook some things up and there still could be some other moves to come, although if history is any guide the roster is 99% set.

The NFL Draft

First let’s get the facts out of the way, the following is a list of the NFL draft day picks for the Steelers:

  • No. 10: Devin Bush, ILB, Michigan
  • No. 66: Diontae Johnson, WR, Toledo
  • No. 83: Justin Layne, CB, Michigan State
  • No. 122: Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky
  • No. 141: Zach Gentry, TE, Michigan
  • No. 175: Sutton Smith, OLB, Northern Illinois
  • No. 192: Isaiah Buggs, DT, Alabama
  • No. 207: Ulysees Gilbert, LB, Akron
  • No. 219: Derwin Gray, T, Maryland

As I posted before the draft, I was content to see the Steelers wait til 20 in round 1.  But I have to say I was really excited to see us move up and take Devin Bush at 10.  This guy is a three-down inside linebacking speed machine with a good head for the game.  He’s the inside linebacker replacement for Ryan Shazier that we’ve all been waiting for.  The cost was effectively a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pick, hopefully, and I expect it, to be worth it.

Diontae Johnson was not a surprise to me when I heard the analysts say one thing on draft day.  One commentator stated that he thought Diontae Johnson may be the most complete route runner in the draft.  The reason this made me think the Steelers would pick him was that last year Ben Roethlisberger’s biggest complaint about receivers coming out of college was that they didn’t know the complete route tree.  Given this, I think there is a good chance we see Johnson on the field sooner than later.

Justin Layne was a great pick!  Likely they had a first or second round rating on him and he’s got size, speed and talent, he could be Joe Haden’s future replacement and his presence ups the competition for the DB’s on the roster.

Big Benny Snell, in my pre-draft piece I said the Steelers should take him and I’m so happy they did.  Snell will be a great addition to an already talented young running back room.  I’m very excited for hopefully a renewed focus on the run game this year.

Ok, let’s face it the rest of the picks are depth picks, you hope that some of these guys develop well enough to provide depth and special teams support and maybe even develop eventually into a starter, but not a lot of reason to talk about them until we see what they do in the actual training camp.

The Undrafted Free Agents

So here is the list of the Pittsburgh Steeler undrafted free agents

 

  • Jay Hayes, DE, Georgia
  • Chris Nelson, DL, Texas
  • Travon McMillian, RB, Colorado
  • Alex Myers, DB, Houston
  • Dravon Askew-Henry, S, West Virginia
  • Ian Berryman, P, Western Carolina
  • Matthew Wright, K, Central Florida
  • Trevor Wood, TE/LS, Texas A&M
  • Garrett Brumfield, G, LSU
  • Fred Johnson, G, Florida

 

The same thing applies to this list as the late round draft picks, not much of a reason discussing them until we see what happens in camp.

 

Pre Training Camp Roster Analysis

So an active year for the Steelers, some high profile departures in Bell and Brown and some free agent moves (Barron, Montcrief and Nelson).  I personally believe the organization did a good job of putting together a solid roster for the upcoming camp and season.

The “expert” NFL talking heads of course disagree, the Steelers are broadly being panned as done, the third best team in the AFC North with the Browns winning the division and by Peter King today as the 18th best team in the NFL.  My favorite is the discussion of how the Browns are the new AFC dynasty, not Patriot level, but the next AFC dynasty.  Google, Browns NFL dynasty, you’ll be shocked at how many people are writing about this.  Of course keep in mind these folks are paid to get clicks not necessarily be right.  But c’mon, a dynasty with a second year quarterback, a head coach with 2 months of in-season experience and absolutely no defensive depth.  Sure, lots of talent, but an injury or two on defense and this team will need to score 35 points a game to win.  As for the Ravens, well Jackson is the solution to all of the Raven’s ills, the only question I have is can he play inside linebacker?  The Ravens have revamped the defense after some free-agent losses and are really depending on some young receivers to take the target off of Jackson.  I think, after now having some tape on Jackson, he’ll still be good, but not quite the weapon he was last year.  As for the Bungles, well, basically every writer just bags on Andy Dalton, calls them the Bungles and moves on, hard to disagree.

Cleveland Brown dynasty aside, I think the Steelers will win the AFC North this year.  Why?

Well, first there will be less drama, secondly, we’re not replacing Bell and Brown.  We replaced Bell last year and yes, there is a whole lot of AB production to be replaced.  However, some of that production can be replaced in the running game.  Also, we don’t need someone to make 115 catches this year to replace AB.  We need more emphasis on the run, and then for MacDonald to up his production and for Washington, Johnson and Montcrief or a subset of them to have really solid year.  Then of course just let JuJu be JuJu.

Secondly, we should have a much better defense this year.  We’re better in the middle, we’re better at corner and have depth at both.  Barring injuries, this should be a very good defense this year.  I agree with the over/under of 9 wins for the season, it’s a solid prediction. And then, a guy like Bush, when he starts flying around, much like Shazier did, can energize a defense.  That of course would mean the offense needs to put up less points to win.  Most importantly, when you have a future hall of fame quarterback you’re never out of a game.

If a few things happen, a lack of significant serious injuries, Bush playing as advertised, Washington making a good second year leap and Neslon being a solid starting corner on the outside, then this could be a Super Bowl team.  And a Super Bowl team that looks a lot more like the Steelers of old, more of a pounding running game and a voracious defense.  Let’s hope so.

 

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