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February 5, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Jordan Berry believes he had what it takes to break Steelers punting curse

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Post prologue: Click here to listen to this week’s episode of the Steelers Roundtable Show. Ralph Paulk and I are in the palatial TribLive Radio studios on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, while a sleepy Mark Kaboly joins us live from his hotel room bed (before 6 a.m.) in Northern California, where he is covering Super Bowl 50 for the Tribune-Review. We preview the game and chat 2016 Steelers issues.

 

 

2015 Preseason Carolina at Pittsburgh

 

 

The results of Jordan Berry’s first season were mixed – the Steelers punter flashed potential, but lacked consistency. While fans might  have opinions, the team’s front office will make its thoughts known in the coming seven months.

 

But does Berry himself believe he’s shown – and has – what it takes to, at last, become the Steelers’ longterm answer at what has been a revolving door of a position?

 

“Definitely,” he told me. “It’s something where you love to do it and if you can try to stay in one spot, that’s definitely better. I feel like overall I had a pretty decent year this year; obviously I was not as consistent as I would like. But I feel like I can build on that and come back next year stronger if I keep working at it.”

 

Berry had surgery performed on his right shoulder less than week after injuring it during the Steelers’ divisional playoff loss to the Denver Broncos last month. By all accounts, it was a successful procedure that shouldn’t affect his preparations for the 2016 season all that much (aren’t all surgeries initially reported that way?), and there’s no reason to believe Berry will be prevented from being the Steelers punter for their regular-season opener the second weekend of September.

 

That said, it’s no slam dunk he will hold onto the job.

 

I’ve written about this before, but in the nine seasons Mike Tomlin has been coach of the Steelers, he has used nine punters: Daniel Sepulveda, Mitch Berger, Paul Ernster, Jeremy Kapinos, Drew Butler, Zoltan Mesko, Matt McBriar, Brad Wing and Berry. The gig has changed hands 12 times (three times because of injury, eight due to performance and then the trade of Wing at the end of last training camp… which, in some ways, could be attributed to performance because Berry had beaten him out).

 

What makes the revolving door at punter under Tomlin so fascinating is that he spent two draft picks (using one to trade up in the fourth round) to take a punter during his first draft. He clearly believed/hoped Sepulveda would stabilize the gig for a decade or so. Sepulveda, though, battled injuries and inconsistency over a five-year career in which he punted in just 52 games.

 

Not unlike Berry’s first season…

 

The good:

  • His 28-to-2 ratio of punts landing inside the 20 vs. those that went for touchbacks was one of the best in the league (he was 11th in inside-the-20 kicks and only two punters had fewer touchbacks)
  • That was a big part of Berry having only 19 punts returned against him – by far the fewest in the league and the best ratio of non-returned punts in the league.
  • That ties into the 21 fair catches Berry induced; considering he only punted 59 times, that ratio also led the NFL.

 

The bad:

  • Berry finished 24th in the league in net average (39.1 yards).

 

The ugly:

  • There were 32 punters for the 32 teams in the NFL this season that punted at least 56 times. Berry finished 31st of those 32 in gross average (42.6 yards).

 

 

Berry did not have a touchdown return against (of course, that’s largely attributable to the coverage team, but he deserves a measure of the credit, too), and the 165 total return yards on his punts was fourth-fewest among the league’s kickers. He also did not have a punt blocked and had the longest punt in the NFL this season (79 yards against Arizona).

 

All, good.

 

But, by the “eye test,” Berry also had way too many botched kicks off that didn’t travel far enough. There aren’t easily-accessible stats for this, but everybody remembers the two punts of 27 yards from the Steelers’ own territory during their playoff loss at Denver. They were the sort of kicks that, quite frankly, happened too often this past season.

 

So, how does Berry intend on addressing that?

 

“It’s just reps and a mental process getting it right,” Berry said “It’s just sticking to this pro-style punting which I didn’t do a whole lot of in college. This was really my first year of doing that by itself and all the different situations you get put in: whether it’s a strong crosswind, or cold, or the heat and al that sort of stuff. Just getting those reps in all those situations; this year was very valuable for that. So I think next year while now I have a lot of that under my belt I should be able to come out a lot stronger and be a lot more consistent.”

 

Another year of being more fully immersed in “pro-style” punting (as opposed to the “Aussie” style he was able to use in college and, of course, growing up in Australia) should benefit Berry in 2016. As will the fact that he is signed by the Steelers as a fully-rostered player this spring and summer. That by no means is a guarantee he will earn the job – Berry is the favorite and expected to, but don’t be shocked if the Steelers add a punter to push him in camp. Still, his plight in 2016 is nowhere near as daunting than it was last year, when he was desperate to impress a team, meaning he had to be constantly kicking. The relative “rest” could pay dividends later, he says.

 

“Last year, I am trying to be like in sort of that high-performance level from all the way back in January right through,” Berry told me, “so I couldn’t take some time off and really get prepped for the season properly. This year, I’ll just be trying to compete for the job (merely) before we actually start the season.”

 

 

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January 30, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Delayed free agency? Mike Adams takes it in stride — and the Steelers might benefit

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Post prologue: Just because the Steelers season ended doesn’t mean that TribLive Radio’s Steelers Roundtable did. Ralph Paulk, Mark Kaboly and I tackle the conference championship games and how close the Steelers are/were to being at that level. Click here to listen.

 

 

 

Adams

 

Professional athletes only get so many chances to test their worth on the open market, just a finite number of opportunities to theoretically play wherever they want.

 

For Mike Adams, that precious occasion was lost – or, at least, delayed for a year.

 

Our Mark Kaboly was the first to report, back in December, that an obscure stipulation in the collective bargaining agreement meant that Adams would NOT become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Adams wasn’t around much during the designated open locker room sessions for the media this season to get his reaction, but I finally caught up to him the day after the Steelers’ season ended.

 

If Adams was perturbed by the aforementioned little-known rule (it a states that if a player spends the entire final season of his contract on the physically unable to perform list that his contract will be carried over to the following season), he did a good job of hiding it:

 

It’s no secret that I love being here. So to be able to be back for a year and not have this year, in a sense, count against me, was kind of a good thing — not (merely) kind of a good thing; it was a great thing.

 

Adams, understandably, took the high road. But it can’t feel good to have your freedom (one that’s earned through surviving four years in the National Football League) away – not that this is the Steelers’ fault. Adams had back surgery not long before training camp opened, leading to his PUP designation.

 

Coach Mike Tomlin said on Reporting Day at St. Vincent College that Adams would return to practice in “four weeks.” Thirteen weeks later, by the Steelers’ sixth game, Adams was still not cleared to practice. That began a five-week window in which Adams could have began practicing, followed by 21 days in which he HAD to practice for his season not to officially end.

 

Needless to say, Adams never practiced and never was removed from PUP.

 

“I was (frequently) here (at the facility) – but it’s just always different when you’re not out there practicing or playing,” Adams said of his lost 2015 season. “For me I have never been out for a year before so it was a new experience. Definitely an experience to grow mentally stronger and to be able to sit and review myself just sit back and look at the things I need to work on in a bigger perspective.

 

“You reflect and you are here to watch these guys all grow, such as (guard) David DeCastro making All Pro. I’m just proud of my friends, the way they grinded this year, fought through adversity, losing guys. And real proud of (tackle Alejandro Villanueva) the way he stepped up this year. So it was a heck of a year to sit and watch these guys and I’m sure proud of the way they played.”

 

The Adams situation, in some ways, ended up being a blessing in disguise for the Steelers. Most importantly, Adams’ absence facilitated Villanueva making the 53-man roster when the season began. It also forced the Steelers to play him when left tackle Kelvin Beachum was lost for the season with a knee injury.

 

If Adams had been able to play, the Steelers might not ever know what they had in Villanueva.

If Adams had been able to play, the Steelers would have faced the prospect of having TWO of the three tackles they dress on gamedays head for unrestricted free agency (Beachum is a UFA) – and they would have encountered that with no evidence Villanueva could handle the job.

 

As it stands now, the Steelers could stand pat at tackle, if they so choose, with Villanueva the starter on the left side and Adams the “swing” backup to him and right tackle Marcus Gilbert. Adams (about $1.13 million) and Villanueva ($525,000) both are signed on the cheap. There’s much less pressure to draft a tackle, to explore acquiring one in free agency or to go out of their comfort zone (dollars-wise) in what they offer Beachum for an extension.

 

Adams, in effect, could just slide right into the never-used Byron Stingily’s spot on the 53-man roster. The Steelers can prioritize other positions in the draft and free agency – or, of course, still bring Beachum back.

 

You never, ever wish anyone to get injured, but… in short, the sequence of events that began with Adams’ back surgery (him having his free agency delayed, the Steelers getting a look at Villanueva, Villanueva doing a no-worse-than-adequate job) worked to the team’s advantage.

 

Of course, Adams needs to get himself back to full health and back in playing shape.

 

“I’m feeling good now, doing some stuff, just keep on following the protocol and get ready for next year,” he said.

 

Adams was drafted with great promise in 2012, falling to the second round in part because of a failed drug test (marijuana) but considered by some a first-round talent. That, of course, didn’t materialize commensurate with his play over his first three seasons: 41 games, 20 starts, at least two benchings – usually because of trouble pass protecting. But Adams has been a good enough run blocker, and he seems like a good fit as a “sixth lineman” as the tackle-eligible formation the Steelers sometimes run.

 

In short, the Steelers could do a lot worse when it comes to a backup tackle.

 

Adams, by appearance, lost a not-insignificant amount of weight this season while recovering from his back trouble. He downplayed that as an issue, however (saying he was still “around 300 pounds”), and with good reason considering there are still several months until that will matter.

 

“You worry about what you can control,” Adams said, “so I’m gonna worry about getting healthy and going out and playing the way I can play. And let the rest carry the rest.”

 

 

 

One more shameless plug for this week’s Steelers Roundtable show.

 

Have a good weekend.

 

 

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January 22, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: In 2016, the problem the Steelers face at kicker is a “good” one

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POST PROLOGUE: THE FIRST AFTER-SEASON EDITION OF THE STEELERS ROUNDTABLE ON TRIBLIVE RADIO HAS AIRED. RALPH PAULK AND I OFFER KNOWLEDGEABLE STEELERS INSIGHTS. MARK KABOLY TALKS SOME, TOO. GIVE IT A LISTEN BY CLICKING HERE.

 

 

 

 

Bos

SUISHAM

 

 

 

The kicker quandary the Steelers faced for a two-month span in 2015 was that they couldn’t find one.

 

In 2016, it’s that they have too many.

 

“Two very capable kickers,” coach Mike Tomlin said this week, “is a good problem to have.”

 

In actuality, the Steelers have THREE kickers on their offseason roster after inking Ty Long to a reserve/futures contract the other day. No disrespect to Long – who was considered one of the better kickers to be draft-eligible last year and has a strong leg – but he was brought in as an offseason leg. It would take quite the run of highly-unlikely circumstance for Long to be seriously considered to open the 2016 regular season as the Steelers’ kicker.

 

No, the debate will be Shaun Suisham or Chris Boswell. Both are liked within the organization and both have made some clutch kicks over their Steelers tenures. But, ultimately, only one will stick with the team past the first week of September.

 

The smart money is on Boswell – for economic reasons. He is under contract at $525,000 this coming season with the same salary-cap hit. Suisham, meanwhile, is scheduled to make $2.4 million with a cap number of about $3.5 million.

 

Easy, right? But it’s not necessarily that simple.

 

For one, the economics are clouded by the fact that cutting Suisham carries with it some “dead money” that will count against the cap. If he’s cut before June 1 (which has pretty much zero chance of happening), the Steelers would actually be paying MORE at the kicking position by choosing Boswell than they did if they chose Suisham. (Boswell costs no dead money if he is cut). But even if Suisham is cut after June 1, the 2016 cap charge for him is more than $1.1 million, meaning that the 2016 expenditure the Steelers use for kickers would be more than $1.6 million (counting Boswell’s salary) – not to mention a 2017 charge will be applied. Viewed that way, the cap situation isn’t as much of a factor.

 

A trade of Suisham – seemingly the best-case scenario for all parties – carries with it similar salary-cap implications as a release. At least the Steelers get something in return, right? Well, there’s no guarantee another team will give up even a late-round pick for a 34-year-old who recently had a major knee injury (Suisham sustained a torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee making a tackle during the preseason opener in August). The Steelers, ironically, might serve as the cautionary tale for this: They gave up a sixth-round pick for 33-year-old kicker Josh Scobee late in training camp – he lasted four games and was bad enough to get cut.

 

At very least, for this to play out, Suisham will have to have a strong preseason –in terms of health, in making kicks and in showing leg strength on kickoffs. But then if that happens, will it make the Steelers think twice about letting go of a guy who was so good for you for 4 ½ seasons? (Counting playoffs, Suisham has made 63 of his past 68 field-goal attempts; he is a perfect 172-for-172 on extra points as a Steeler).

 

Also, let me be clear: Boswell was good. Very, very good. He made 29 of 32 field goals (oddly enough, the exact same stat line Suisham had the year before), and perhaps more telling, he clearly earned the trust and respect of his coaches and teammates.

 

But is a 14-game sample size enough? It’s a question that at least is worth asking.

 

At 25 (he’s 24 until March 16), Boswell is nine years younger than Suisham. He’ll also remain under team control (and, likely, very cheap) for another two seasons beyond 2016. Suisham is due to earn that aforementioned $2.4 million salary through 2018, with decreasing “dead money” penalties for cutting him before each season.

 

As you might expect, the individuals involved aren’t saying too much illuminating about how they expect things to play out.

 

“I have no idea,” Boswell said. “I feel like I improved a little bit.  I think there is a lot out there I can improve on. Whether it’s here or somewhere else, I have no idea.”

 

Suisham’s only priority right now remains getting back to health.

 

“We will see where we go from here and continue to rehab and work to getting back to kicking,” he said.

 

“It’s a long process and I won’t know the answer until I start to kick some footballs again… Outside of my ACL, I had a significant injury to my meniscus that I’m trying to baby through the process a little bit right now; hopefully it heals itself the way it needs to.”

 

One last factor to consider: Kickoffs. It’s the forgotten component of the NFL placekicker’s job description – but it remains important. To be honest, neither Boswell not Suisham is particularly stellar at this aspect of the game, at least relative to other NFL kickers. Just 26 of Boswell’s 74 kickoffs went for touchbacks. While that’s an oversimplification of kickoff leg strength, that rate (35.13 percent) is near the bottom of the league – but it virtually matches Suisham’s 2014 (35.95 percent).

 

By comparison, Baltimore’s Justin Tucker, for example, had touchbacks 85 percent of the time. That can be quite a weapon against a team with a stronger returner; teams very rarely open a drive outside their own 20.

 

 

 

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out once Suisham is back to full health.

 

 

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January 19, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski — James Harrison: ‘I can still play; it’s… if I want to.’ Will the Steelers want him?

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Deebo

 

A day after James Harrison said he had yet to make a decision about whether he will retire or not, the 37-year-old remained noncommittal over his future on the day the Steelers had their season-ending team meeting.

 

“Yeah, I mean, I’m not making decisions yet. I have a lot of time,” Harrison said.

 

Retirement, of course, is a two-way street – if Harrison wants to play, the Steelers have to want him back. After all, he already retired once… on Aug. 30 of a year when no team had signed him. (When the Steelers came calling three weeks later… he was right back in the league).

 

The Steelers won’t publicly divulge what they think of Harrison’s ability to contribute in 2016, when he would be the NFL’s oldest defensive player. But what does Harrison think?

 

“Yeah, I can still play,” he said, “it’s the fact of if I want to continue to play.

 

“I’m getting older; that’s an understatement. And it’s a lot harder on my body to recover and repair. And for me, really the hardest thing for me is just the offseason, the workouts, getting ready to prepare for the season. So, once I get into the season, that’s the easy part.”

 

The former NFL defensive player of the year (when he was a spry 30 years old in 2008) showed he could still play at a high level Sunday in Denver: Playing 53 snaps (his second-most all season), Harrison was tied for second on the team in solo tackles and combined tackles, had a game-high three tackles for loss and had the Steelers’ only sack.

 

But the performance alone wasn’t enough to convince Harrison to desire a return for a 14th season.

 

“If you were to ask me something like that right after the loss, nobody wants to go out with a loss; it’s going to be immediately, `Yeah, I’m coming back,’ not taking into account everything else,” he said.

 

“Actually, (my body) feels good,” Harrison also said. “That’s the hard part, you know? I feel good, but each year is not going to fall out the way the previous one did. We’ll see.”

 

OK, putting aside whether Harrison WANTS to play this coming season… Do the Steelers want him back?

 

Let’s start with performance. Harrison led all of his outside linebackers teammates in sacks with five (albeit three came during a 12-snap span late in a laugher against the Colts). He also led them in total tackles (40), forced fumbles (two) and snaps played (which, in some ways, suggests that coaches apparently believed he was their best option at the position).

 

Subjectively, Mark Kaboly’s favorite measure (sarcasm noted) is Pro Football Focus’ grades. Say what you want about them – they’re far from infallible – but use it as just one tool for evaluation.

 

PFF rated Harrison as the NFL’s No. 14 “edge rusher” in 2015 – well above teammates Arthur Moats (64th), Jarvis Jones (67th) and Bud Dupree (109th).

 

Of course, the production of all four was limited by the fact they were sharing snaps in a rotation. For the season, per FootballOutsiders.com calculations, Harrison played 55.1 percent of the defensive snaps, Dupree 50.8 percent and Moats an even 50 percent and Jones 40.9 percent. (Jones and Harrison each missed one game).

 

“I think (the OLB timeshare) did (keep us fresh),” Harrison said.

 

“I’m not ready to make a decision (on retirement), so when that time comes, you guys will hear about it, I guess.”

 

The Steelers’ decison goes beyond performance. They’ve spent two of their past three first-round picks on outside linebackers. Here’s thinking they didn’t make those choices believing they had half-time players. But have Dupree and Jones shown enough to deserve more playing time? Then there’s Anthony Chickillo — has last year’s sixth-round pick shown HE should be getting some defensive snaps on the edge? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” is keeping Harrison at 38 is just blocking the development of a bunch of guys in their early 20s?

 

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

 

 

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January 17, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Peyton vs. Pittsburgh has been very rare

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In writing my story about Peyton Manning facing the Steelers for Sunday’s Trib, I was surprised that they met so few times. That inspired this pre-game blog post…

 

 

Peyton

 

The teams he has played for – all in the AFC, no less – have qualified for the playoffs 13 consecutive seasons. The Steelers, almost as consistent, have made the playoffs 10 of the past 15 years.

 

Yet for whatever reason, Peyton Manning has largely avoided facing the Steelers.

 

Sunday will be the first postseason meeting between the Hall of Fame quarterback and what is arguably the league’s model franchise in a decade, only the second playoff matchup overall. Further, through quirky circumstance, somehow Peyton and the Steelers haven’t even faced each other all that much in the regular season – again, despite competing in the same conference and often finishing in the same place in their respective divisions (the NFL’s schedules on a rotating basis, ensuring that teams in the same conference play each other – at minimum – once every three years and that intra-conference teams of similar strength play each other every year).

 

Adding to the quirkiness of Manning not playing against the Steelers very often is that he has been, largely, extremely durable over the course of his career. Only twice has an injury kept him out of action – a neck ailment cost him the entire 2011 season, and plantar fasciitis prevented him from starting the final seven games of this regular season.

 

Sure enough, both instances included a missed game against Pittsburgh.

 

Only four of Manning’s 266 career regular-season games have come against the Steelers; just one of his 24 prior playoff game has. He’s faced the Steelers once over the past seven years.

 

Manning has missed only 22 games over his 18-year career, but two of those games he sat out were against the Steelers. Despite spending his entire career in the AFC, Manning has played eight NFC teams more often than he’s played against the Steelers. There are only four teams he’s faced fewer times – three NFC opponents (Bucs, Bears, Cardinals) and the Colts, who he played his first 14 seasons for.

 

Manning has managed to face eight NFC teams – the Falcons, Cowboys, Giants (brother Eli), Saints, Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks and Redskins – more often than the Steelers.

 

Manning has faced the Jaguars and Texans more (20 games) than anybody – and he’s faced, you guessed it, the Patriots (19 times) more than any franchise that resides in a division Manning hasn’t played in.

 

Counting the playoffs, he’s not faced ANY team MORE than New England (23 meetings – 6-13 in the regular season and 2-2 in the playoffs)… and yet until today, there’s no AFC team he’s faced LESS than the Steelers.

 

Considering those three entities – the Patriots, Steelers and Manning – have largely dominated the AFC since the turn of the century, that’s kind of a shame.

 

Especially considering that Sunday might be the final time they meet.

 

 

Enjoy the game.

 

PEYTON VS. PITTSBURGH MEETINGS

 

 

 

More pregame content is available via the Steelers Roundtable Show on TribLive Radio, where Ralph Paulk, Mark Kaboly and I discuss all things Steelers-Broncos (and Steelers-Bengals, too). Click on this link to listen.

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January 15, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Coates patiently awaits his time… Could it come Sunday?

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POST PROLOGUE: TAKE A LISTEN TO THE STEELERS ROUNDTABLE SHOW FROM TRIBLIVE RADIO ON THURSDAY MORNING. MARK KABOLY, RALPH PAULK AND I LOOK BACK ON THE ABSURDITY OF EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED IN CINCINNATI LAST WEEK AS WELL AS LOOK AHEAD TO THE GAME AGAINST THE BRONCOS SUNDAY IN DENVER. THINGS GET HEATED WHEN I CALL MARK A, “YINZER EXTRAORDINAIRE.” CHECK IT OUT.

 

 

 

photo by Chaz Palla

Sammie Coates has all the talent to be an NFL star; he’s been virtually “redshirted” this season.

 

The Steelers use a mid-round draft choice on a receiver from a Southern school that is big on pure talent, a 210-plus pound specimen with 4.4 speed. They sit him initially for games, in part because of a (real or perceived) glut at the position, while the confident young man titillates in practice and patiently awaits an opportunity. When the chance finally comes, this receiver explodes onto the scene and becomes an instant phenomenon.

 

Martavis Bryant? That is SO last year. Could the 2015-16 version of Bryant be Sammie Coates?

 

OK, OK, so of course there’s no way Coates will match Bryant’s rookie season, when he was deactivated for the first six games but ended up with 10 touchdowns in the 11 games (including playoffs) he appeared in after finally “earning a hat.” Coates might only get one game, and he won’t have the role Bryant did. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the potential to make an impact.

 

Coates, an Auburn alum picked in the third round in May (Bryant went in the 2014 fourth round from Clemson), was deactivated for the final six regular-season games plus last week’s postseason opener. Although he did dress for six games in an eight-week stretch earlier this season, that was partially attributable to a suspension and an injury to Bryant. Coates had one catch in that time, playing only 34 snaps.

 

But now with Antonio Brown going through concussion protocol, the NFL All Pro and team MVP has been ruled out to play Sunday in Denver. That creates a domino effect: Markus Wheaton and Bryant step up a spot each, veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey moves from little-used No. 4 WR to a prominent role as a No. 3… and Coates becomes part of the offense.

 

Is he ready?

 

“Sammie can definitely play,” Bryant said. “He has been working hard all year on the scout team; he’s just waiting on an opportunity like I was last year. Once he gets that opportunity it’s up to him to take advantage of it, which I am pretty sure he will. With the way he practices and how he works, he can do the same as I did.”

 

Coates insists he knows all three wide receiver positions in the Steelers offense (and even, for the very rare occasions the Steelers have gone with a four-wideout package this season, the fourth spot). He said it’s a regular part of a practice week for him to rotate into the first-team offense.

 

“It’s just about me doing the right routes and running at the right gaps and stuff like that,” said Coates, who showed his big-game, big-play prowess with 206 yards and two touchdowns against rival Alabama last season. “The little things that I learned throughout the season.

 

“I just take (advice) from Coach T and give it all every day at practice because you never know when your opportunity can come so you need to be ready for it.”

 

Coates’ teammates are saying they’re confidant he’s ready.

 

“He’s definitely come a long way,” said rookie Tyler Murphy, ostensibly the Steelers No. 5 WR who’s on the practice squad now. “He’s gotten much better since camp – and he was already a great receiver when he got here, but he pushed himself to get that much better.”

 

“If you’re a wide receiver in our room, you’re always prepared,” Heyward-Bey said. “Coach (Richard) Mann does a good job preparing us. We’re all always hard on the rookies. He comes to work ready to go. If he has to play, he’ll be good.”

 

 

 

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January 13, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Pacman says he’ll apologize to Brown — but only if he doesn’t play

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We all – myself included – should probably take some advice from Mike Tomlin and stop “living in the past.” For real: the Steelers have a divisional-round playoff game for the first time in five years coming here in four days – yet we still are looking back on a game from last weekend.

 

But it keeps coming up – and it was so filled with storylines, and oh so much fun to see who says what next – so we can’t help it. Of course, it’s the Cincinnati Bengals who keep bringing it up. Tuesday, it was Adam “Pacman” Jones – again.

 

Jones, as I’m sure you’re aware if you’re in-tuned enough to be reading this blog – has spouted off a number of times since his 15-yard penalty in the final seconds of Saturday’s game put the Steelers into comfortable field-goal range for a winning Chris Boswell kick. Jones, for his part, maintains that the Steelers should have gotten the flag because assistant coach Joey Porter was illegally on the field.

 

The most recent of Jones’ public comments linked to above were to The Dan Patrick Show when he accused Steelers receiver Antonio Brown of faking injury on the hit from Vontaze Burfict on the Steelers’ final offensive snap of Saturday’s game (Burfict got a 15-yard penalty for the hit and was suspended three games by the NFL for that as well as a history of other infractions).

 

Brown appears to go limp as if he was knocked out cold; watch how his arms flail and neck snaps back.

 

 

ANYWAY… this is all re-hashing. Jones was taping this week’s episode of Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” on Tuesday. Jets receiver Brandon Marshall is a host of the show, and he interviewed Jones, asking Jones if he’d apologize to Brown if Brown does not pass concussion protocol and does not play Sunday in Denver. (Yes, SUNDAY). Check it out below:

 

A transcript, in case you don’t have 44 seconds to spare:

 

Marshall: “If Antonio Brown doesn’t play, will you apologize and say that you were wrong?”

Jones: “I will. I will — if he don’t play. But you know and I know, that when Saturday get here, all that is going out the window, man. Cumon, let’s talk facts, man. If you want to be honest, let’s sit here and be honest… let’s talk about what the people want to talk about. When Saturday gets here – what they play, 4:45? whatever time they play – he will be cleared Friday, I promise you, 24 hours before the game.”

Marshall: “Was it a dirty hit, though?”

Jones: “No. I don’t think it was dirty, man. Everything that Vontaze do, everyone thinks it’s dirty.”

 

 

 

Incidentally, if it seems as if Marshall is sympathetic to Jones and taking an anti-Porter, check out this back-and-forth from eight years ago…

 

It features Marshall calling Porter “soft,” has “popcorn muscles,” is “a girl,” and how he “got beat up” as a kid. Oh, and making fun at Porter’s first name “Joey” and nickname “Peezy.”

Then, Porter responds in kind about Marshall’s “little kiddy face,” and saying “he’s gonna bow down” to Porter and “gonna be nervous” to see Porter:

 

 

Ah, the entertainment of the NFL…

 

Oh, and for those who don’t enjoy living in the past as much as I do, keep checking for updates on that little game you mighta heard of that’s going to be played Sunday in Denver

 

 

 

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January 5, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Examination of year-end defensive snap counts

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James Harrison stayed strong all season long at 37 years old.

 

Back during the draft in May, Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter infamously told the assembled media that he planned on limiting James Harrison’s snap counts to about 25 per game. Of course, we latched onto this number and pelted Harrison, Porter and head coach Mike Tomlin with questions about that in perpetuity until Tomlin finally a couple weeks ago used it as an example of a learning experience for Porter, a young coach not accustomed to talking to the media.

 

Regardless, it’s obvious now that Porter was under no such playing-time restrictions. The 37-year-old split snaps almost equally all season long with Arthur Moats, Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones.

 

That was one of the more obvious and intuitive snap-count conclusions to draw from this season. Using a fine compilation from the good folks at FootballOutsiders.com, Harrison ended up being on the field for 611 defensive snaps, an average of 40.7 per game he played and 55.1 percent of the team’s defensive total.

 

Not only was that 63 percent more than Porter said, it led all teammates at his position. And that even happened after Harrison sat out a game (albeit, so did Jones… but Dupree and Moats played all 16 games). Moats ended up with 554 snaps (50 percent of the team’s total), Dupree 563 (50.8%) and Jones 454 (40.9%, though he missed one game because of injury and Tomlin explained after Sunday’s game that Jones’ reduced snap count that day was because of injury as well).

 

 

 

 

A look at some snap-count notes at other positions:

INSIDE LINEBACKER

Lawrence Timmons was the Iron Man of the NFL on defense through Week 13, the last man standing who’d played every snap. That took a somewhat relatively steep decline thereafter and he finished at 95.3 percent.

 

Ryan Shazier played 60.1 percent of the season’s snaps, but if you take into account he missed four full games and significant parts of two others, Shazier was on the field for more than eight of 10 snaps he was healthy for this season. Sean Spence (24.3%) and Vince Williams (17.3%) essentially account for what remained.

 

 

SAFETY

Put yourself back at St. Vincent College in July. If someone told you that, in order, Antwon Blake, Will Allen, Ross Cockrell (“Who?”), Robert Golden (“Really?”) and Brandon Boykin (“How’d we get him?”) would rank third through seventh among Steelers’ defensive backs in snaps played, what would you have said? But that’s what happened.

 

Outside of Mike Mitchell (94.5 percent of the Steelers’ snaps), safety played out how few could have expected. Coaches lost faith in Troy Polamalu’s hair apparent, Shamarko Thomas, by the time the preseason ended. They turned to Ol’ Reliable, Allen, at strong safety. And they stuck with him all season. Furthermore, Thomas fell below even Golden on the depth chart. Golden was a special teams star but had played just four snaps on defense in 2014; he played 390 this season (35.2%). Thomas played just 20 snaps all season.

 

 

CORNERBACK

It was premature calling Allen, “Ol’ Reliable,” because Gay probably fits that moniker better. He’s played in 144 consecutive games, the longest active streak among NFL cornerbacks. He played 96.0 percent of the Steelers’ snaps, which wasn’t unexpected. Moreso was Blake’s 921 snaps – 83.0 percent of those possible, a figure that was much higher until the final three games.

 

Cockrell was among the first round of cuts by Rex Ryan’s Bills – and he was deactivated for the season opener. But by the end of the season, he’d end up playing 61.7 percent of the Steelers’ snaps (if you count only the games he was dressed for, that number jumps to about 2/3).

 

Boykin, on the other hand, played just 24.7 percent – almost all of which came over the final five games of the season. Remember, the magic number was 60 percent – that would have made the draft pick the Steelers send the Eagles as compensation for him go from a fourth to a fifth. That was mathematically clinched by the first of November.

 

The unit’s highest-paid player? Cortez Allen played just 2.9 percent of the Steelers defense’s snaps – none after Week 1. Allen was placed on injured reserve prior to Week 7 and two days after seeming to imply that he didn’t feel he was injured.

 

At least Allen played more than the two of the Steelers’ top four draft picks – both cornerbacks – did. They combined for one snap all season. Second-rounder Senquez Golson never even practiced because of injury; fourth-rounder Doran Grant was cut and on the practice squad early in the season but ultimately made the ‘53’ and played one snap in Week 16.

 

 

DEFENSIVE LINE

Mark Kaboly has written about this, but ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt took on a heavy workload this season. If you count special teams, no NFL defensive linemen played more snaps. On defense only, Heyward played 976 snaps (sixth in the league and 88 percent of the Steelers’ total). Tuitt ranked 15th with 872 snaps – but that was done in 14 games. Extrapolated over a 16-game span, Tuitt would have played a little more than Heyward. The Steelers clearly leaned heavily on their two young ends.

 

Tackle was a different story, but such is life in the pass-happy NFL these days, particularly for 3-4 nose tackles. Steve McLendon – who made it through a 16-game season for only the second time – played just 34.2 percent of the Steelers’ defensive snaps. It wasn’t for performance reasons, though.

 

The remainder of the Steelers defensive linemen played sparingly.

 

 

 

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December 31, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: 10-6 is usually good enough to get into the playoffs – maybe not this year

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MC 2

It’s been eight years since an AFC team of 10-plus wins dropped the ball on a playoff berth.

 

 

 

The Steelers need help to get into the playoffs. They largely have their division record to blame. But can they also, at least a little, blame some bad luck?

 

If you asked most fans/players/coaches/analysts/media what minimum record they’d consider to be representative of “a playoff team” in the NFL, the most likely response would have to be 10-6.

 

It just sounds right. Double-digit victories. More than a 60 percent winning percentage. A lack of desire to “reward” a team that, at 9-7, had it lost just one of the games that it happened to win, wouldn’t even have a winning record.

 

Put simply, it makes it nice and clean and easy: 10 wins, you’re in; 9 wins, you’re out.

 

An analysis of NFL playoff pictures since it adopted this current alignment and format (in 2002) shows that’s often – though not by any means always – the case.

 

Putting aside the multitude of 9-7 or worse teams that have gotten IN, I wanted to see how often a 10-6 (or better) team was left OUT.

 

I only looked at the wild cards because that’s all that’s relevant. Every year anymore, it seems, an 8-8 or 7-9 or 7-8-1 team wins a lousy division. Those are the rules; that team gets in. It’s not germane to this discussion of whether a 10-6 Steelers team (should it win Sunday) get in over a potentially 7-9 Texans team (should it lose Sunday and the Jets win, Houston would be in and the Steelers out). I am only considering wild-card races – if there’s a debate about taking poor division winners, that’s for another time (for what it’s worth, I’m in favor of the current format… further, the Steelers could have made it easy on themselves just by winning their division).

 

What I found is that there hasn’t been an AFC team that’s finished as well as 10-6 and NOT made the playoffs since 2008 (the Patriots were 11-5 that season). There are only four AFC teams since 2002 that have missed the postseason with a 10-6 (or better – ’08 New England being the lone example of that) record. There are only eight teams from either conference to do so.

 

That might make it sound like it’s rare, but a closer examination indicates it’s not so much so. For instance, when taking into account both the AFC and NFC, six of the past eight seasons, a 10-6 team has sat out the postseason.

 

While nine of the thirteen 10-win AFC teams that did not win their division since 2002 got into the playoffs as a wild card, that percentage (69.2%) isn’t exactly overwhelming.

 

Moral of the story: While 10 wins is a nice target if you’re a team looking to get into the postseason, you better get to 11 wins if you want to be absolutely sure (and even then, as Bill Belichick will tell you from seven years ago, that won’t necessarily guarantee you anything).

 

 

 

WILD CARD TEAMS UNDER CURRENT PLAYOFF FORMAT AND DIVISIONAL ALIGNMENT

Season (conf)         Worst record in                       Best record out

2014 AFC                     10-6                                         9-7

NFC                              11-5                                         10-6

 

2013 AFC                     9-7                                           8-8

NFC                              11-5                                         10-6

 

2012 AFC                     10-6                                         8-8

NFC                              10-6                                         10-6

 

2011 AFC                     9-7                                           9-7

NFC                              10-6                                         8-8

 

2010 AFC                     11-5                                         9-7

NFC                              10-6                                         10-6

 

2009 AFC                     9-7                                           9-7

NFC                              11-5                                         9-7

 

2008 AFC                     11-5                                         11-5

NFC                              9-6-1                                        9-7

 

2007 AFC                     10-6                                         10-6

NFC                              9-7                                           8-8

 

2006 AFC                     9-7                                           9-7

NFC                              8-8                                           8-8

 

2005 AFC                     11-5                                         10-6

NFC                              10-6                                         9-7

 

2004 AFC                     10-6                                         9-7

NFC                              8-8                                           8-8

 

2003 AFC                     10-6                                         10-6

NFC                              10-6                                         9-7

 

2002 AFC                     9-7                                           9-7

NFC                              9-6-1                                        9-7

 

 

 

 

A couple other Steelers-related playoff tidbits:

  • If the Steelers miss out on the playoffs, it’ll be the third time over the past four seasons they were the “first team out” in the AFC
  • The Steelers have either made the playoffs, been the “first team out” or been at very least, no more than one game behind the final playoff team in every season since 2004
  • Building upon that, only three times since 1989 have the Steelers not made the playoffs and not been “the first team out” or been, at very least, no more than one game behind the final playoff team

 

 

That final one is astounding to me. It reminds me of how Mike Tomlin has only once coached  the Steelers in a game that had the team having zero chance of making the playoffs (the 2012 finale). But think about that: Only in 2003, 1999 and 1998 since 1988 have the Steelers failed to be, if not a playoff team (and they’ve done that 16 times over the past 26 seasons), a team that wasn’t within close striking distance of a playoff berth.

 

That might be the most telling statistic at how consistent the franchise has been over the past quarter century.

 

 

(To each his own, but I still stick with appearing in eight of the 17 AFC Championship Games between 1994-2010 as my go-to “Steelers” stat, especially considering they HOSTED seven of 17 in that time! Admirable).

 

 

ANOTHER SHAMELESS PLUG TO LISTEN TO THE STEELERS ROUNDTABLE ON TRIBLIVE RADIO. THE ESTEEMED MARK KABOLY, RALPH PAULK AND I DISCUSS ALL THINGS ABOUT THE DISAPPOINTING LOSS AT BALTIMORE AND PREVIEW SUNDAY’S REGULAR-SEASON FINALE AT CLEVELAND. CLICK ON THIS TO LISTEN.

 

 

Have a happy new year.

 

 

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December 29, 2015
by Chris Adamski


3 comments so far - add yours!

Adamski: Poor play within division what’s most to blame if 10-6 Steelers team misses playoffs

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

The Ravens, directly and indirectly, have cost the Steelers dearly this season.

 

 

 

There are, quite simply, two ways to make the playoffs in the NFL. One is to have one of the two best records of the 12 non-division winners in your conference. The much simpler method is by winning your division.

 

The Steelers, this season, are on the verge of maybe failing to do either. And when it comes to the latter, they have their intra-division record to blame.

 

Having the best record in games against your own division almost always leads to a division title. At 2-3 in the AFC North this season, the Steelers failed on that end. And sure enough, division champion Cincinnati is a division-best 4-1 in intra-division games.

 

Since the NFL adopted its current eight-division format in 2002, there have been 104 division champions (heading into this season, when three divisions have yet to be decided). Of those, 91 had the best record within its division (or at least a tie for it) – that’s 88 percent.

 

(Quirky sidenotes: included in that, of course, are several “ties” for the best intra-division record… the vast majority of these were when two teams were 4-2. However, four times, there was a tie or at least three teams – and twice there was a four-way tie in which all four of a division’s teams split their six division games: the 2012 NFC South and the 2011 AFC West).

 

When it comes to the AFC North, the best-intradivisional-record distinction is even more pronounced – if the Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, including this season, 13 of the 14 division champions will have had the outright best record (no ties) in play within the AFC North. (The lone exception being the 2013 Steelers, at 8-8, finishing in second place behind the 11-5 Bengals despite going 4-2 within the division and the Bengals splitting their six games).

 

Interestingly, the AFC North – other than the lowly Browns – not only has been adept at sending teams to the playoffs over the past decade plus, its teams have also been surprisingly consistent and shown great parity among themselves in doing so (again, tossing out those consistently-awful Browns).

 

If by some chance the Steelers do slip into the playoffs this season, that would mean that the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers each would have seven appearances each since 2005 (meaning each made it seven of 11 seasons, an impressive 64 percent success rate for all three).

Even if things fail to fall the Steelers’ way Sunday, all that’s needed to even up the “standings” is to go back one extra year – then, since 2004, each of Cincinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh would have seven playoff berths.

 

Almost equally as, well, equal is the number of division titles each AFC North team has won since 2005 (do I really need to again add the disclaimer about the wretched Cleveland franchise) – four each for the Bengals and Steelers, three for the Ravens.

 

The Steelers’ two defeats to a poor Ravens team this season might cost them a playoff berth. They certainly cost them a chance at the division title – indirectly, by costing them a chance at having the best intra-division record.

 

Most seasons, 10-6 is good enough to get into the postseason as a wild card. It’s the Steelers’ bad luck that this season might not be one of them. However, they can only blame themselves for not removing wild-card “luck” from the equation and instead just taking care of business within the division.

 

LISTEN TO MARK KABOLY, RALPH PAULK AND I HOST THE STEELERS ROUNDTABLE SHOW ON TRIBLIVE RADIO BY CLICKING HERE. CONSIDERING WE ALL WOKE UP IN BALTIMORE ON MONDAY AND MADE IT TO PITTSBURGH BY 2 PM TO DO THE SHOW, IT WASN’T ALL THAT BAD, IF I MUST SAY SO MYSELF.

 

 

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