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October 28, 2016
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Butler suggests Vince Williams will remain part of the weekly gameplans



Shazier Vince

Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams split time vs, the Patriots. Will that continue? (AP photo)


A funny thing happened in Ryan Shazier’s return to the lineup last week against New England. Instead of playing every snap as he typically would when he’s completely healthy (OK, so that’s only happened once so far this season – insert your snide Beau Bennett-style joke here), Shazier generally rotated defensive series in and out with veteran backup Vince Williams.


Against the Patriots, Shazier played 56 percent of the Steelers’ 57 defensive snaps (32) while Williams played the other 44 percent (25 snaps). Williams even started the game and got the first turn.


Shazier said after the game that he wasn’t given a “snap count” to adhere to, and that he wasn’t held back by any health issues (be it the knee that kept him out the previous 3 ½ games, or any other ailment he’s been dealing with during his injury-riddled three NFL seasons). “The coaches just decided that they wanted to rotate us, so that’s what we did,” Shazier said.


Two days later, defensive coordinator Keith Butler didn’t dispute, when asked, that the Steelers would continue to play both Williams and Shazier – and he even suggested another linebacker would be added to the rotation.


“We might be playing all three of them,” Butler said this week. “Shazier, Vince and….”


Butler stopped, perhaps catching himself.


“We’ll see what goes on at the end of the week.”


Presumably, Butler wasn’t suggesting the Steelers would begin to utilize a THREE-man share of playing time at the “Mack” inside linebacker spot. Sure, in theory, Butler could have been about to say that Tyler Matakevich, L.J. Fort or Steven Johnson (heck, all three?!) would slide in, too, along with Williams in lieu of Shazier.


But no, much more likely, Butler was intimating that the “Buck” position would be included in a future timeshare. That would pull Lawrence Timmons into the, well, “mix” mix.


Against the Patriots, Timmons played 54 of 57 snaps. But in his 10th NFL season and now in his 30s – and, perhaps most importantly, in the final year of his contract – Timmons has ever-so-slightly been gradually marginalized in terms of playing time.


It began late last season after he was the last man standing among NFL linebackers who had played every snap of the season heading into the Steelers’ Week 14 game at Cincinnati. It was there that the Steelers unveiled a dime package in which safety Robert Golden came onto the field to replace Timmons.


This season, that continued – the Steelers preferring to keep Shazier on in passing downs instead of Timmons when one of the two ILBs was removed. That only makes sense, what with Timmons – while still more than capable and athletic, even by NFL standards – not quite having the same burst he had when he was younger. Also, Shazier, bar none, is almost assuredly the fastest linebacker in the NFL.


Odds are, the Steelers spelling Shazier last Sunday likely came down to three factors: One, being a month removed from game action, a desire to gradually get Shazier’s conditioning back into game-shape. Two, a level of trust in Williams, who filled in capably while Shazier was out. And three, a nod to the future, looking at the contract statuses of Williams and Timmons.


Timmons has the highest salary-cap hit ($15 million-plus) of any Steelers defensive player in 2016 – and he’s a free agent at the end of the season. Williams, meanwhile, during training camp signed a three-year extension that runs through the 2018 season. The deal carries a modest cap hit for a starter ($2.5 million); a sizeable one for a backup.


In short, as things stand now (and PLENTY can change before the start of the 2017 campaign), Williams seems penciled in to replace Timmons. So, it’d be only natural, not only in a nod to that future but also in recognition of Williams’ diverse skills and as a way of preserving Shazier, that the Steelers rotate Williams in at both inside linebacker spots going forward.






October 20, 2016
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: As soon as the Steelers could, they brought back Mihalik. Is he the next Villanueva?




Brian Mihalik (shown here in college at Boston College) used to try to destroy QBs — now he’s assigned with protecting them. (AP Photo)



Seven months as part of the organization was long enough for Brian Mihalik to embrace being a Steeler.


It was enough for the team to see enough of Mihalik to want him around, too.


Mihalik became the Steelers’ newest backup tackle and became a member of an NFL active 53-man roster for the first time when he signed a contract with the Steelers on Monday.


Mihalik came to the team this week by way of the Detroit Lions’ practice squad. But he was known to the organization from the time he spent as Steelers property: Mihalik arrived in town when he signed a reserve/futures deal in January, and he left upon being waived/injured after sustaining a knee injury in the preseason opener against the Lions.


As part of the NFL’s waived/injured process, a team and a player work out an injury settlement. For Mihalik, he said Wednesday that was a six-week settlement (in effect, he was paid for six weeks of service because it was agreed that his injury would take six weeks to heal). In an NFL rule designed to prevent teams from stockpiling young, developmental talent under the guise of injury, a team cannot re-sign a player it reached an injury settlement with for a time span of three weeks following the conclusion of the injury term the parties agreed to.


Got that? In short, in Mihalik’s particular case, the Steelers could not sign him for a period of nine weeks.


What a nine weeks that was, too, for the Steelers at offensive tackle. Two of the top three on the organizational depth chart (starting RT Marcus Gilbert and top swing backup OT Ryan Harris) were injured, with Harris being out for the year. Two weeks ago, the Steelers signed Matt Feiler off the practice squad to serve as a backup (converted guard Chris Hubbard has started the past two games at right tackle).


Anyway, as soon as the Steelers were able (nine weeks after they waive/injured him), the Steelers brought back Mihalik.


“It’s definitely exciting,” Mihalik said after his first practice back with the team. “It’s an organization I felt comfortable with in the spring and in the summer; it’s a real blessing to be able to come back here and be on the 53-man roster.”


Mihalik said he felt there was a chance he could be back after he was let go in August; he’d been having a strong camp in his first practice reps at any level at offensive tackle.


Mihalik was a defensive end in college, he spent a year with the Philadelphia Eagles as a defensive end and he stands 6 feet 9. If that description is familiar, it also fits the Steelers’ starting left tackle, Alejandro Villanueva.


Villanueva is one of the latest in a long line of success stories in the coaching career of Penn State graduate Mike Munchak, the Steelers’ offensive line coach. Even simply by making a 53-man roster, Mihalik is Munchak’s next.


“Obviously, (Munchak) knows just as much as anybody in the business,” Mihalik said. “Along with him and all the veteran (offensive linemen), they are really helpful, so it’s definitely a good place for a young guy like me who’s just learning the position.”


Villanueva spent an entire year on the practice squad in making his transition from defense – although he did not have the benefit of an offseason and training camp to do so (Villanueva was a waiver claim at the end of the 2014 preseason).


Twelve months after making the transition to offense, Villanueva was serving as the Steelers’ backup tackle (two months later, he became a starter after Kelvin Beachum was injured).


Nine-and-a-half months after making the transition to offense, Mihalik is serving as the Steelers’ backup tackle. He’s one injury away from being thrust into a starter’s role, just days after re-signing with the team.


Mihalik said he remembers the playbook from camp and has been brushing up on it this week. “I am preparing for the possibility of me playing,” he said.


“He’s a very smart player, so he knows all the plays,” Villanueva said of Mihalik. “He’s got that for him. He… got all the attention and coaching of OTAs and training camp, and now he’s being treated to the same standard as everyone else. And Munchak would never allow –the o-line would never allow – somebody stepping on the field without being ready. So if he does step in there, he’s going to be ready to go.”






October 17, 2016
by Joe Rutter

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Thoughts from Dolphins 30, Steelers 15


A quick breakdown of the loss Sunday that gives the Steelers a 4-2 record heading into their showdown with 5-1 New England next Sunday at Heinz Field.

1. Where’s the pass rush? Sure, the Steelers were without star defensive end Cameron Heyward, but this was Ryan Tannehill and a reconfigured Dolphins offensive line they were facing. The same Tannehill who was sacked 17 times in five games. The closest the Steelers came to bringing down Tannehill was when Daniel McCullers bumped into him early in the second quarter on a rush up the middle. But Tannehill bounced off, rolled left and made a 53-yard completion to the Steelers’ 2. This set up a field goal that trimmed the Steelers’ lead to 8-6.
The Steelers remain stuck on eight sacks. The only other team with fewer sacks that has played six games is the New York Giants (6).
2. Giving up on the running game. Granted, the Steelers didn’t have the ball very much in the second half, yet they only trailed by eight points at intermission. So why did Le’Veon Bell carry just twice for two yards after being 8 for 51 in the first half? He got two carries on the first drive of the third quarter (a third carry was wiped out by a holding penalty), then didn’t run the ball again. Over the next two drives, with the Steelers trailing by 15 points, Ben Roethlisberger threw on every play, going 2 for 7 for 15 yards with one first down.
3. Step back for Berry. One week after his best performance of the season, punter Jordan Berry had arguably his worst. Berry averaged 36 yards on five punts, with a net of 30.8 yards.
In the first quarter, the Steelers’ first drive stalled and he hit a 38-yard punt that led to an 11-yard return. The Dolphins started at their 35 and ended up getting a field goal. In the second quarter, Berry tried to pin the Dolphins’ inside the 20, but his punt traveled only 25 yards and Miami took over at its 29. This led to a touchdown run before halftime that gave the Dolphins a 16-8 lead.
In the third quarter, Berry unleashed a 49-yarder, but the 15-yard return gave Dolphins possession at their 48. In the fourth quarter, Berry pinned the Dolphins at their 9 with a 41-yarder, but it was too little, too late.

1. Daniel McCullers, who had lost the nose tackle job to rookie Javon Hargrave, came the closest to sacking Ryan Tannehill. And the big guy blocked a 24-yard field goal attempt early in the third quarter.
2. Tyler Matakevich filled in for an injured Vince Williams in the second half and finished with a team-high eight tackles (six solo). Matakevich also had one of the Steelers’ three tackles for a loss.
3. Darrius Heyward-Bey recorded his first career rushing touchdown with a nifty 60-yard run on a sweep, bouncing off a tackler and breezing the final 50 yards. It held up as the Steelers’ only score until 1:02 remained in the game.

Cobi Hamilton made his first career start and recorded his first two catches, including a 23-yard grab late in the game.

Sammie Coates was active despite having a broken finger and laceration on his hand. He was mostly a decoy and didn’t catch a pass on four targets. This after he had a career-best 139 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions last week against the New York Jets.

“Tackling I feel is like when someone takes something from you and you feel like you have to get it back.” — safety Mike Mitchell, on his philosophy about tackling.


October 13, 2016
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Maurkice Pouncey on trashtalking his twin brother, and how Suh is ‘a cool dude’



Mike Pouncey, Maurkice Pouncey

The Pouncey brothers, when they were teammates in college. (AP Photo)


Maurkice Pouncey’s smile hardly ever leaves his face (unless, of course he’s on the football field and he’s ticked off – which is a common occurrence, but we’ll leave that digression for later). I’ve said his ever-present innocent smile combined with his NFL offensive lineman physique reminds me of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.



He also is a fun guy. Someone who I’d imagine would be fun to hang out with. Pouncey’s personality was on full display this week. Sunday, his team will play against a team of his twin brother’s for the first time.


That, combined with the fact he’ll be going up against of the league’s most known defensive tackles (Ndamukong Suh) on a virtual snap-in and snap-out basis made him a targeted man to speak with by the media after practice Wednesday.


“So many cameras!” said Pouncey, whose locker is a few feet away from where quarterback Ben Roethlisberger held court earlier that morning. “Is this how Ben feels? It’s great.”


An almost-full transcript of Pouncey’s comments. Enjoy…



On playing a game against his brother’s team:

“It’s gonna be awesome, for both of us, and for our family to be able to see us play on the field at the same time again. It’s gonna be fun and exciting.”



On if he and Mike will engage in trash talk this week:

“That’s all the time – even we work out, even in the offseason. I hear it.”



On if he campaigned to the Steelers’ front office to draft Mike in 2011, a year after the team took Maurkice at No. 18 overall:

“Heck yeah! I tried to so hard. They actually almost did it, but the Dolphins picked him up.” (At No. 15; the Steelers “settled” on Cameron Heyward with the 31st pick).



On if there’s a sibling rivalry:

“We’re twins – there’s competition. So much, with the Pro Bowls (Mike’s been named to three, Maurkice four) with everything we do. Even with the draft thing, man: he still won’t let it go that he got drafted higher than me.”



On if he’ll give his defensive-linemen teammates any pointers on facing Mike:

“No, they better go watch film…. Me and my brother have a great relationship, man, we’re best friends. And I haven’t given him any insight, if that’s what you want to know — he’s got to go watch film just like out guys have got to go watch it.”



On the last time he went against Mike on the field (also, an apparent admission his loyalties, at that point, lied with his blood over his offensive teammates):

“Mike played D Line his freshman year at Florida. He knew all the calls, so he made practice look like crazy.”



On how often he speaks with Mike:

“He calls me everyday, man. I’ve gotta start blocking his phonecalls.”




Then, on Suh…

On if he met him during the 2010 draft process (Suh went No. 2 overall):

“I didn’t, but I actually got to hang out with him this offseason because he’s my brother’s teammate and he’s a cool dude, man, I like him a lot. And he’s a great player.”


On Suh’s reputation as a dirty player:

“Totally different (in person). People need to stop judging people until you finally get to meet the person and actually talk to him. He’s a great dude, man. A really great dude. The media made a perception of him and I was like, ‘Man, is he really that way?’ and then I hung out with him in the offseason and he’s the best dude in the world. Crazy.

“You guys would really like him, I think all you guys would change your perception of him. He pays for dinner, too. He has a lotta money.”






October 10, 2016
by Joe Rutter

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Thoughts from Steelers 31, Jets 13


A quick breakdown of the win Sunday that gives the Steelers a 4-1 record and puts them a game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.

1. If all Cris Carter did was catch touchdowns, then all Vince Williams does is make tackles. For the second consecutive week, Williams started in place of the injured Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker and led the Steelers with stops. After getting 15 (13 solo) against the Chiefs, Williams had 9 tackles (8 solo) against the Jets. Three were for a loss and he also chipped in with a sack.
2. Antonio Brown brought some life to the punt return role. He broke off 33-yard and 18-yard returns, nearly taking the former the distance. No need for Eli Rogers to rush back from his turf toe injury, at least not on special teams.
3. Move over Reggie Jackson, Ben Roethlisberger is the new Mr. October, particulary at Heinz Field. Big Ben improved his record to 20-1 in October home games, the best mark by an NFL quarterback since 1970. For the second time in his career he’s thrown four touchdown passes in back-to-back games, actually combining for nine in wins over the Chiefs and Jets.

1. Sammie Coates started and finished strong, but the middle left much to be desired. He dropped between three (if you’re generous) and five (if you’re nitpicking) passes. Yes, he had an injured hand that required stitches, but those drops aren’t providing the consistency the Steelers seek.
2. Alejandro Villanueva had a holding penalty in the first half, and he was in an illegal formation (the penalty was declined) when the Steelers tried a fake field goal. Speaking of the fake field goal, Jordan Berry showed his legs are better used for punting, not running.
3. Cornerback Ross Cockrell had two penalties (pass interference and holding) declined, and it was his deflection that allowed Brandon Marshall to haul in a 15-yard touchdown pass late in the first half. Cockrell was tasked with shadowing Marshall, who finished with eight receptions for 114 yards. To be fair, Cockrell did break up three passes and didn’t allow a completion longer than 19 yards.

Coaches and players raved about the job Chris Hubbard did filling in for Marcus Gilbert at right tackle. Roethlisberger was sacked just once, and Hubbard and the rest of the line provided enough time for him to pass for 380 yards.

Berry has become the 12th defender for the Steelers. All three of his punts landed inside the Jets’ 20, marking the sixth time in his two-year career that he accomplished the feat. A 44-yarder pinned the Jets at their 11 in the first quarter. He sent a 43-yarder to the 13 after the first drive of the third quarter. And he crushed a 52-yarder to the 13 later in the quarter.

“Awesome. Awesome. Are you kidding me? They were unbelievable. How about Hubbard stepping up and playing. That is arguably one of the best defensive lines and front sevens in football, and our guys were just phenomenal. They are the catalyst for us. They drive us. We go as they go, and they had a great day today.” — Roethlisberger, on the offensive line.


October 7, 2016
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: McLendon ‘loves’ ex-teammates but has ‘moved on’ — and so have the Steelers, to Hargrave




Steve McLendon followed Casey Hampton and gave way to Javon Hargrave as the Steelers’ top nose tackle. (Chaz Palla/Trib photo)



When the New York Jets had some time off following an early-season Thursday night game last month, Steve McLendon could have chosen to hole up at home and rest. He could have taken a vacation. He could have visited family.


Instead, McLendon was spotted in, of all places, an upcoming opponent’s locker room.


With McLendon having signed as a free agent with New York this past spring after seven seasons as property of the Steelers, his love of his (now former) team and his (now former) teammates became that much more apparent.


Antonio Brown, for example – an offensive player who had a locker on an almost polar-opposite side of the Steelers’ locker room from McLendon – was palpably elated to see McLendon last month. Brown’s eyes lit up and he interrupted an interview mid-sentence to yell, “STEEEEVE!


Sunday, McLendon’s Jets come to Heinz Field to play the Steelers. McLendon doesn’t know exactly how he’ll feel as a visitor in Pittsburgh – but he knows he’ll feel something deep.


“There’s gonna be a lot of emotion,” McLendon told reporters in New York this week. “They’re gonna play with emotion, we’re gonna play with emotion.

“I’m gonna play with emotion.”


McLendon emphasized that he’s happy to be a Jet – and why wouldn’t he be? He’s playing about twice as much (69 percent of New York’s defensive snaps as opposed to 34 percent of the Steelers’ defensive snaps last season) and is part of one of what is considered to be one of the best defensive lines in the game today. McLendon’s two sacks in four games with the Jets almost matches what he had in six seasons (five sacks) with the Steelers.


But that doesn’t mean he’s lost his reverence for the Steelers’ organization, which signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Troy in 2009 and let him develop behind then-Pro Bowler Casey Hampton at nose tackle. McLendon was cut five times his first three seasons as he bounced around from the practice squad before becoming a starter following Hampton’s retirement in 2013.


“That ‘Steelers’ name speaks for itself; they’ve got six rings and they’re trying to get a seventh,” McLendon said. “They know the goal; I know what their goal is — but their goal is what our goal is.

“I owe everything to them, props for bringing me in and letting me play there for the past seven years. But I have moved on; I’m a New York Jet now, and I’m excited to take the field against these guys.”


McLendon said he’s shut off communication with his ex-mates this week. They’ll share a pregame handshake or a postgame hug. But, as he said, “It’s business.

“It’s nothing personal. I love them, and they still love me. But the thing is there’s a game on the line. We’re both trying to get a Super Bowl – you don’t want to get any mixed emotions or feel like you’re giving them an edge or a hand up or anything.”


One of the Steelers players McLendon does not have a longstanding relationship with is his successor at nose tackle, Javon Hargrave. The Steelers took Hargrave in the third round to be their third nose tackle since 2001. He’s come in and immediately started and performed to mostly rave reviews.


“I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied,” Hargrave said, “but I feel I can be better and do things better in my own technique-wise. But I feel like I am improving every game – and that’s the main thing I’m trying to do.”


Throughout the summer, Hargrave watched film of McLendon to get a grasp of what his responsibilities are in the Steelers’ defense. He even met McLendon when the latter was in town. “He’s a cool dude,” Hargrave said. (Incidentally, while he’s never met Hampton, Hargrave incredulously said, “Of course I know who Casey Hampton is” – Hampton’s reputation and notoriety for his proficiency at his position is that great).


What’s interesting about the using an asset valued as high as a third-round pick for a nose tackle is that the Steelers’ logic two months prior for letting McLendon walk was that it wasn’t worth investing heavy resources into a position that is only on the field about a third of the time.


McLendon is playing 2/3 of the snaps in what is a four-man front with the Jets. Four games into his career, Hargrave has played less than a quarter of the Steelers’ defensive snaps – but if you add in Dan McCullers’ work (12 percent), it’s roughly still a third of the game.


More importantly, though, Hargrave was sought after in the draft because of his ability to play end in nickel packages (as McLendon did on occasion for the Steelers) at a high level. He did that as a pro for the first time this past Sunday against the Chiefs.


Even if the traditional, run-stuffing nose tackle role continues to be diminished, if Hargrave can do that plus spell stellar ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt without the Steelers missing a beat, his value is more than commensurate with that of a third-round pick.





September 30, 2016
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Travis Feeney joining DeAngelo Williams in the pink hair club

Travis Feeney

Rookie practice squad linebacker Travis Feeney (above) is taking a page out of the DeAngelo Williams (below) hair-color book. (AP Photos)






Move over DeAngelo Williams. There’s a new Steeler who has dyed part of his hair pink.


Rookie sixth-round pick Travis Feeney showed up to practice this week with a ribbon cut elaborately into the hair on back of his head. The speedy outside linebacker, who’s currently on the practice squad, planned on dying it pink in time for Sunday’s game – the first the Steelers will play during October, which is breast cancer awareness month.


“My mom’s best friend passed a couple years ago, so I have been doing it ever since then, every October,” said Feeney, who played at the University of Washington. “And my dad lost an aunt and lost a cousin. And I have a real tight friend (of) the family, she has cancer and she has been battling (but) she’s in remission.


“I did it for all them, to show support for them. Wearing this, it just makes it for a day of remembrance.”


Feeney said he got the cut done back in Seattle because he didn’t want to trust a new, unknown stylist. As far as the dye, again, he doesn’t have the female friend around who dyed his hair in the past at Washington. So he went to Williams for a referral.


Williams lost his mother to breast cancer in 2014 and dyed tips of his dreadlocks (and painted his toes) pink as a tribute.


Last season, Williams petitioned to the NFL to allow him to wear pink equipment accessories all season long and not only during the league-approved October window.


It was denied.




September 23, 2016
by Joe Rutter

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The old, new guy


This is my first post on the Steel Mill blog, so I figured I would introduce myself. I’m the old, new guy on the Steelers beat, I guess you could say.

I’m old because I’ve been at the Trib for 26 years, yet I’m new because this will be my first full-length exposure to the Steelers and the NFL. For those familiar with my work, I spent 13 years covering the Pirates. Those years spanned 1993-2005. Yes, the first 13 years of the Pirates’ string of 20 consecutive losing seasons. I like to say I saw more losing games by the team I covered in those 13 seasons than any sports writer in the world.

After 10 years as an assistant sports editor, I’m excited to get back to working a beat, joining Chris Adamski and Ralph N. Paulk on our coverage team.

The Steelers aren’t totally unfamiliar to me. Our family has had season tickets since 1970, and I was eight years old when I watched Franco Harris make the Immaculate Reception. I traveled to the first four Super Bowl sites (yet only saw 3 of the title games, which is another story for another time) and such experiences likely helped steer me toward a career in sports writing.

I covered the 2006 training camp after one of our writers left the paper. I also was part of our coverage team for Super Bowl XL in Detroit. And, as an editor, I coordinated coverage of the Super Bowls in Tampa and Dallas.

And now I’m back. I’m excited to be able to provide Steelers coverage to its rabid fan base and Trib readers. It’s going to take some time to get acclimated, so all I ask is not to be too harsh on me in the beginning.

I will take my responsibilities as a beat writer seriously, although I also like to have fun and be light-hearted in some areas of coverage. That’s evidenced by the accompanying photo, which my wife Lori took as I was preparing to leave for my first day of school, er, coverage.

I thank you for reading this far and look forward to your input as I grow into my new role.



September 19, 2016
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Steelers reverse trend of early losses to Bengals, Ravens – plus, SNAP COUNTS




The Steelers FINALLY upended an AFC North contender in their first crack at it. (Chaz Palla photo)



I wanted to more visually describe what I wrote about in the game story for Sunday’s 24-16 Steelers win against the Cincinnati Bengals because what I found surprised me: the Steelers have repeatedly dug themselves early holes over the past seven years – even when they had good teams.


Tossing aside the Cleveland Browns (they’re not really a threat – ever, it seems), the Steelers before Sunday had lost six of their past seven non-Cleveland AFC North openers. That played a big part in an early-season division deficit each time.


Put simply, this season the Steelers – at least so far (as it is still absurdly early, prior to Week 3) – won’t be chasing in 2016 as they so often have had to do in the past.




Their early-season holes dug since last winning the Super Bowl after the 2008 campaign:

Year                 1st Cin/Balt game result*             Division GB after 4 games


2009                23-20 loss at Bengals, Week 3             1 GB (plus tiebreak)

2010                17-14 loss to Ravens week 4                   (Tied, but down a tiebreak to Balt)

2011                35-7 loss at Ravens Week 1                     1 GB (plus tiebreak)

2012                (DNP Balt/Cin until Week 7)                 1 ½ GB

2013                20-10 loss at Bengals Week 2                 2 GB

2014                26-6 loss at Ravens Week 2                    1 ½ GB

2015                23-20 OT loss to Ravens Week 4           1 ½ GB



“Always chasing,” is how Ramon Foster put it.

This year, that isn’t the case (at least not yet). And of all the seasons listed above, the only division titles the Steelers won were in 2010 (the only time they weren’t facing an AFC North deficit in that span) and in 2014, when it took two December wins against Cincinnati to get it done.




Anyway, here are some notable snap counts from Sunday’s game:

OFFENSE (of 74)

(Note: OL, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown played every snap)

  • TE Jesse James, 74 (100%)
  • RB DeAngelo Williams, 66 (89%)
  • WR Eli Rogers, 41 (55%)
  • WR Sammie Coates, 35 (47%)
  • WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, 26 (35%)
  • TE David Johnson, 26 (35%)
  • TE Xaiver Grimble, 17 (23%)
  • RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, 7 (9%)
  • RB Daryl Richardson, 1 (1%)

Analysis: Jesse James, the new Heath. … A relatively almost-equitable split of reps at wide receiver (after Antonio Brown, of course). … Good thing Mike Tomlin doesn’t have to worry about riding DeAneglo Williams until the proverbial wheels fall off – he only needs one more week until Le’Veon Bell returms.




DEFENSE (of 76)

  • S Robert Golden, 76 (100%)
  • CB William Gay, 76 (100%)
  • CB Ross Cockrell, 74 (97%)
  • S Mike Mitchell, 72 (95%)
  • DB Sean Davis, 64 (84%)
  • CB Artie Burns, 32 (42%)
  • S Shamarko Thomas, 4 (5%)


  • DE Stephon Tuitt, 70 (92%)
  • DE Cameron Heyward, 64 (84%)
  • DL Ricardo Mathews, 14 (18%)
  • DT Javon Hargrave, 11 (14%)
  • DT Daniel McCullers, 5 (7%)


  • ILB Ryan Shazier, 76 (100%)
  • ILB Lawrence Timmons, 46 (61%)
  • ILB L.J. Fort, 1 (1%)


  • OLB Vince Williams, 0 (0%)
  • OLB Jarvis Jones, 57 (75%)
  • OLB James Harrison, 38 (50%)
  • OLB Arthur Moats, 37 (49%)
  • OLB Anthony Chickillo, 19 (25%)


Analysis: Lots to digest here. Start with the secondary – lots of nickel and (especially) dime. The Steelers have found ways to get Burns onto the field. They trust each of their top two draft picks (Burns and Davis) in an increasingly obvious way. Small nugget: Thomas is still above Jordan Dangerfield on the safety depth chart, if that was a question. … At outside linebacker, Moats and Harrison each played half the game while Jones was “the chosen one” to play three-quarters of the drives – allowing Chickillo to be eased in in a limited role with Bud Dupree out. … Timmons continues to have his role reduced – in effect, coaches have decided that they’d rather have Burns on the field than him. Yes, much of the defensive personnel is dictated by what the offense is doing. But in the past, Timmons would never leave the field – and the Steelers went through a long stretch of never going dime. … With so much nickel and dime, the defensive tackles aren’t asked to play much – which is why the Steelers probably won’t ever draft one any higher than the third round (Hargrave). McCullers is seemingly becoming obsolete. … At inside linebacker, again, it’s a ridiculously small one-snap sample size – but Fort again got the call over Williams, which is curious.






Recap of Tribune-Review Steelers coverage for Week 2:




Until we chat again…




September 14, 2016
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Wheaton ‘hopeful’ to return Sunday — but to what role?




Is Markus Wheaton’s starting role slipping through his fingertips? (Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review photo)



Doing so for the first time in almost three years, Markus Wheaton wasn’t used to the feeling of sitting out – and therefore being a mere spectator for – a regular-season game.


“Very anxious watching,” Wheaton said of his experience during the Steelers’ 38-16 Monday Night Football win at Washington. “I get so excited watching those guys, I was more nervous watching them than I am playing. I had a hard time watching.

“I can’t wait to get out there again, so hopefully it’s this weekend.”


Wheaton was a limited participant in practice Wednesday, which is an upgrade from the total lack of practicing he did last week. That gives reason for hope he’ll play in Sunday’s early-season AFC North showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field.


But what might not be as optimistic regarding Wheaton is his both his role with the team and his future on it. In his absence Monday, Eli Rogers showed in his NFL regular-season debut that his strong training camp translated to when the games matter. He had six catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. Sammie Coates likewise was solid, tripling his NFL regular-season career catch total with two receptions, including a 42-yard grab.


In short, it’s going to be tough to deny Rogers and Coates snaps – particularly Rogers, who’s so adept in the slot (where Wheaton in prior years was being groomed for playing). Colleague Ralph Paulk and I talked about this on this week’s Steelers Roundtable show on TribLive Radio. Click on this paragraph to listen.


“I loved it, man,” Wheaton said of Rogers’ breakout. “That was a huge game for him, being his first time out, he got his first touchdown – in a weird way – but it’s a touchdown nonetheless. So I’m proud of him.”


Wheaton had most recently missed a game because of injury (finger) midway through his rookie 2013 season. He surely won’t be completely “Wally Pipped” – he’s too good a receiver for that (97 catches for 1,393 yards and seven touchdowns the past two seasons). But if Rogers (47 of 68 offensive snaps played Monday) continues to emerge and Coates (44 snaps) stays on track, those two would figure to be fixtures among a wide receivers corps that, of course, includes superstar Antonio Brown and welcomes back suspended wunderkind Martavis Bryant next year (to say nothing of veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was signed to a three-year deal this past spring; he played 15 snaps at the Redskins).


All that means that the odds are slim of Wheaton being brought back once he hits unrestricted free agency this spring. Where is he playing now that Rogers and Coates have proved NFL-capable?


Then again, there’s still a long way to go in 2016, and plenty can happen over the next 15-plus games that can change circumstances. The outlook might be completely different come December.


Regardless, of most immediate importance is Wheaton returning to the field. He said Wednesday he “feels a lot better than last week.”


“I wanted to go last weekend, I expected to go, but I wasn’t able to. I hope I can this weekend.”




Another shameless plug for the TribLive Radio Steelers Roundtable for this week. Click here.




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