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Posts tagged with "Pittsburgh Steelers"

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Taylor Heinicke throws a pass during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Miami Dolphins, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots announced today that they have signed QB Taylor Heinicke to the practice squad and released WR Demarcus Ayers from the practice squad.

Heinicke, 24, was originally signed by the Minnesota Vikings as a rookie free agent out of Old Dominion on May 6, 2015. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder, made the Minnesota 53-man roster as a rookie in 2015 but was inactive for all 16 games. He began the 2016 season on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list before being elevated to the 53-man roster on Nov. 8, where he was inactive for the last seven weeks of the season. Heincke was released by Minnesota on Sept. 11, 2017.

Ayers, 23, was signed by the New England Patriots to the practice squad on September 4. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the seventh round (229th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Houston. Ayers spent time on the active roster and practice squad for the Steelers as a rookie, seeing action in two regular season games with one start and finishing with six receptions for 53 yards and one touchdown. He played in two postseason games and caught three passes for 27 yards. He was released by Pittsburgh on Sept. 2.

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The NFL’s opening weekend will attract bets from the average Joe to professional bettors for some of the biggest games.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are nearly favored by double digits on the road against the division rival Cleveland Browns. And the Dallas Cowboys, who will have RB Ezekiel Elliott available, are four-point home favorites against the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football in a game that’s already had plenty of line movement.

With so many eye-popping games and so many NFL odds on the move, you’ll want to know to what SportsLine’s advanced computer model is picking.

SportsLine’s Projection Model went an amazing 174-80-2 on straight-up NFL pickslast season — better than all 98 experts tracked by NFLPickWatch.

Every single one.

SportsLine computer picks would have also won over 96 percent of CBS Sports Office Pool Manager pools that made straight up picks last season.

With Week 1 already here, the computer simulated every matchup 10,000 times and came up with some surprising results.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has gone through a facelift during the past seven days or so, and this transition has the unit poised to be a stronger force in 2017. Talk is cheap, but what exactly can fans expect from the Steelers defense this year?

I give you four bold predictions for the Black-and-gold defense.

1. Bud Dupree gets double-digit sacks

The Steelers haven’t had a linebacker register double-digit sacks since LaMarr Woodley wore No. 56 for the team. Yeah, it’s been quite awhile. Dupree breaks that streak in 2017, and I’ll say he ends the year with 12 total sacks. Not exactly mind-blowing numbers, but a huge step in the right direction.

2. Serious increase in turnovers

The Steelers registered 23 turnovers, 13 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries in 2016, and they should increase that number in 2017. Why? Because of Dupree and the team’s aforementioned pass rush. Causing early, forced or errant passes will only add to the turnover numbers. Getting more possessions for the offense equates to more wins.

3. Just shy of 50 sacks

Last year the defense finished with 38 sacks. Increasing that by 12 sacks isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but might be a bit extreme. I’m bold, but maybe not that bold. I have them increasing their sack numbers by 10, and finishing 2017 with 48 sacks, a solid improvement from the previous year.

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) calls a play as he stands in the offensive huddle with team mates during a week 10 NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Nov 13, 2016, in Pittsburgh. The Cowboys won 35-30. (Scott Boehm via AP)

1. Meet the most dangerous offense in football. It can be a juggernaut through the air in four-receiver sets, where Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey present a quartet of speed like nothing we’ve ever seen. (Oh, and the fifth eligible receiver in that grouping would be Le’Veon Bell.) Or, this offense can be a juggernaut with six offensive linemen or extra H-backs and tight ends on the field, pounding the rock with Bell. That’s what it did last season, when the patient, elusive Bell rushed for 835 yards in Weeks 11-16.

2. Ben Roethlisberger and the offensive line are the common denominators in all of Pittsburgh’s offensive packages. Roethlisberger has evolved into a Field General QB, both before and after the snap. And he can still extend plays, even easier than before, in fact, considering his line has quietly become one of the NFL’s two or three best.

3. Great as Roethlisberger is, there were times late last season where he didn’t read basic underneath coverages. This led to interceptions and, luckily for him but still troubling, several dropped interceptions.

4. There are two things Pittsburgh does brilliantly with its wide receivers. One is aligning Antonio Brown alone on the weak side. This almost always clarifies the coverage because Brown attracts a double-team from the safety, making the defense nearly impossible to disguise. The other is aligning in bunch formations, with three receivers grouped together. Often these bunches are tight to the formation, which affords receivers more space for working off the line. When the Steelers are in a trips formation but not bunched, the defense must be on high alert for a wide receiver screen. Or, it must be on alert for a fake screen that sets up a downfield pass to a streaking tight end. Jesse James and Xavier Grimble both produced on these in 2016.

5. Right guard David DeCastro is an important piece in this offense. He’s often the designated move-blocker in Pittsburgh’s gap-scheme runs. They love to run Bell on “counter left,” where he can work comfortably behind DeCastro’s pull-block.

6. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler talked this offseason about the importance of playing more basic coverages and rushing with four. Presumably, he’d like to employ a little more man-to-man. (Adding Joe Haden is certainly a good early step in that process.) In the AFC championship game, Butler’s Steelers played all zone coverage and Tom Brady tore them apart. It’ll be interesting to see just how much man-to-man and other straightforward coverages Butler calls. He runs a diverse scheme, and with almost all of last year’s lineup back he’ll be tempted to expand, not reduce. We’ll see what he does when the games actually start counting.

7. Defining characteristics of Butler’s existing zone scheme include slot corner blitzes (often with a Cover 2 rotation behind them, in hopes of the quarterback throwing into a double-team) and A-gap blitzes, with linebackers penetrating between the guard and center. In the base packages, the Steelers play with one deep safety. To the wide side of the field, they’ll play matchup zone, and to the short side of the field, they’ll play landmark zone, with defenders dropping to a spot. Lastly, there are a ton of zone exchanges. That’s where the defense blitzes one player but drops another pass rusher back into coverage, creating an unpredictable four-man rush.

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Senquez Golson might be on his way out, Ross Cockrell might not be good, and Mike Hilton might be a legitimate starter.

The Boston Red Sox selected 10 outfielders in the 2011 MLB Draft, including Senquez Golson, a bright-eyed centerfielder from Pascagoula High School in Mississippi. This was no throwaway pick: the Red Sox selected Golson in the eighth round, two picks before Kyle Hendricks, a legitimate ace pitcher who helped the Chicago Cubs to a World Series title last season, and a full round before Travis Shaw, a rock-solid utility man who is currently the best player on a potentially playoff-bound Milwaukee Brewers squad.

Golson, having already committed to the University of Mississippi to play cornerback for Houston Nutt’s Rebels, declined to sign with Boston. At Ole Miss, Golson quickly established himself as one of the best defensive backs in the country, setting a school record with 10 interceptions in his senior season. His success translated into a second opportunity to play professional sports, this time with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who selected Golson in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Given what has transpired since—namely, two season-ending injuries in 2015 and 2016 and a third injury this season that could effectively end his Steelers career by virtue of a release—it is fair to wonder if Golson believes that he made the wrong choice. The Red Sox, who are currently 73-53 and have a five-game lead in the AL East, are a strong World Series contender. In some alternate universe, maybe Golson somehow beat out current All-Star centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. for the starting gig, won a ring in 2013, and is currently a key component of one of the most dangerous teams in baseball. (I like to imagine that in this universe Tom Bradyretired at age 35 to be a full-time gardener).

In our universe, though, Golson is one of 11 cornerbacks fighting for a roster spot on the Steelers. Golson, unlike the other 10 cornerbacks on the roster, is enigmatic in the sense that we have no baseline from which to judge his abilities. His professional career has been entirely subverted by injuries, which, if we’re being honest, isn’t even his fault. In the spirit of baseball, let’s use a topical baseball example: on Wednesday, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill pitched eight perfect innings against the Pirates before losing his perfect game on an infield error in the bottom of the 9th inning. This sucked, but at least his no-hitter was still intact. Remarkably, Hill did no-hit the Pirates in theory, but not in actuality, thanks to the fact that his Dodgers teammates, who are the baseball version of the Golden State Warriors, scored exactly zero runs. Hill, seeking to extend his no-hitter into extra innings, gave up a walk-off home run to Josh Harrison in the bottom of the 10th inning, which was the first hit that he allowed in the game. For context, this dude pitched nine innings of no-hit baseball (eight of which were perfect!) and ended up taking a loss. The point is that sometimes you do everything right and still hold an L. Existence is pain.

Golson, presumed public enemy number no. 1 of Lady Luck and three-time victim of the most inauspicious of circumstances, is not a likely candidate to secure a spot among the final 53 players on Pittsburgh’s Week 1 roster. To even put himself in this conversation, Golson will not only need to play in Pittsburgh’s final preseason game (and ideally in their penultimate one, too), but also channel his inner Champ Bailey during practice.

But even as I sit here today, I recognize that there is a real-world possibility that Senquez Golson will play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017. This is for three reasons:

  • Golson was a second-round pick, and the Steelers will absolutely ride-and-die with high draft picks. Dri Archer was not good enough to play for the New York Jets (the New York Jets, you guys) but still hung around Pittsburgh for two seasons.
  • The last time Golson played organized football, approximately three seasons ago at Ole Miss, he was a monster. Mel Kiper Jr., who is right more often than he is wrong, said Golson was “one of his favorite picks” of the 2015 Draft. Golson is surely a major injury liability, but underneath his paper skin and glass bones beats the heart of a very talented defensive back.
  • The remainder of the secondary is an imbroglio of Tom Brady chew-toys. Like, why not see what Golson can do?

Take a cursory glance at the roster. I’ll wait. Based on this list, I have been able to draw exactly one conclusion that I’m willing to stand behind: Artie Burns will start at cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s literally it.

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PITTSBURGH, PA – DECEMBER 25: Le’Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on December 25, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers won the AFC North division title in back-to-back years they ended up winning the Super Bowl. That happened following the 2008 season when the Steelers knocked off the Arizona Cardinals for their sixth and most recent Vince Lombardi Trophy.

This year, Pittsburgh is listed as a +110 favorite (bet $100 to win $110) on the odds to win the AFC North for the eighth time at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The Steelers had won the AFC Central 15 times before finishing atop the AFC North seven times. They have made 30 playoff appearances overall in their storied history and figure to make the postseason again as long as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown can all stay healthy.

The competition from the rest of the division appears weaker than in previous years as well. The Baltimore Ravens are listed as the +175 second choice to win the AFC North and hope quarterback Joe Flacco will be ready to start the regular season.

Flacco has been dealing with a back injury and will not play during the preseason, but the Ravens are planning to have him under center in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Baltimore (8–8) was second in the division behind Pittsburgh (11–5) a year ago, with the Cincinnati Bengals (6–9–1) and Cleveland Browns (1–15) finishing third and fourth, respectively. The Browns were obviously the worst team in the NFL last season, with a 20–17 win over the San Diego Chargers in Week 16 keeping them from going winless.

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The Packers know they haven’t had the same success as the New England Patriots and they need homefield advantage.

GREEN BAY, WI – NOVEMBER 30: Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers and Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots shake hands following the NFL game at Lambeau Field on November 30, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Patriots 26-21. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There are just six teams in the NFL that have active postseason streaks extending two or more seasons.

The Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans have made the playoffs the past two seasons and neither have made it past the divisional round. The Pittsburgh Steelers have reached the playoffs the past three seasons, moving one additional round each season before elimination (wild card in 2014, divisional in 2015, conference championship in 2016). The Seattle Seahawks have made five consecutive postseasons, reaching two Super Bowls with one victory and three divisional round exits.

The New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers are tied for the active lead with eight consecutive postseason appearances, but they’ve gone in vastly different directions. The longest postseason streaks in history are nine consecutive years by the 1975-83 Dallas Cowboys and the 2002-10 Indianapolis Colts.

Green Bay won the Super Bowl in 2010 and lost two additional conference title games in 2014 and 2016 to go with two wild card round exits and three divisional round losses. After losing in the wild card round in 2009 and in the divisional round in 2010, the Patriots have reached six straight conference title games with three Super Bowl appearances.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers knows the Patriots’ success looms large over the collective head of the Packers according to his interview with Monday Morning Quarterback.

“Of course you hear about it,” Rodgers said. “I get asked about it, I got asked about it last week—this idea that the Packers embrace mediocrity. I think what we’ve done the last eight years`making the playoffs, there’s only a couple other teams that have ever done that. New England, actually, currently is on the same streak as us, making the playoff for eight straight years. That’s tough to do, especially with the parity of this league and how they pair up division champions each year to play each other in the same conference. We’ve sustained success, we just haven’t sustained it on the top level. We haven’t won more than one Super Bowl. We’ve also been to three NFC championship games and none of them home. So that’s how we look at it. We’ve got to get one of those at home, because we are tough to beat at home.

“I don’t feel like our window is closing here. I feel like this window is going to be open for a while. And in order for some of that stuff to go away, the outside noise, we’re going to have to win another Super Bowl. It would be disappointing if we were only able to win one in my time here. Hopefully we can get one of those done.”

The Patriots serve as the benchmark for every NFL team over the past twenty seasons and it’s pretty unfair for all of the other successful squads during that time. Not only do they have to face the Patriots on the field, but they also have to compete with them from a legacy standpoint.

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Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams remains a free agent. His former running backs coach, James Saxon, thinks he should be on an NFL team this year. Here, Williams speaks to the media following the Steelers’ 24-16 win against the Cincinnati Bengals in Pittsburgh, Friday, September 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Jared Wickerham)(Jared Wickerham)

LATROBE, Pa. — James Saxon is coaching a running backs room that’s missing his first- and second-choice backs from last season.

Le’Veon Bell is working out in Miami with his franchise tag still unsigned. DeAngelo Williams is a free agent.

But Saxon, who compiled 533 rushing yards and five touchdowns himself in his eight years in the league, thinks Williams should be back in the NFL this season. Williams told ESPN’s Adam Schefter he will be.

Williams also said he won’t play for the Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars or the Carolina Panthers, the team he spent his entire career with before joining the Steelers in 2015.

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Bruce Arians took some time off from coaching the Arizona Cardinals to co-author a book titled “The Quarterback Whisperer “

The Arizona Cardinals’ Bruce Arians knew early on in his life that he had a destiny. He wasn’t going to be a doctor, a lawyer or a school teacher. He wasn’t going to pursue a life as a construction worker, coal miner or a mechanic to pay the bills.

While all of those are noble professions, Arians knew quickly that he was put on this earth to coach football. More specifically, the head coach of the Cardinals was destined to teach quarterbacks. After decades of doing just that, the 64-year old has now decided to put his wealth of experiences down on paper.

“The Quarterback Whisperer ” is an outstanding personal account of the life of a quarterback instructor. Co-authored with Lars Anderson, Arians reveals tales from his days as a collegiate coach all the way through his many stops in the NFL. A coaching career that has spanned an incredible 40-plus years.

The author was the quarterbacks coach of the Indianapolis Colts when they made Peyton Manning the first pick of the 1998 Draft. Arians tells of the Colts’ Combine meeting with the Tennessee Volunteer, of how the future Hall of Famer basically took over the get-together. Manning was so prepared for it that he ended up asking the Colts’ brass the questions, instead of vice-versa.

The then-21 year old had obviously done his homework on the team, convincing Arians and his cohorts that he was their guy. 1998’s other top passer, Washington State’s Ryan Leaf, paled in comparison. Especially after he blew off HIS meeting with the Colts (a group that included Arians, Bill Polian, Jim Mora and Tom Moore) the very next day.

The backup quarterback has always been dear to Arians’ heart, proven by his devotion to one of his favorites, Kelly Holcomb. The book reveals that the two were together in a couple of different cities, Indy and Cleveland. The coach tells of Holcomb leading the Browns to a 2003 triumph over the San Francisco 49ers, despite playing the final drive on a broken leg.

When Arians was the wide receivers coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers (2004-06), he had to correct head coach Bill Cowher on a mistake he was making. When Cowher disagreed with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt’s play calls, he could be heard over the headset saying something like “Here comes a fumble”. Arians made a point of letting his head coach know that he shouldn’t be doing that, that he was messing with the confidence of the young play-caller.

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Steelers CB Ross Cockrell was named the team’s “secret superstar” by Pro Football Focus, but shouldn’t be a secret in 2017.

In 2015 the Pittsburgh Steelers picked up a cornerback who was released by the Buffalo Billswhen rosters were trimmed, and the Pittsburgh fan base wondered just who this Ross Cockrellwas, and what he brought to the table?

A Duke graduate, Cockrell certainly does’t lack between the ears, and it wasn’t long before he was making plays on the field, making the Steelers’ look like geniuses for picking him up off the Buffalo dump heap.

Two years later, Cockrell is the team’s starting cornerback opposite Artie Burns, and is a year away from a major pay day as an unrestricted free agent. But is he recognized for his quality play by the Steelers’ broad fan base, and among his peers in the NFL?

According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he isn’t recognized, and is why he was listed as the Steelers’ Secret Superstar in a recent article. See what they had to say about this designation:

CB Ross Cockrell

2016 snaps: 1,025

Key stat: Allowed just two catches for 38 yards on six targets against A.J. Green in Week 2, while breaking one up.

Surrendered just .87 yards per coverage snap.

A fourth-round pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2014, Cockrell didn’t make it in Buffalo before playing 1,953 snaps for the Steelers over the past two seasons and starting all 2016. He didn’t record an interception in 2016, but did break up 10 passes and allowed just two scores over 93 total targets including the playoffs. Cockrell has size and range, and didn’t allow a reception longer than 37 yards all season, despite facing some elite receivers.

Regardless of your personal opinions of Cockrell are as a player, it is hard to argue his importance to the defense. Without Cockrell, you would see someone like William Gay or Cameron Sutton be forced into duties outside, when that might not be their bread-and-butter.

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