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Steelers tied for NFL lead in goal line TDs

Ray Fittipaldo about 14 hours ago

The seven shots drill Steelers coach Mike Tomlin installed last year with hopes of improving his team’s ability to score and prevent opponents from scoring near the goal line turned out to be a great success. The Steelers opened every offseason and training camp practice with seven plays from the 2-yard line. It was a competitive drill between the offense and the defense designed to help both units improve their efficiency near the goal line.

The Steelers finished the season among the top 10 teams in scoring defense and led the NFL with seven red-zone turnovers. The improvements for the offense were just as impressive.

The Steelers and Patriots tied for the most touchdowns from inside the opponent’s 10-yard line with 28 apiece. That’s a huge jump from the 20 touchdowns the Steelers scored from inside the 10 in 2014.

Not only did the Steelers improve their production they were much more efficient. They scored touchdowns on 28 of their 76 snaps inside the 10 for a 37 percent touchdown rate. In 2014, the Steelers scored on just 20 of their 74 snaps (27 percent).

The 20 touchdowns ranked 12th in 2014, but the 27 percent represented the 27th-worst offense in the league in terms of goal line efficiency.

Scoring eight more touchdowns on only two more snaps is a huge jump from one season to the next. Over the final six games, including games against top defenses such as Seattle, Cincinnati and Denver, the Steelers performed at a 50 percent clip (13 for 27) inside the 10.

Unfortunately, for the Steelers they didn’t get to show off their goal line offense in the playoffs. After averaging almost five snaps inside the 10 per game during the regular season they did not penetrate the Cincinnati 10-yard line in the AFC wild card game and only had one snap inside the 10 in the AFC division round loss in Denver.

The Steelers scored on that only snap against the Broncos, but their inability to get closer to the goal line prevented them from advancing to the AFC championship game.

Some of the playoff woes can be explained away by weather conditions and injuries. The playoff game against the Bengals was played in a torrential downpour, and running back DeAngelo Williams did not play after injuring his foot in the regular-season finale at Cleveland. In Denver, the Steelers had to play again without Williams and All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown, who had a concussion.

Goal line offense is measured from the 9- to the 1-yard line. It’s a different statistic than the red zone, which is measured from the 19 to the 1.

The Steelers’ red-zone offense improved as well but not as much. The Steelers scored touchdowns on 57 of their trips inside the 20, a jump from 51 percent in 2014, but they still only ranked 13th in the league in red-zone efficiency in 2015.

Maybe this spring seven shots will begin at the 18-yard line.

Below is a game-by-game look at the goal line performance in 2015:

Steelers vs. Patriots

Snaps inside the 10: 8

Touchdowns: 1

Steelers vs. 49ers

Snaps inside the 10: 8

Touchdowns: 5

Steelers vs. Rams

Snaps inside the 10: 7

Touchdowns: 1

Steelers vs. Ravens

Snaps inside the 10: 1

Touchdowns: 1

Steelers vs. Chargers

Snaps inside the 10: 1

Touchdowns: 1

Steelers vs. Cardinals

Snaps inside the 10: 4

Touchdowns: 1

Steelers vs. Chiefs

Snaps inside the 10: 1

Touchdowns: 0

Steelers vs. Bengals

Snaps inside the 10: 3

Touchdowns: 1

Steelers vs. Raiders

Snaps inside the 10: 6

Touchdowns: 3

Steelers vs. Browns

Snaps inside the 10: 11

Touchdowns: 1

Steelers vs. Seahawks

Snaps inside the 10: 2

Touchdowns: 1

Steelers vs. Colts

Snaps inside the 10: 7

Touchdowns: 3

Steelers vs. Bengals

Snaps inside the 10: 5

Touchdowns: 2

Steelers vs. Broncos

Snaps inside the 10: 5

Touchdowns: 3

Steelers vs. Ravens

Snaps inside the 10: 3

Touchdowns: 2

Steelers vs. Browns

Snaps inside the 10: 5

Touchdowns: 2

PLAYOFFS

Steelers vs. Bengals

Snaps inside the 10: 0

Touchdowns: 0

Steelers vs. Broncos

Snaps inside the 10: 1

Touchdowns: 1


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No stars and low stars in high school, several Steelers outperformed their recruit rating

Ray Fittipaldo 1 day ago

In honor of National Letter of Intent day I thought we’d take a look back at some Steelers to see where they were ranked on their signing day. J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans often cites his 2-star status as a high school player as motivation for young players who don’t pull down the 4 and 5-star rankings.

Watt isn’t alone in the NFL. In fact, 4- and 5-star rankings don’t really mean much when it comes to which players are getting drafted three and four years later.

Antonio Brown was a no-star recruit coming out of his Miami area high school. He had to go to Central Michigan, where he was teammates with Watt, to hone his craft. The Steelers saw potential in him and selected him in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. He is now a two-time All-Pro and regarded as the best receiver in the NFL.

Le’Veon Bell was a 2-star recruit coming out of his Groveport (Ohio) high school. He played at Michigan State, but on his ESPN recruiting page that still exists the other schools listed included Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan and Marshall. Now the player that Ohio State did not want is an All-Pro in the NFL and mentioned along with Adrian Peterson as the best running in the league.

The Steelers’ other All-Pros were ranked higher. Maurkice Pouncey was a 4-star recruit and chose from among Florida, Florida State and USC. David DeCastro was a 3-star center when he signed with Stanford.

Depending on the recruiting service, 5-star recruits are the players who are judged to be the top 50 players in their recruiting class, or for some in the top 25 or 30. Regardless, those 5-star recruits don’t always have a strong track record of landing in the first round when it’s their turn to be drafted.

Many lower ranked, whether they were underrated to begin with or simply developed their skills better in college, get drafted higher every year.

Watt or Pitt’s Aaron Donald are generally regarded as the top defensive linemen in the NFL. Many consider them to be the best defensive players in the league.

Like Watt, Donald wasn’t a highly rated high school recruit. He was a 3-star prospect coming out of Penn Hills and didn’t have the big name schools after him.

Four years later, he was the No. 14 overall pick in the 2014 draft.

In the same draft, Khalil Mack was the No. 5 overall pick by the Raiders. He was a 2-star recruit and played in relative anonymity at the University of Buffalo in the Mid-American Conference.

I can’t say for sure because I might have missed one, but I couldn’t find a former 5-star recruit on the Steelers.

Here are some other notable Steelers and where they ranked:

Cam Heyward: 4 stars

Jarvis Jones: 4 stars

Ryan Shazier: 4 stars

Martavis Bryant: 4 stars

Markus Wheaton: 3 stars

*In case you missed it, Dri Archer, the Steelers’ third-round pick in 2014, signed a futures contract with the Jets. There are no guarantees with a futures contract. Hundreds of players sign them every offseason as rosters expand to 90 players for OTAs, minicamp and training camp.

Archer, you’ll remember, had a chance to sign with the Steelers as a practice squad player after they cut him in November. He had a chance to sign with other teams and their practice squads and refused. Now he’ll be one of 30 or so nameless faces in Jets camp this summer trying to hook on like an undrafted free agent.


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Steelers are favorite to win Super Bowl 51

Ray Fittipaldo 2 days ago

It's official. The Steelers are the favorite, along with New England and Seattle, to win Super Bowl 51, according to the Westgate superbook in Las Vegas. 

The Steelers, who made it to the divisional round of the playoffs before losing to Denver, are 8 to 1 to win the Lombardi Trophy, same as the Patriots and Seahawks.

The Panthers and Broncos, who meet Sunday in Super Bowl 50, are 10-1 and 14-1, respectively.

Talk of the Steelers being serious contenders to win the AFC next season started the day after their 23-16 loss to the Broncos. The Steelers held a lead for most of the game and had control before Fitzgerald Toussaint fumbled in Denver territory in the fourth quarter, which allowed the Broncos to mount the winning drive.

Plenty of analysts have weighed in as well. Earlier this week former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who will cover Super Bowl 50 for CBS on Sunday, said the Steelers are “very close” to being a Super Bowl team.

Only six more months until the Steelers report to training camp.


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Ask Ed: Would Steelers Trade for Browns LT Joe Thomas?

By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 days ago

Good morning,

Saw my shadow yesterday, which means there will be six more weeks of questions about free agency. Now, your Ask Ed questions:

--- YOU: Do you think any of the old time Steelers such as Shell, Greenwood or Russell will ever be nominated by the veteran's committee anytime soon?

ED: I believe some day they may but I cannot tell you how soon. Myron Cope passionately fought hard for Andy Russell, who had some of his best years for some of the worst Steelers teams. Shell made the finals a few times but never had a lot of support, probably because so many of his teammates joined him in those finals and passed him right by. Same with Greenwood. Of the three, I think Greenwood deserves the honor first. As a young writer, I once referred to Russell as a “future Hall of Famer.’’ I could still be right.

--- YOU: Should the Steelers try to get the Browns OT Joe Thomas?

ED: No or maybe. He’s under contract through 2019 and at a very reasonable price for 2016 ($8.3 million salary, $1.2 million bonuses and $9.5 million cap) for his stature. He has expressed his frustrations over the Browns constant changing and losing and wants out. The Browns would have to trade him (they’re not cutting him) and the price is likely to be high – I would think a first-round draft pick. He’s also 31. No, I wouldn’t go for it unless their asking price is a lot lower than I think it would be.

--- YOU: Who will most likely be our biggest dead money cap hit after cuts are made? Cortez Allen? I’m having a hard time thinking of who else they might cut with a bigger contract.

ED: Yes, Cortez Allen, but that also could take awhile. He is due a salary of $4.4 million this season but there is no March roster bonus this year as there was the $3 million they decided to give him last March. So, they could see how he is in the spring and right through training camp and the preseason before deciding what to do with him, including asking him to take a paycut if they think there is anything there worth it still.  I’m on record believing he will not be on the team in 2016, but stranger things have happened. I just think that after two years of virtually no production and little action, they would want to cut their losses. 

--- YOU: Clearly Cortez Allen is history. What I don't get is that one of your PG colleagues recently suggested that this would bring salary cap savings (paraphrased) to the Steelers. Won't they incur a bunch of dead money against the cap (a la Lamar Woodley) if they let him go?

ED: Yes, depending on when they designate him as a cut or actually cut him. By cutting him, they save his $4.4 million salary both in real money and salary cap, although it depends on when they save it. Ultimately, all that signing bonus money must be counted against the cap. He is signed through 2018 and has $4.05 million left of his signing bonus to be accounted for ($1.35 M times three). If they cut him before March 9, that $4.05 million counts against this year’s cap and their savings on him for this year would be a virtual wash. If they designate him as a June cut, he would count only the original pro-rated signing bonus of $1.35 million against them this year, and thus a more significant savings of $3.05 million in 2016 (his $4.4 million salary less the $1.35 M of one-year pro-rated bonus). However, he would then count $2.7 million in cap dead money in 2017 (his remaining $1.35 M pro-rated bonus times two).

Got all that?

--- YOU: Do the Steelers have a 5th year option on Lev Bell? If they decide to throw some money his way, does that effectively scupper any chance of that big-money free agent Cornerback?

ED: No. All drafted players after the first round have straight four-year contracts. They do not have a club option for a fifth year. Those only go to first-round draft picks. If players drafted after the first round do not sign a new deal before they enter their fifth season in March, they become unrestricted free agents.

By the way, love the word “scupper,” mate.


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Steelers sign WR/return specialist

Ray Fittipaldo 3 days ago

The Steelers signed Levi Norwood to a futures contract Tuesday. The former Baylor Bear was cut by the Chicago Bears in August and never caught on with another team last fall.

Norwood earned all-conference honorable mention in 2013 and ’14 as a return specialist.

After cutting Dri Archer and Jacoby Jones last season the Steelers are in need of a return specialist though one could argue a spot on the 53-man roster for such a player isn’t needed. The Steelers only had 29 kickoff return attempts last season, fewer than two per game. And as long as Antonio Brown is on the team there is not a dire need for a punt returner.

Norwood had two punt returns for touchdowns as a junior. He averaged 19 yards per kickoff return as a senior.

As a receiver, he caught 47 passes for 733 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior. As a senior, he had 35 receptions for 319 yards and two touchdowns.

He was rated as the No. 59 receiver last spring in Nolan Nawrocki’s NFL draft preview. He went undrafted and was signed by the Bears. He was cut August 30.


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