On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns kick off the regular season at home against their Pennsylvania rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. To help preview a few topics from the Steelers’ perspective, we reached out to Jeff Hartman from Behind the Steel Curtain and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “Joe Haden was snatched up quickly by the Pittsburgh Steelers. For as much as Browns fans loved the guy for his love for the city of Cleveland, everyone saw how he was a shell of his former self the past two seasons. What role is Haden expected to play for the Steelers in Week 1? Will he jump right into the starting lineup?”
Jeff: “I believe Haden will be a starting CB for the Steelers, but he won't be the No. 1 guy on the field. Artie Burns is the team's best CB, but Haden will be a welcome sight in Pittsburgh. While many fans wonder what Haden has left in the tank after two injury-plagued seasons, a 75-percent Haden is far better than a 100-percent Ross Cockrell (traded to the NYG) or Coty Sensabaugh. Even Haden as a ‘shell of his former self’ would be an upgrade for the Steelers' secondary. That speaks volumes about the CBs the team has deployed in 2017, but he will be starting for the Steelers from Day 1.”
Chris: “T.J. Watt was the Steelers' first-round pick at the tail end of the first round. What type of camp and preseason did he have, and should we expect him to start of be a part of the rotation?”
Jeff: “Watt has been as advertised, in my opinion. He has a high motor, and NEVER quits on a play. He has ridiculous speed and athleticism, but needs to work on his pass rushing technique. He has had a very good preseason, and has made great strides in improving his craft throughout the four-week process. Watt will be a great sub package linebacker, due to his ability to run with receivers while still being able to stop the run, but I fully expect the Steelers to spell him with James Harrison on specific pass rushing situations. Watt is going to be good, but Harrison still has "it" when it comes to beating tackles and getting after the quarterback.”
Chris: “Besides (potentially) cornerback, what would you consider the Steelers' biggest area of weakness heading into the 2017 season?”
Jeff: “Not to sound conceited, but this is arguably the best Steelers roster in the past decade. They are a very complete on all levels, but the team's secondary, both CB and S, could still be considered weaknesses. They are still young at the positions with Artie Burns and Sean Davis, both starters, only in their second year. If a team is going to beat Pittsburgh, they attack the outside cornerbacks, but first have to set up the run to make the safeties commit to stopping the run. It is a proven equation, and will continue to be just that until the Steelers finally have a group capable of playing better.”
Chris: “Sammie Coates was shipped to the Browns for practically nothing last week. What was your overall assessment of him as a receiver, and who did Pittsburgh add this year to make him expendable?”
Jeff: “Coates looked like he was having a breakout year before his hand injury in 2016, which he never got fixed, but he lacked confidence ever since. Coates has never been the most sure-handed receiver, and that continues to plague him to this day, but his effort was even more frustrating. He would rarely fight for the football, and never commit on comeback routes. As for who made him expendable, that would be none other than Martavis Bryant being reinstated. When that happened, and Justin Hunter was signed, the writing was on the wall for for Coates to be on the outside looking in. Steelers fans are just happy they got something for him.”
Chris: “No one questions Le'Veon Bell's talent, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he could handle a 30-carry day right off the bat despite not having been through camp. Did Steelers fans care that he was sitting out? If something happens where Bell doesn't get a full load this camp, who has served as Pittsburgh's "starting back" throughout camp and how did they perform?”
Jeff: “Steelers fans were pissed off Bell wasn't with the team in training camp, and the comments made by the organization didn't help the situation much. The biggest 'beef' with him not showing was he was gaining nothing from the holdout. Since the NFL states he cannot negotiate a new contract until the end of the 2017 season, his holdout was not financially motivated, but merely to make a point and to stay healthy. Nonetheless, I would bet my house once he starts scoring touchdowns the fan base will forget quickly about him being away from the team. For what it's worth, I am predicting for him to have about 25 touches on Sunday.
As for his time away, it really was running back by committee. Fitzgerald Toussaint, Knile Davis, who both got cut, along with James Conner and Terrell Watson all got significant reps at the position with Bell out of the picture. According to the Week 1 depth chart, it is Conner who is RB2, and Watson RB3. Either way you slice it, the team needs Bell to be on the field, and at his best, for the team to be successful.”
Thanks again to Jeff for taking the time to answer my questions.