On Thursday, the Cleveland Browns’ take on 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: “When the Steelers started the season at 1-4, it seemed like they were dead in the water. But now, they’ve ripped off four straight wins with a lot of key defensive plays; and in hindsight, their four losses were against four of the top teams in the NFL. If you had to bet today, do you think Pittsburgh makes the postseason in 2019?”
Jeff: “If I had to bet, I would say yes for a lot of reasons. Mainly, they control their own destiny. If you look at the teams on the cusp of the playoff picture (IND, BUF, CLE) Pittsburgh has either beaten them, or will play them in the remaining 7 games. Also, it might not look like it on paper, but the offense is improving. Put a competent offense with that defense and anything can happen!”
Chris: “When Pittsburgh first traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick, I was scratching my head a little. Yes, he’s a very good player, but it was looking like the Steelers were in for a losing season this year, which would make that 1st round pick all-the-more valuable. Instead, Fitzpatrick has been electrifying with game-changing defensive plays every week. Talk about the job he’s done for Pittsburgh.”
Jeff: “Fitzpatrick has been everything he was billed to be, and then some. He has been a calming presence in the back end of the secondary, and is an absolute magnet for the football. The trade was gutsy, but it has paid huge dividends for the Steelers since the moment he put on that black-and-gold jersey for the first time in Week 3. The key for me in the trade was this wasn’t a ‘rental’ player situation. Instead, they have control over Fitzpatrick for at least 4 more seasons, and if he can keep up this kind of play, fans will be in for a treat for a long time. The biggest difference between Fitzpatrick in MIA vs. Fitzpatrick in PIT has been where he is being utilized. In Miami they had him more as a slot defender, whereas he is a pure Free Safety in Pittsburgh’s scheme. This is what he wanted, and why he was asking for a trade, and the Steelers were happy to oblige in him being that superstar safety they haven’t had since Troy Polamalu played strong safety for them.”
Chris: “What is your assessment of Mason Rudolph so far -- tell us about the good and the bad.”
Jeff: “The Good - Super confident in his abilities, fearless and showing improvement.
The Bad - Doesn’t want to take the big risk, gun shy at times, holds onto the ball too long
Rudolph has looked like a rookie QB so far this season. Although he is a second year player, he never even dressed for a game in 2018, so he came into 2019 with zero regular season experience. With that said, Rudolph’s game is simple, intentionally, but improving. You can see him getting more and more comfortable every week, and some of his deeper throws have been vastly improved. Assuming he continues on this trajectory, I can foresee him being the future QB of the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger’s time in Pittsburgh is up.”
Chris: “What is the biggest weakness on the Steelers’ defense?”
Jeff: “It is crazy to consider right now, but there aren’t many weaknesses currently. However, the Steelers have been gashed by the run on occasion this season. It is this facet which concerns me the most when facing the Browns. Their two RBs of Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb could help keep the pressure off Baker Mayfield. If the Browns can’t run the ball, expect the Steelers pass rush to impose their will on the Browns’ offensive front.”
Chris: “Tell us about one player on offense who Browns fans might not be familiar with, but who could make a nice contribution for this week’s game.”
Jeff: “Look for a rookie receiver named Diontae Johnson. His role has expanded as the year has progressed, and with most teams taking away JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington, it has been Johnson who has been finding space. He is a tremendous route runner, has great speed and draws comparisons to Antonio Brown. On top of that, he has a growing rapport with Rudolph. He could have a huge impact on the game Thursday night.”
Thanks again to Jeff for taking the time to answer my questions.