On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns’ take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. To help preview a few topics from Pittsburgh’s perspective, we reached out to Jeff Hartman from Behind the Steel Curtain and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “After starting the season 11-0, Pittsburgh lost to Washington, Buffalo, and Cincinnati. They were on pace to get blown out by the Colts before turning things around in the second half last week. Without taking fatigue into consideration, which on-field performances contributed to Pittsburgh’s slide the most?”
Jeff: “The one on-field performance which killed the Steelers’ offense, because that was the issue throughout the skid, was predictability. The Steelers were ridiculously predictable on offense, and if a defense was aggressive, which Washington, Buffalo and Cincinnati were, they were able to absolutely crush the Steelers’ short passing game. The second half vs. the Colts the Steelers threw caution into the wind and started pressing the ball down the field. Once they had success in that area, it opened up the entire playbook. If the Steelers can’t push the ball downfield, they will struggle as defenses have caught up to the short passing game which gave them such success early in the season.”
Chris: “What is your stance on the whole matter of Pittsburgh resting players this week? Is it the right move, given the team’s end-of-season slump? Besides Ben Roethlisberger, have you heard anything about what Pittsburgh may do? Obviously they can’t rest everyone because there are only so many players on the roster.”
Jeff: “As of me answering these questions, Roethlisberger was the only player who publicly was told would be resting Sunday. However, when you look at the injury report on Wednesday it looks as if there are plenty of others who are slated to get the game off as well. I would expect Maurkice Pouncey, Cam Heyward and Joe Haden, maybe more, to get the game off. As for whether this is the right move, that certainly is debatable. I am a person who believes a lot of Roethlisberger’s struggles were fatigue, both in his legs and arm. A week off could be just what the doctor ordered, but you do have to concern yourself with the fact the offense has struggled so much in the final quarter of the season.”
Editor’s Note: Since this question was asked, the Steelers have said that they will indeed rest at least these key players:
In addition to Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers will not play C Maurkice Pouncey, OLB T.J. Watt and DE Cam Heyward against the Browns on Sunday.— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) December 31, 2020
Chris: “Pittsburgh blew out the Browns 38-7 back in Week 6. Think back to that game, if you can — have the Steelers lost (or gained) any key personnel since then to injury?”
Jeff: “Since Week 6 the Steelers have suffered several big injuries during that time. Matt Feiler, starting LG, was put on IR with an injured pectoral muscle, Robert Spillane, ILB filling in for Devin Bush, was put on IR with a knee injury and Bud Dupree, OLB, was lost for the season with an ACL tear. Outside of those players who were put on IR, the Steelers have been a relatively healthy unit. They are really thin at the Guard and ILB positions, but like all 32 NFL teams you have to learn how to adjust and adapt. The Steelers’ trade for Avery Williamson has paid dividends with his experience, and the hope is Spillane, and maybe Feiler, could return for the Steelers’ postseason run. ”
Chris: “How has Pittsburgh’s offensive line held up? Have any of the performances declined?”
Jeff: “The Steelers’ pass protection continues to be the best in the NFL. They have only surrendered 13 sacks on the entire season, best in the NFL, but for their success in pass protection comes their weakness as a run blocking unit. The Steelers’ average under 89 yards per game on the ground, and this number is the second worst in the NFL. This offensive line isn’t a physical unit, which is on display with their inability to open up running lanes and their struggles in short yardage. Believe it or not, when the Steelers lost Feiler, it pushed rookie Kevin Dotson into the game and he has been a bright spot for the team, especially in run blocking. The more comfortable he gets, the more success the Steelers could have in the running game. The Steelers’ OLine is literally Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One is great, the other causes problems.”
Chris: “Look forward to next week — which AFC team are you hoping the Steelers will host in the first round of the playoffs? Cleveland, Baltimore, Miami, Indianapolis, or Tennessee?”
Jeff: “To be honest, I don’t really care who the Steelers play. The AFC is a really tough conference this season, and there are no easy games. You could go through every single team you just mentioned and give a reason why a team should be concerned playing them in a win-or-go-home situation. Whether it be Lamar Jackson’s freakish athleticism, Miami’s stout defense or the Titans’ and Browns’ ability to run the ball. With that said, I don’t want to skirt the question, so I would say if the Steelers could somehow host Miami, I’ll take a rookie quarterback over anyone else for obvious reasons.”
Thanks again to Jeff for taking the time to answer my questions.