On Monday, 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: “I still can’t believe that Cleveland couldn’t take advantage of beating Pittsburgh the last time these two teams met, after the Steelers had no kicker for the entire second half. This week, it sounds like Pittsburgh could possibly be with a new punter for the second straight week. How was that punter’s performance against the Chiefs?”
Jeff: “Corliss Waitman only punted the ball twice vs. the Chiefs, but those two punts were solid. Nothing to write home about, but they weren’t horrible. The biggest issue surrounding any new punter isn’t necessarily the kicking aspect of the job, but holding for Chris Boswell. Boswell missed a kick in Kansas City, and, like most kickers, he is very peculiar with how he wants things to operate from a holding standpoint. With an extra week of work, I wouldn’t imagine having any problems this Monday night at Heinz Field.”
Chris: “The AFC North has been very wacky this year, to the point where even the 7-8 Browns could control their own destiny if the Bengals and Ravens lose on Sunday. The Steelers have been up-and-down, so what would you say is the No. 1 thing hindering them right now?”
Jeff: “The Steelers are losing the battle in the trenches, on both sides of the ball. That is where it starts and stops when it comes to the issues plaguing this team. The offensive line can’t pass protect or run block with any level of consistency, and this has resulted in offensive coordinator Matt Canada almost guessing regarding play calling and what might work on any particular play. Defensively, the Steelers’ inability to stop the run has been the main issue since the Week 6 game vs. the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. They have gone from a Top 10 rush defense to one of the bottom feeders in the category. It may sound cliche, but the Steelers’ inability to control the line of scrimmage is what has hurt this team throughout this turbulent 2021 season.”
Chris: “Last year, Ben Roethlisberger became more and more of a liability as the season came to a close. What about this year — has he still been OK, or have you seen a dropoff again?”
Jeff: “Ben Roethlisberger is the same ‘Big Ben’ fans grew to know and love earlier in his career. He isn’t able to move and manipulate the pocket like he once did, and his lack of trust in the offensive line has resulted in him being gun shy more than once as he thought there was pressure, but there wasn’t. Roethlisberger’s game has been consistent this season, and that doesn’t mean it’s been outstanding. But unlike last year where he started off great and tailed off at the end, Roethlisberger’s game has been pretty average all season. You don’t see Roethlisberger throwing 4 TDs and 400 yards anymore, but instead you hope for 0 INTs as a good day at the office. This is likely Roethlisberger’s final home game of his career, barring the team somehow winning the division, and he’ll want to go out with a win.”
Chris: “What is the latest on the injury front for Pittsburgh?”
Jeff: “The Steelers are hoping to get some key pieces back for this prime time game Monday night. Rookie TE Pat Freiermuth should return to practice coming off a concussion which had him sidelined last week. The Steelers could also promote guard Kevin Dotson off Injured Reserve to help bolster their offensive line. On top of that, expect several names, like Zach Banner, to come off the Reserve/COVID-19 List. While these names won’t be a God send for the team, they need all hands on deck for the last two games of the season.”
Chris: “Who do you think wins the AFC North?”
Jeff: “I think the Bengals take the AFC North this season. With only needing one win to clinch the crown, I believe they’ll be able to take care of business, leaving the rest of the division scrambling for a Wild Card spot.”
Thanks again to Jeff for taking the time to answer my questions.