Tag Archives: JuJu Smith-Schuster

Fresh Eyes: Part II

Screen Shot 2019-08-19 at 9.27.16 AMSteven Nelson and Sean Davis: Karl Rosen photo, Steelers.com

by Ivan Cole

The Disclaimer. It has always been my standard practice when discussing the possibilities of any new season to caution that all is subject to change based upon the potential impact of an unavoidable factor in the NFL dynamic: Injuries. 

Usually I have spoken of this in the manner of those commercials where a narrator in rapid fire fashion attempts to slip past you the possibility that in addition to the wonders provided by the product they are selling, there is also a chance that it could kill you. In this segment there will be a deeper dive into the Disclaimer, providing a more specific set of arguments and information related to just how injuries might play out as anything from an annoyance to a derailment of the 2019 Steelers’ championship aspirations. 

Question # 2: Who do we not want to see on a long-term injury report? 

We begin with a basic assumption that informs all that follows: All injuries are not the same in terms of their impact on a team’s fortunes. For the past several years the Steelers have been very fortunate in the area of injuries. It is not a matter of having not suffered from any. No team in the league is that lucky, rather, they have avoided for the most part those losses that could severely affect the team’s ability to function at an acceptable level of competitiveness. There is a truth that must be acknowledged that all the sloganeering and mythmaking about the ‘next man up’ and ‘the standard is the standard’ cannot gloss over: Even in the rarified environment of a 53 man NFL roster there are players who are expendable and others who are not. Let’s make some distinctions. 

  • Some losses degrade the entertainment experience but have less of an impact on competitiveness. A great current example would be rookie linebacker Devin Bush. The quality of his contribution to the team’s success is completely unknown at this time, but we would be deeply disappointed if he were not available for play. Losing Joe Haden would be another matter altogether. 
  • Certain losses can be tolerated without any discernible degradation in play. Think Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (or just meditate on the pronunciation) and Cameron Sutton. While a too doctrinaire adherence to the standard is the standard is a bit much, it does not mean it is without truth or value. 
  • In some cases, though it may not be ideal, a reduction in effectiveness can be compensated for by others stepping up. Marcus Gilbert’s injury last season did not cause the offensive line to fall apart but provided the opportunity for Matt Feiler, Chuks Okorafor and others to step up. It could be argued that because of the supplemental personnel available it established Gilbert as expendable and could be part of the explanation of why he is no longer part of the team. 
  • Other factors include the type, timing and duration of an injury. A few weeks in dry dock early or in the middle of the season is one thing (Sutton, Haden) injured reserve for the year (Adeniyi, Jerald Hawkins) is something else. 
  • And Rebecca would add that some injuries resulting in long-term IR can be highly convenient—as was Ola Adeniyi’s injury last summer. It allows the team to stash away a promising player who isn’t ready to take a roster spot and who might well not make it through waivers. His injury last week was not quite so convenient…

What follows is my assessment of the twelve players likely to be part of the 53 who should deeply concern us, should they end up on a long-term injury list this season. They will be presented in relatively ascending order. Naturally, debate and discussion are both welcome and expected. 

Sean Davis. The first three selections may not seem as obvious because of the nature of their contributions to the team. Their presence may not be noticed because so much of the value of their play is in facilitating the efforts of those around them. When they are not in or ineffective, we notice something amiss but may not be able to identify what is wrong. When discussing the strengths of the Steelers’ secondary Davis’ name is rarely among the first players mentioned. To me, he is somewhat reminiscent of Ryan Clark, whose presence allowed Troy Polamalu (and before that the late Sean Taylor of Washington) the freedom to be great, in addition to making great plays in his own right. 

Stephon Tuitt. Not the top guy in his position group but besides being an incredibly disruptive force when he is playing at the top of his game is also a facilitator of the other linemen and linebackers that surround him and amplifies their effectiveness. 

Alejandro Villanueva. The importance of his position would be reason enough to appear on this list—something many casual fans may tend to overlook or not understand. Add to that him being at the top of the class league-wide in the quality of his play, and then factor in the intangibles of leadership and toughness. 

James Connor. You might wonder about the relatively low ranking that this Pro Bowl running back is being given. One of the unintended consequences of the antics and absences of Le’Veon Bell is that he inadvertently provided evidence in making the case for the reduced value of running backs in today’s NFL. Connor, and before him, DeAngelo Williams demonstrated that an adequate running attack could be had without having superstar caliber running talent. Similar trends are occurring with nose tackles and return specialists, which is why Javon Hargrave won’t be part of this list. Losing Connor would be something we would prefer not to see, but it would not be a bad bet that Jaylan Samuels, Roosevelt Nix, Bennie Snell Jr and Trey Edmunds could stand in the gap and deliver. 

Joe Haden. There are three things Haden brings which are difficult to replace. He has the talent to play competitively against the best receivers in the league. He brings strong veteran leadership, essential for a relatively young team, not just to the locker room but to the field of play. Most importantly, as demonstrated against the Patriots last season, he plays big in big games. A lot of players can throttle an opponent on a Dolphin team in October but come off as average at best on the largest stages. 

T.J. Watt. Watt is developing similar traits to Haden and is ranked higher because of his position. Those factors are more front and center throughout the course of the game. Less veteran leadership for now, but this is just a matter of time. There is no doubt concerning both his talent and the bigness of his play. 

Maurkice Pouncey. The distribution of virtues is a little different here relative to others. His leadership is what puts him off the charts. Under ordinary circumstances the team is fortunate to have a player of the caliber of a B. J. Finney who can technically execute the position. However, what Pouncey brings as leader of the position group, the offense and the team is irreplaceable. 

JuJu Smith-Schuster. Another player who, despite his playful, irreverent aura, displays that consistent ability to step up in big time situations (which is what made his fumble in the Saints game such a devastating moment—it was so out of character). In addition, he now must shoulder the responsibilities of being the #1 receiver. Moreover, the loss of Coach Drake and the potential cascading effect throughout that room easily makes the case 

Chris Boswell. Assuming he makes the team without incident, a midseason injury when there may be few, if any replacements available of similar ability would be difficult to overcome. What he provides is simply not easily replaceable. The case is easily made that the lack of productivity at his position was the difference between making the playoffs and not last season. (Which is a very kind way of putting it, Ivan…)

Cam Heyward. His value is most like that of Pouncey, and his productivity may be  even harder to replace given the system and the other talent available. 

Vance McDonald. This is a very straight forward issue. Tight end is the thinnest, most fragile position group on the team. If McDonald goes down, as of this writing, the whole unit, and with it, much of the offensive balance goes down the toilet. (Which is why so many of the local beat writers assume the Steelers are going to pick up a veteran at some point.)

Ben Roethlisberger. It makes for a nice diverting parlor game to discuss the relative merits of Dobbs vs Rudolph vs Hodges, but if we are doing anything in the coming weeks other than speaking in terms of any of them doing more than a little mop-up duty in the wake of a rout, Steeler Nation is screwed. It bears repeating as often as we must: Homer, Rebecca and I checked when we were in Latrobe.  There are no trees that grow franchise quarterbacks. (Western PA may be the cradle of quarterbacks, but they appear to be produced in the usual way.)

If Ben goes down, winning a championship will not be impossible. The ’68 Colts, ’72 Dolphins and the ’74 and ’76 Steelers got far with rather dicey situations at quarterback. But just because it is theoretically possible to drive a car with your feet while drunk, it is not something that sober folk would recommend. 

Next: The Receivers 

Note: As usual all italicized comments are editorial (in other words, by Rebecca) and Ivan cannot be blamed for them…

Fresh Eyes: Part 1

Screen Shot 2019-08-14 at 9.26.23 AMphoto: Rebecca Mehling/Steelers.com

by Ivan Cole

As Rebecca has already mentioned, life has slowed both of us down a bit but that should not be construed to mean that interest has been lost in the fortunes of the Steelers. For me it represents an opportunity to approach the upcoming season in a manner opposite from that which has been the case since I have been privileged to communicate with you concerning the fortunes of what I believe to be a model of what a first class organization, in sports or any endeavor is, as it strives to reach its goals. 

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Some More Random Thoughts on Steelers v. Bengals

Photo via Steelers.com/Karl Rosen

By Ivan Cole

Unlike Rebecca I saw the game in real time. These are the things that impressed me about this performance:

Meanness.

Rebecca and some others might have not have understood my comments in a previous post about Pittsburgh lacking a certain quality of meanness. I think this is because we often conflate ‘mean’ with ‘dirty’. This is, I believe, the Bengal’s fatal flaw. Cincinnati, as usual, was the dirtier team. Pittsburgh was the meaner team. What the highlights did not adequately convey was, despite the closeness of the score, how thoroughly the Steelers beat the Bengals up. The difference could be most clearly seen when comparing the play and effectiveness of Vance McDonald, who connects with Ben Roethlisberger through Bible studies and cancer survivor James Connor with that of Vontaze Burfict. Burfict played dirty. McDonald and Connor played mean. The result was a parade of Bengal players forced to the sideline, the locker room, and concussion protocol without roughness or unsportsmanlike penalties, while, despite threats and Cincinnati’s best efforts, the Steelers came through relatively unscathed. Read more

A Few Random Thoughts on Steelers v. Bengals

Photo via Steelers.com/Karl Rosen

These thoughts are not deep. That would be difficult, being as I couldn’t actually watch the game. They were garnered as I watched the highlight reel a couple of times.

There is one small factor which makes them slightly more valuable than my thoughts for many weeks previous—I can now actually see reasonably well out of both my eyes. It seems to me this ups the validity of my musings at least a little. (In case you’re wondering, I had cataract surgery on Tuesday. I have what they call “young person’s cataracts,” which is a nice way of saying “you’re old but not quite ancient.”)

So here they are, in no particular order:

  • Vance MacDonald has a lot of competition, but he may be my new favorite Steeler. How fitting it was that the first guy he took out on his little 29-yard scamper would be Vontaze Burfict. Another contender for my favorite, James Conner, put some hurt on Burfict himself, or he perhaps would have lost his place in line this week.
  • Why would any defensive coach in his right mind leave AB uncovered? Not that I’m complaining.
  • In his post-game conference, Ben said “What a great game!” about James Conner, and went on to say “I know it’s his last game, with Le’Veon coming back and all,” and that it was nice for James to have a game like this as his last one. The assembled media got a good laugh out of that. But it made me think how lucky the Steelers are that such statements are jokes—that the team isn’t hanging on desperately to hope that Le’Veon really will return this week. (No one, as far as I know, really knows when or if he will come back, perhaps even including Le’Veon.)
  • A bull in a china shop is a scary image. A bull in a china closet is just weird. Sometimes the broadcasters should think before they speak…
  • I didn’t know that volleyball was approved by the NFL, but there it was, two Bengals defenders batting the ball right to Ben, who said “Thank you very much” and took it across the line of scrimmage. Very entertaining.
  • What was with the Dr. Jeckell/Mr. Hyde special teams? Last week they were awesome; this week they sucked. A “foolish consistency” may be the “hobgoblin of small minds,” (an appropriate thought as Hallowe’en approaches) but I happily agree to be considered small-minded if special teams will agree to be consistent. Preferably consistently good.
  • Another Steelers/Bengals game, another cheap shot by Vontaze Burfict. As one of the local writers put it, if T.J. Watt was fined $20,000 for his “hit” on Matt Ryan’s “knee,” (emphasis mine), Burfict should be fined approximately $7,000,000,000 for his after-the-whistle elbow-to-the-head on AB. Personally, I think Burfict needs to be protected from himself. A nice long suspension—say 15 years—ought to do it.
  • I did follow the last three minutes or so of the game on the NFL site, and was tempted to repine when the Bengals scored. However, several things gave me hope: 1) the Steelers had all of their time outs, 2) there was still more than a minute, and 3) Cato, the fair-weather Steelers fan who leaves the room when the Steelers are losing too badly, came and sat on my lap for the final minute of the game. Phew!

Well, folks, I’m getting the other eye done in a week and a half, so for the first game after the bye I should be seeing on all cylinders, to coin a not-very-useful phrase. Hopefully I can actually watch the whole thing. That would be a treat. In the meantime, do check out the video on Steelers.com of Ryan Shazier visiting the hospital he was taken to last December. It is very touching. And it is way more important than football.

The Real Issues Facing the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers

By Ivan Cole

I have written previously about the ‘fake news’ that rises this time of the year concerning the Steelers and the rest of the NFL. We are still some distance from clarity as to all the operative narratives that will fully describe the 2018 season, but some of the potentialities are obvious even as the off-season conditioning effort is just commencing, and we are still weeks away from the draft.

Whither Shazier?

Ryan Shazier will not play for the Steelers in 2018, but the trajectory of his life and NFL career may well impact this season and the organization for years to come. If you are young or otherwise not much up on the history of the franchise you might be surprised to learn that this isn’t the first time that a player and the organization faced a verdict of ‘may never play again’. Taking a look at the two most notable examples we learn something uplifting and important about the human spirit and how two men and the leadership of the Steelers organization responded to these challenges.

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5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers: Divisional Round Edition

BA639515-8ED8-47B6-B863-059E31BA4F1F.jpegPhoto via Steelers.com

The long, long bye week is over. Things are getting real. And that’s just for us, the faithful of Steeler Nation. I can’t imagine how real they’re getting down at the Southside, at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. And just like the Steelers, we have to keep our noses to the grindstone and our eyes on the prize, which at the moment is the prize of winning the Divisional Round. So buckle down, folks, and answer these 5 Smoldering Questions. Remember, how much work you put into it determines what you get out of it : )

1. Leonard Fournette, he whose running total back in Week 5 shall Not Be Named, has been said to have hit the rookie wall. Does this encourage you at all? Why or why not?

2. The Steelers also have a couple of rookies who are pretty important—notably T.J. Watt and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Do you see any signs of flagging in them, and if they aren’t (and Fournette is) what do you think is the difference?

3. The Ben Roethlisberger who threw five interceptions in the previous match looked nothing like the Ben Roethlisberger we saw the remainder of the season. To what do you attribute the difference?

4. And related to the previous question, by Week 5 Jacksonville had the No. 1 rated defense by any number of metrics, including the DVOA of Football Outsiders. They still do. How confident are you that the previous result was as much about the failings of the Pittsburgh offense as it was about the awesomeness of the Jacksonville defense?

5. If you were able to watch last week’s game between the Bills and the Jaguars (I, alas, was not*) what was the difference between the way the Bills’ defense and the Pittsburgh defense handled Jacksonville? Is the Buffalo defense’s approach something you think the Steelers’ defense can, to some extent, reproduce? Or do you think it doesn’t matter?

Bonus: If you’re a total masochist head on over to Steelers.com and watch Tunch Ilkin’s “Chalk Talk” episode in which he draws up all five interceptions and the 80-yard touchdown run (or perhaps it was 90—my doctor wouldn’t allow me to check). Not recommended if you have a weak heart, but interesting nonetheless.

*Although from what I hear I was spared…

Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 Fourth Quarter Report: Part Three

A658B5B2-FB0F-41DF-B4A6-05CE4892A8A7By Ivan Cole

Offense

Earlier in the season it all seemed upside down and wrong. Predicted to be the strength of the team, the offense was sputtering. They and the team were being carried by a defense which appeared to be as much of a surprise in the opposite direction. Folks were fully engaged in one of the favorite pastimes of Steelers Nation—hating on offensive coordinator Todd Haley. A few individuals were grumbling within the unit. There were suggestions that some players were losing one or more steps, while others had reached the ceiling of their capabilities. Had that juggernaut Steeler offense, led by the Killer B’s, been just a mirage, a tease?

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