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5 Free Agents the Pittsburgh Steelers Must Target

The Pittsburgh Steelers were uncharacteristically bold in free agency last season, and they got burned.

No one needs to be reminded of the LeGarrette Blount saga. Safety Mike Mitchell, signed to a five-year, $25 million contract, broke up three passes and intercepted none after breaking up eight and intercepting four with the Panthers in 2013. Pro Football Focus ranked Cam Thomas dead last among all 3-4 defensive ends last season. Lance Moore caught 14 passes and Darrius Heyward-Bey caught three.

Arthur Moats and Brice McCain made some nice contributions. Both started nine games. Moats had four sacks and McCain made three interceptions.

Moats and McCain are the types of under-the-radar free agents the Steelers traditionally sign. They need to return to that philosophy in 2015. The big-name signings didn’t work out so well.

The free-agent signing period for the 2015 NFL season officially begins at 4 p.m., on March 10.

The Steelers are projected to be about $4 million over the salary cap, according to Spotrac. They have to dump salary over the next four weeks to make room for a few role players in free agency.

Here are some players who should get a look.

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Mock Draft: Analysis for All 7 Rounds

For the fourth straight year, Pittsburgh Steelers fans had to suffer through another Super Bowl that didn’t involve their team. There was a time not too long ago when the Steelers were in the Super Bowl just about every other year. They went three times from 2005 to 2010.

What’s worse is that in 2015 the Steelers have to play both the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots and NFC-champion Seattle Seahawks on the road, with the possibility of playing the Patriots in the Thursday-night season opener.

Getting back to the playoffs in 2015 won’t be easy. That’s why the Steelers have to find players in the 2015 draft who make an immediate impact.

Now that the NFL offseason has officially begun, here’s an early Steelers mock draft.

FIRST ROUND (No. 22)

Quinten Rollins, CB, Miami of Ohio

The Steelers can’t afford any more mid-round misses on cornerbacks. In this mock draft, they take one in the first round for the first time since they drafted Chad Scott in 1997. They haven’t drafted one in the first two rounds since they chose Bryant McFadden in 2005.

It worked out pretty well the last time the Steelers drafted a player from Miami of Ohio. Like Ben Roethlisberger, Quinten Rollins also ran the offense at Miami. It just wasn’t the football team’s offense.

The 5’11”, 193-pound Rollins played point guard for four years on the basketball team, and finished second in school history with 214 career steals, according to CBSSports.com. He also stole some balls on the football field, intercepting seven passes for the Redhawks and garnering MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors despite playing just one year of college football. He played high school football, then had one year of eligibility remaining after playing basketball and used it to return to the gridiron in 2014.

Ike Taylor turns 35 in May and didn’t look a day younger than that after returning from his arm injury in 2014. He likely saw his last action as a Steeler when A.J. Green repeatedly toasted him in Week 13 at Cincinnati. Like Taylor, Brice McCain is a free agent. He and Antwon Blake are scrappy contributors, but can be exposed over the long haul. Cortez Allen remains a mystery.

The Steelers ranked 27th against the pass in 2014 and gave up 15 plays of 40 or more yards, second-most in the league. It’s time for them to draft for need in the first round instead of taking the best player available, and cornerback is their most glaring need.

SECOND ROUND

Anthony Harris, SS, Virginia

The work on the secondary continues in the second round. Shamarko Thomas and Ryan Mundy are the only safeties the Steelers have drafted since Mike Tomlin became head coach in 2007. They haven’t drafted one in the first three rounds since they took Anthony Davis in 2006. That has to change this year.

Harris, a 6’1″, 190-pound senior, led the NCAA with eight interceptions in 2013 and made 80 tackles. He intercepted two passes in 2014, but increased to tackles to 109.

The Steelers probably will have to replace Troy Polamalu in 2015. They traded up to draft Thomas in the fourth round in 2013. Thomas and Robert Golden have contributed on special teams, but have shown little evidence that they’re ready to step in at strong safety.

All the attention the Steelers devoted to the offensive line in the early rounds of the draft in 2010, 2011 and 2012 finally started paying off in 2014. They need to do the same for the secondary this year.

THIRD ROUND

Jesse James, TE, Penn State

The Steelers enjoyed a breakthrough season on offense in 2014. They ranked seventh in the NFL in points scored and second in yards, their highest rankings since 1995 and 1979, respectively.

But the Steelers can’t stand pat. They’ll eventually need a replacement for 32-year-old Heath Miller. At 6’7″, 254 pounds, Jesse James fits the mold of the modern-day behemoth tight end. He caught 11 touchdowns in three years at Penn State, a school record for tight ends.

The junior is from Glassport, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh.

FOURTH ROUND

Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State

Any chance the Steelers had for a deep playoff run ended when Le’Veon Bell hurt his knee in the regular-season finale. Bell has become their most indispensable player not named Ben Roethlisberger.

Since Bell’s career began, the Steelers are 0-4 without him. The Steelers need insurance in case he goes down again. Who better than his backup at Michigan State?

Bell and Langford both entered Michigan State in 2010, but Langford red-shirted as a freshman while Bell ran for 605 yards. Langford carried the ball just nine times in his first two seasons, but took the most of his opportunity after Bell left for the NFL. The 6’0″, 211-pounder ran for 2,944 yards and 40 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons.

FIFTH ROUND

JaCorey Shepherd, CB, Kansas

If this mock draft comes to fruition, it would be the third straight year the Steelers have drafted a cornerback in the fifth round. They’ve taken a corner in the fifth round in five of Mike Tomlin’s eight drafts.

They would need Shepherd to work out more like William Gay, who they took in the fifth round in 2007, and less like the rest of their fifth-round cornerbacks. That forgettable lot includes Joe Burnett, Crezdon Butler, Terry Hawthorne and Shaq Richardson.

The 5’11”, 190-pound Shepherd was second in the Big 12 with 13 passes defended in 2013. He intercepted two passes, including a pick-six, and three passes in his senior season.

Shepherd also led the Big 12 with 773 kickoff return yards in 2014.

This would be the third time during the Tomlin Era that the Steelers have chosen two cornerbacks in the same draft. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to double up on their most urgent need.

SIXTH ROUND

Geneo Grissom, OLB, Oklahoma

Even if the Steelers re-sign Jason Worilds, they need depth at outside linebacker. James Harrison and Arthur Moats also are free agents. Jarvis Jones is their only outside linebacker under contract, and he has three sacks in his first two seasons. Injuries prevented him from making significant strides in 2014. Jones isn’t immune from the bust discussion.

The 6’3″, 264-pound Grissom, a senior, had four sacks and an interception in both 2013 and 2014. He returned both interceptions for touchdowns.

SEVENTH ROUND

Brett Boyko, OT, UNLV

The Steelers offensive line came a long way under Mike Munchak, but Ben Roethlisberger was sacked five times in the Steelers’ 30-17 playoff loss to the Ravens. So there’s still some work to be done.

The 6’7″, 310-pound Boyko was a four-year starter at left tackle for UNLV, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. He moved to guard for the final five games of 2014 and allowed just one sack for the season.

Boyko, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, is dealing with an elbow injury but is hoping to be ready for the NFL Scouting Combine.

He could at least provide an upgrade over Mike Adams as the Steelers’ top backup tackle.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

 

 

Steelers Fans Didn’t Hide Their Love for Dick LeBeau

There’s a place in New York City where dozens of people, men and women both, proclaim their love for Dick on Sunday afternoons in the fall.

The patrons at Hibernia, a Steelers bar in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan, shouted “We love Dick! We love Dick! We love Dick!” in unison whenever Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau first appeared on the TV screen during Steelers games.

There has been no such affection for Todd Haley and, to my knowledge, no “Bruuuce!!!” love for Bruce Arians when he was offensive coordinator.

LeBeau has been the only Steelers assistant coach to get such rock-star treatment at Hibernia. The regulars at that bar, and Steelers fans everywhere, will miss LeBeau. The 77-year-old told the Urbana Daily Citizen Saturday that he is resigning.

He made it clear that he’s not retiring. The Steelers PR brass had their ducks in a row this time, learning their lesson from three years ago when the word was that Arians retired when in fact he just wasn’t being brought back. Arians landed in Indianapolis as Colts offensive coordinator days later, and he’s gone 21-11 in the last two seasons as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

This time, the coordinator departure is being branded as a “mutual parting.” So the Steelers won’t have egg on their face if LeBeau gets a DC job somewhere else.

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2014 NFL Playoffs: Steelers Fans Stuck Watching Ravens, Patriots and Blount

When the fourth quarter of the AFC wild-card game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers began last Saturday, NBC came out of the commercial and played the beginning of “Ah! Leah!” by Donnie Iris.

Since Iris is from the Pittsburgh area, it was meant as a salute to the city. But it turned out to be a commentary on the Steelers’ dire situation.

“We both know we’re never going to make it.”

The Steelers were down 20-9 at the time, but they rallied. They always do when they lose these wild-card games. But their late run wasn’t enough to overcome three bad quarters of football against the Jaguars in 2007 or the Broncos in 2011, and it wasn’t enough to climb out of the hole they dug for themselves against the Ravens.

So now our Terrible Towels are stored in the sock drawer until September, and we have to watch yet another Ravens-Patriots playoff game.

“Here we go again,” as Donnie Iris would say.

It’s the fourth time in the last six years that the Ravens and Patriots have met in the playoffs. Each time, the Steelers have either been eliminated from the playoffs or missed the playoffs entirely.

At least if the Steelers were still playing, we could look forward to getting a crack at the team that wins this game. Instead, we have to stomach the fact that one of the Steelers’ two main antagonists of the 21st century will move a step closer to another championship.

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It’s Sad to See the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Go

For the fourth straight year, the Pittsburgh Steelers have either missed the playoffs or gone one-and-done in the playoffs.

Saturday’s 30-17 wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh brings about another long offseason for the Steelers and their fans.

There will be plenty of time for mock drafts and free-agency wish lists. Right now, it’s tough waking up in the morning knowing the Steelers’ 2014 season is over.

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Bengals vs. Steelers: Showdown for AFC North Title Revives Rivalry

The rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals hasn’t always burned with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.

Unlike the feud between the Steelers and Ravens, which is calibrated almost point for point, the balance of power between the Steelers and Bengals often has leaned Pittsburgh’s way, so the matchups haven’t always been marquee material.

This time, it’s different.

Sunday’s game between the Bengals (10-4-1) and Steelers (10-5) at Heinz Field decides the AFC North, and NBC made it a prime-time affair. These teams haven’t played for this many marbles since their 2005 wild-card game.

So bitter were the relations between the Bengals and Steelers back then that an anti-Bengals YouTube video was made. Posted by someone who went by the handle “meanjoecoop,” it was a spoof of the “WKRP in Cincinnati” theme song. Made by an entity known as Hell in a Handbasket Productions, the video correctly predicted a Steelers win in that playoff game and took several shots at the Bengals.

The video is harder to find in cyberspace these days, but I’ve always dug it up whenever the Steelers play the Bengals.

One of the video’s still images shows a swarm of Steelers defensive players, including Deshea Townsend, Bryant McFadden and Larry Foote, running off the field with their fists in the air apparently celebrating a big defensive stop.

When I watched the video in the days leading up to the Steelers’ Week 14 game in Cincinnati this season, that picture made me feel a little nostalgic. Days earlier, the Saints came marching into Heinz Field and plundered the Steelers defense for 35 points. I thought about how long it had been since the Steelers defense could celebrate any play that wildly.

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Steelers Can Get Away With One More Letdown And Still Win AFC North

So the Steelers are only a half-game behind the Bengals in the AFC North. They’re so close that the Bengals can smell the Primanti’s on their breath.

The Steelers scored 40 or more points for the third time this season, a franchise record, in their 42-21 win Sunday at Cincinnati. It was their biggest margin of victory on the road since they beat the Browns 41-9 in the 2010 season finale, and the Steelers (8-5) will win the AFC North for the first time since 2010 if they win their last three games.

You know what that means.

It’s time for a letdown.

And you know what? That’s OK.

We know better than to let visions of playoff sugarplums dance in our heads. These aren’t the 2005 Steelers, who fell to 7-5 and won their final four games out of necessity to get into the playoffs. The 2014 Steelers might be more explosive on offense than the 2005 edition, but they’re woefully inferior on defense.

This maddeningly inconsistent bunch has lost to the Buccaneers and Jets, both 2-11. These Steelers aren’t equipped to plow their way into the playoffs with four straight wins. They inevitably will lose another game this season.

And we’re cool with that. After all, Steelers fans are nothing if not understanding, right?

As long as the Steelers don’t lose more than one, they still have a realistic chance to win the AFC North and have a home playoff game.

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LeGarrette Blount Gives Patriots New Way to Torment Steelers

Apparently, leaving the Steelers bleeding in a ditch wasn’t good enough for the Patriots.

Bill Belichick figured he’d twist the knife one more time by signing LeGarrette Blount.

The Steelers dropped their weapons, put their hands up and took two steps back after they were steamrolled 55-31 at New England last year. The Steelers-Patriots rivalry that was sparked by the Patriots’ upset win in the 2001 AFC championship game was over. It ceased that day because the Steelers, who dropped to 2-6, had fallen too far behind the Patriots to match their long-term success during this era.

The Steelers’ 7-4 record this season is nice. Sure, they have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs for the first time in three years. But Tom Brady is a lot closer to earning his fourth Super Bowl ring than Ben Roethlisberger is to earning his third. That’s been the case for quite some time, but the point was driven home emphatically 13 months ago on that infamous evening in Foxboro.

The Steelers fell to 0-3 against Brady at Gillette Stadium and 3-7 against the Patriots in this century, including losses in the 2001 and 2004 AFC championship games. The 55 points and 629 yards allowed by the Steelers were the most in franchise history.

The Steelers hit rock bottom that day and the Patriots conquered them as a rival.

So why did Belichick have to poke them with a stick?

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Pittsburgh Steelers Struggled Against Bad Teams Even When They Were Good

Are you tired of the Steelers losing to teams that have nothing to play for but high draft picks?

Are you nostalgic for the days when the Steelers used to crush weak opponents like aluminum cans ready for the recycling bin?

Since Mike Tomlin became the Steelers head coach in 2007, the Steelers have lost seven games to teams that finished that season with a 5-11 record or worse.

That number is likely to swell by at least one this season, assuming either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or New York Jets finish no better than 5-11.

As frustrating as these pratfalls have been in recent years, it could have been worse. The Steelers’ last two playoff teams came perilously close to two of these bad losses.

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Are the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Following in the Footsteps of Their Most Recent Championship Team?

The boos rained down at Heinz Field on Monday night.

Coming off an ugly road loss, the Pittsburgh Steelers were down by two scores and the season seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.

Then No. 10 caught a touchdown pass to cut the Steelers’ deficit to a field goal and the Steelers took the lead in a matter of seconds with a stunning rally. Heinz Field rocked and the Steelers held on for a win that saved their season.

Hold on a minute. It’s too early to tell whether or not the Steelers’ 30-23 win over the Houston Texans on Monday night saved their season.

That’s right. It is. But we do know that the Steelers’ Week 4 win over the Baltimore Ravens saved their 2008 season. That’s the game we’re talking about.

The Steelers started that season 2-0, then Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times in a 15-6 loss at Philadelphia. The following week on Monday Night Football, the Baltimore Ravens led 13-3 with less than five minutes left in the third quarter. With the crowd voicing its displeasure, the Steelers were in danger of falling to .500. Those were the days when .500 was rock-bottom for the Steelers rather than baseline.

A punt seemed imminent on third down when Santonio Holmes, who wore the No. 10 that Martavis Bryant wears now, caught a short pass from Roethlisberger and took it 38 yards for the touchdown to narrow the Ravens’ lead to 13-10.

On the next play, James Harrison sacked Joe Flacco and forced a fumble. LaMarr Woodley picked it up and ran it in for a touchdown and a 17-13 Steelers lead.

The Steelers scored 14 points in 13 seconds. They went on to win 23-20 in overtime and eventually won Super Bowl XLIII that year.

It’s no exaggeration to say that win saved the Steelers’ season. Without it, they wouldn’t have won the AFC North and they wouldn’t have benefited from a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage against the Ravens in the AFC championship game.

Instead of falling to 2-2, the Steelers won three straight to improve to 5-1 and finished 12-4.

Instead of falling to 3-4 in 2014, the Steelers scored 24 points in 2:54 and poked their head above .500.

Just like their outburst six years earlier, the offense provided the ignition and the defense seized the momentum by ripping the ball away from the opponent.

Can Monday’s win over the Texans do what that win over the Ravens did for the 2008 team?

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