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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Behind the Steel Curtain

Jeff Hartman gives us the scoop on the Steel City squad

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In preparing for Sunday’s matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jeff Hartman and I sat down for a small Q&A for one another’s publications.

There’s been significant criticism of the Steelers by former players this season. What parts of said criticism are valid? What is being overblown?

I find it difficult for people who aren’t on the sideline, not in team meetings and not at practice to criticize things like effort and the proverbial “want to”. Their criticism is valid, but at the same time it isn’t as if players are going out there and tanking games. The Steelers have been struggling, and they are definitely going through some growing pains in a lot of ways. The locker room, organization and culture is changing. These are uncharted waters for the Steelers, and how they come out of this will be anyone’s guess.

Ben Roethlisberger is the fastest quarterback at getting the ball out this season. Are there reasons for this? What are they?

The reason for Roethlisberger’s quick delivery are based solely on the offensive line. In 2020 the Steelers sack numbers were low because of this, and in 2021 the sack numbers are up even with him getting the ball out of his hands quickly. The Steelers’ replaced a large portion of their offensive line, and their play has been up and down, to put it mildly. At this point, Roethlisberger feels as if he has to get rid of the ball quickly to avoid the pass rush getting to him. One other glaring issue is even when the line provides him time, Roethlisberger has been feeling pressure which isn’t really there. He still rushes passes and oftentimes puts himself into bad positions. There just isn’t much trust right now along the offensive line.

What are the strengths of the Steelers offense and defense? Are there weaknesses for the Ravens to exploit?

On offense the strength is the quick passing attack, and even that isn’t much of a strength anymore. With Kevin Dotson (ankle) on IR, the Steelers’ running game has been non-existent. The team has started to stretch the field more, but even those are nothing more than 50/50 passes in hopes of Chase Claypool out jumping the defender. Not much good has come out of the offense the last few weeks.

On defense, the weakness in the run defense. It started vs. the Lions when they rushed for over 180 yards in two quarters, and it has only gotten worse. Joe Mixon averaged 6.0 yards a carry last week and without Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu the Steelers only hope is a monster game from Cam Heyward. Heyward is having a monster season this year, but he can only do so much. Oh yeah, and it is likely T.J. Watt will be out this game being on the Reserve/COVID-19 List. Fun times indeed.

Who are two lesser known players (one offense, one defense) that could make a big impact in this game?

On offense a lesser known player to keep an eye on is rookie TE Pat Freiermuth. With Eric Ebron being out of the lineup with a knee injury, Freiermuth has been a pleasant surprise as a great two-way tight end. In fact, he is the best two-way tight end the Steelers have had since Heath Miller played.

Defensively, a lesser known player to watch would be OLB Alex Highsmith. Highsmith is a second year player who had an INT of Lamar Jackson last year, and will have to have a big day if Watt cannot play. I’m not holding out hope he makes a big splash, but he is someone to keep an eye on.

What rookies for the Steelers have stood out?

The Steelers’ rookies who are on the 2021 53-man roster are players who are contributing in some way. Whether it’s Dan Moore Jr. (4th round) who is starting at LT, Kendrick Green (3rd round) who is starting at center, Pat Freiermuth (2nd round) who is starting at TE, or Najee Harris (1st round) who is the best offensive player this team has. Also, Tre Norwood (7th round) has been a great tool in the secondary with a ton of versatility, and Pressley Harvin III (7th round) is a player who is starting at punter. This rookie class has been thrust into action earlier than expected, for some, but they have also risen up and played above the line on more than one occasion.