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Field Position Key in Mike Tomlin’s Rare Decision to Kick in OT

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PITTSBURGH — When teams go into overtime in the NFL, as the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens did on Sunday, the game typically hinges on who wins the coin toss before the extra period.

Though recent rule changes that allow the second team to possess the ball if the first possession ends in a field goal have lessened the blow somewhat, getting the ball first remains a significant advantage.

Since the rules were tweaked in 2011, the team that gets the ball first in overtime has won about 55% of the time.

But Sunday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin eschewed that conventional wisdom, deciding to defer and put his defense on the field. Tomlin said the decision was mostly about field position and his kick return unit’s inability to secure good field position for his offense.

“Did you see our kickoff return in this ballgame? Did you see their kickoff team?” Tomlin posited. “Every time they put the ball on about the 2-yard line and Tucker hung the ball for about 4.5 seconds, we couldn’t get back to the 15. Why would I sign up for that? I put the defense on the field in an effort to fight for field position and put the onus on them to get the stop.”

The strategy worked, sort-of. The Steelers defense held Baltimore to a three-and-out and the Steelers offense got the ball back at the 32-yard line.

We asked Steelers fans if they agreed with Tomlin’s decision to defer on Twitter. Surprisingly, the results were pretty close.

The Steelers had seven kickoff returns in the game, and their average starting field position on those drives was the 19.7 yard line. The best they managed was the 25-yard line on a touchback.

The Steelers’ offense couldn’t do anything with the field position, though. JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbled on the second play of the drive and the Ravens took over with a short field and won the game on a Justin Tucker field goal.

Steelers

Art Rooney: Meeting with Ben Roethlisberger ‘Productive,’ Work to Be Done on Contract

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Steelers president Art Rooney II acknowledged his meeting with team quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Tuesday, but said no agreement has been made with regards to his contract situation for the 2021 season.

Rooney said that the team desires to have Roethlisberger return for an 18th season in 2021, and Roethlisberger re-affirmed his desire to return to the team.

“Ben Roethlisberger and I met (Tuesday) morning and we had a productive meeting,” Rooney said in a statement. “We were able to discuss a lot of things that relate to where we are and where we want to go. Ben assured me that he is committed to coming back to help us win, and I told Ben that we would like to have him back to help us win a championship.

“We both understand that the next step is to work out Ben’s contract situation.”

Roethlisberger had already publicly stated that he wanted to return to the team. Rooney and Steelers general manger Kevin Colbert have been more guarded about Roethlisberger’s future in the past.

It seems clear now that both sides are committed to Roethlisberger returning, but the contract details could still represent a significant hurdle. Roethlisberger is currently set to cost more than $41 million toward the team’s salary cap in 2021. Of that, almost $19 million is able to be modified through either a salary reduction or an extension to move some of that money to 2022 or beyond.

The Steelers are approximately $12.4 million above a projected $180.5 million salary cap, according to a Steelers Now estimate. The official salary cap for the 2021 has not yet been released, but is expected to be between $180 and $185 million, according to Steelers Now sources. NBC Sports reported on Tuesday that it could come it at $182-183 million.

The Steelers will need to be under the maximum salary by March 17. Reducing Roethlisberger’s cap hit is just one of several ways the Steelers can get under the cap figure. They can also restructure more contracts, as they did with defensive tackle Cam Heyward on Monday, but restructuring alone will not solve the cap issue.

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Steelers

Report: Ben Roethlisberger’s Agent Says He Will Return in 2021

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s agent Ryan Tollner reportedly says he will return as the team’s quarterback in 2021, according to NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala.

Kinkhabwala tweeted Tuesday she had spoken with Tollner, who confirmed the Steelers want Roethlisberger back in the fall, and will soon reach out to his agent to rectify his massive cap hit.

“As we’ve shared since the season ended, we are happy to creatively adjust his contract to help them build the best team possible,” Tollner told Kinkhabwala. “A year ago, Ben wasn’t sure if he could throw again, but he battled back to get 12 wins and the 8th division title of his career. They lost steam down the stretch and that doesn’t sit well for him, so the fire burns strong and there is plenty of gas in the tank.”

The news confirms the Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac’s earlier report that Roethlisberger and the organization met Tuesday, adding it “went well.”

Roethlisberger’s $41 million cap hit is the largest in the league entering the 2021 season, which poses a significant obstacle for the Steelers. He could forgo up to nearly $18 million of his salary for this upcoming season to provide the team some much-needed breathing room.

Roethlisberger finished with a successful season statistically in 2020, but was plagued by inconsistency, as the Steelers dropped five of six following an 11-0 start.

The two-time Super Bowl champion passed for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdowns with ten interceptions, but saw his play drop over the latter half of the year.

Roethlisberger is set to turn 39 years old on March 2.

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Report: Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger Met to Discuss Future

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The Pittsburgh Steelers met with star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to begin discussions on his contract situation for the 2021 season, according to a report by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette.

Roethlisberger met with team president Art Rooney II and the meeting “went well,” according to Dulac.

The two sides had not come together to discuss Roethlisberger’s future since just after the end of the 2020 season in January.

Rooney and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert have said that Roethlisberger and the team will need to come to an agreement on contract modifications that will reduce his salary cap hit for the 2021 season.

Roethlisberger is currently set to cost more than $41 million toward the team’s salary cap in 2021. Of that, almost $19 million is able to be modified through either a salary reduction or an extension to move some of that money to 2022 or beyond.

The Steelers are approximately $12.4 million above a projected $180.5 million salary cap, according to a Steelers Now estimate. The official salary cap for the 2021 has not yet been released, but is expected to be between $180 and $185 million, according to Steelers Now sources. NBC Sports reported on Tuesday that it could come it at $182-183 million.

The Steelers will need to be under the maximum salary by March 17. Reducing Roethlisberger’s cap hit is just one of several ways the Steelers can get under the cap figure.

They can also restructure more contracts, as they did with defensive tackle Cam Heyward on Monday, but restructuring alone will not solve the cap issue.

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