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Analysis

Should the Steelers Look at FA Safety Eric Berry?

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You are probably going to hear it at some point between now and training camp. Someone with a prominent platform will suggest that the Steelers take a look at Eric Berry. That is because Berry is unlikely to sign between now and camp.

Before digging in, let it be clear that if you had to list the biggest need on the Steelers roster, it would be safety. At the same time, Berry had an excellent NFL career. His story is as inspirational as James Conner, and he will be remembered as a great of his time.

However, those suggesting that the Steelers look into the 30-year old veteran may be a bit misguided. As you can note, Berry had a great career. If you are talking about the current player now, you are talking about a player who cannot help the Steelers in 2019.

AVAILABILITY IS HIS BEST ABILITY

While it is tough to say that a player who beat cancer cannot overcome injury questions, it is also fair to say that Berry has not been competitive on a football field since 2016. James Harrison has even spent more time active on an NFL field since. Berry had a strong 2016 campaign, and that is what most fans will remember of him and that is great. However, one game into his 2017 season saw his career change. Berry suffered an Achilles tear, which is one of the toughest injuries in all of professional sports to recover from.

It is possible, but since 2011, half of the players who have suffered an Achilles tear never played again professionally or retired within two seasons. Those who do return, see a significant decrease in games played per season. Demaryius Thomas and Michael Crabtree came back from Achilles tears, but those were early into their careers.

Terrell Suggs is the only example of a player who tore their Achilles at age 29 or later and came back to have NFL success. He suffered his injury in week one as well but came back the very next year with eight sacks.

Berry missed all of 2017, but  also missed most of 2018 with an aggravated heel. Berry was cleared to play earlier but did not return until Week 16. He told reporters that he could have come back a week earlier, but admitted that he did not feel it in his spirit.

Berry played two regular season games and missed the Chiefs first playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.

ON-THE-FIELD ISSUES

The Chiefs likely wish they had just placed Berry on the Injured Reserve from the start. However, Berry felt like playing against the New England Patriots, and it cost him and the Chiefs. Berry posted a below average grade from Pro Football Focus.

Two of the biggest plays of the game were the Patriots matching tight end Rob Gronkowski up against Berry and attacking him one-on-one down the field. Yes, the now-retired Rob Gronkowski

In the fourth quarter, Gronkowski beat Berry down the field and bodied him near the goal line on an underthrown pass. Berry lost early and lost late.

In overtime, a quick slant to Gronkowski moved the chains and put the Patriots in scoring position. The two passes amounted to 40 yards. Is this who the Steelers need to help their defense beat a playoff contender like the New England Patriots?

WORTH THE RISK?

Berry is a great story and had a great career. Now, he is 31 years old and has played in three professional games in the past two calendar years. When he was on the field last, the smartest team in the NFL picked him out to attack him in the most important moments of their season. Could he defy the odds and add onto his legend? Absolutely. However, considering the risk and the odds, the Steelers need to look into players who can get on the field, and mold into the upside of a player that Berry once was. Signing Berry would mean signing a player who is going to be in and out of the lineup, and may not even be his old self when he is in the lineup. The shakeup and shuffling would only hinder the development of younger players who would be better served with those snaps.

So, if you hear that Berry should be signed, or if an NFL analyst cannot believe the former star safety is still a free agent, remember there is a reason why.

Steelers Now analyst. IUP Alum. Pittsburgh native. Steelers and Pirates critic, Penguins homer. Covers NFL. Follows NFL, NCAAB, NBA, MLB, and NHL. Writes about the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, and other relevant NFL news.

Analysis

What to Expect from a 38-Year-Old Starting Quarterback

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On March 2nd, Ben Roethlisberger turned 38. When the NFL season starts in September, Ben will be 38 years old and entering his 17th year as the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even at this age, Ben is reaching rarefied air. Since 1969, there have been only 54 quarterbacks that played into their age 38 season. Of those 54, 46 of them started a game and just 22 finished the season with starts in more than half the games that season.

Discounting the fact that Roethlisberger is recovering from elbow surgery, what can we expect from a 38-year-old quarterback? Surprisingly, the answer is plenty.

From 1969-1999 quarterbacks playing in their age 38 season on average threw for 2,665 yards with 15 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. Not gaudy numbers, but some of that has to do with the eras in which these quarterbacks played. Even more encouraging, they had a 63% winning percentage.

From 1969-1999, five Hall of Fame quarterbacks played to age 38. Some experienced more success than others.

In 1978 Fran Tarkenton threw for 25 touchdowns and over 3,400 yards but tossed up 32 interceptions and went 8-7-1 on the season. In 1983, Ken Stabler went 7-7 at age 38, but threw 18 interceptions against only 9 touchdowns and fewer than 2,000 yards. Warren Moon went 9-6 in 1994, but had more interceptions (19) than touchdowns (18). In 1999, Dan Marino went 5-6 at age 38, throwing 12 touchdowns against 17 interceptions.

On the positive side, all-time great Joe Montana had 3,283 yards through the air and a 2:1 TD to INT ratio (18-9) with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1994 and John Elway won a Super Bowl in his age 38 season. Elway may have been relying on Terrell Davis at that time, but still put up nearly 3,000 yards along with 22 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.

As sports science and training regimes have improved, it’s become more commonplace to find quarterbacks 38 and older still having success, or even dominating in the league.

In 2007, Brett Favre at 38 threw for over 4,000 yards and added 28 touchdowns to only 15 interceptions as the Packers went 13-3. Kurt Warner a year after his Super Bowl loss to the Steelers still had plenty in the tank at 38. The veteran quarterback started 15 games, going 10-5 with 3,753 yards, 26 touchdowns and 14 picks. Even journeyman Josh McCown put up 18 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions and 2,900 yards in his age 38 season.

As far as Roethlisberger’s direct contemporaries, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees all put together superlative performances at age 38.

Peyton Manning, 4,727 yards, 39 TD, 15 INT (12-4)
Tom Brady, 4,770 yards, 36 TD, 7 INT (12-4)
Drew Brees, 4,334 yards, 23 TD, 8 INT (11-5)

However, depending on how you view Roethlisberger, a closer proxy may be former Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers. Rivers’ age 38 season was statistically one of his worst as the team went 5-11. Rivers threw for 4,600 yards but threw nearly as many interceptions (20) as touchdowns (23).

What will Roethlisberger be like when he comes back? If history offers any clues, there’s no reason to think he can’t be a highly effective player on his return. Quarterbacks at his level in this era– i.e. future Hall of Famers–have historically had success at age 38 and beyond.

It’s impossible to predict when a player will “lose it”. But as long as his elbow is healed and there’s not a significant loss of arm strength, there’s no reason to think that Roethlisberger won’t be able to return to his per-injury, high-level of play.

NFL Quarterbacks at age 38, >7 starts, since 2000

PlayerYearAgeTmGGSCmpAttCmp%YdsTDIntPick6TD%Int%RateSkYdsSk%Y/AAY/AANY/AY/GWLT4QCGWD
Vinny Testaverde200138NYJ161626044158.962752151413.43.1775.3181223.90%6.245.495.01172106055
Rich Gannon200338OAK7712522555.561274642.71.7873.517907.00%5.665.44.6418225012
Brad Johnson200638MIN151427043961.5275091532.13.4272292006.20%6.265.144.39183.368023
Brett Favre200738GNB161635653566.544155281515.22.895.715932.70%7.777.557.18259.7133024
Jeff Garcia200838TAM121124437664.89271212613.21.690.2231005.80%7.217.136.4722665013
Kurt Warner200938ARI151533951366.083753261425.12.7393.2241724.50%7.327.16.46250.2105012
Kerry Collins201038TEN10716027857.551823148152.8882.213914.50%6.566.275.68182.325011
Jon Kitna201038DAL10920931865.7223651612353.7788.9211006.20%7.446.756.03236.545012
Peyton Manning201438DEN161639559766.164727391516.52.51101.5171182.80%7.928.097.68295.4124011
Tom Brady201538NWE161640262464.42477036725.81.12102.2382255.70%7.648.297.48298.1124022
Carson Palmer201738ARI7716426761.4219789713.42.6284.4221507.60%7.416.95.86282.634022
Josh McCown201738NYJ131326739767.2529261894.52.2794.5392648.90%7.377.266225.158012
Drew Brees201738NOR161638653672.01433423814.31.49103.9201453.60%8.098.277.71270.9115022
Philip Rivers201938LAC161639059165.994615232013.93.3888.5342225.40%7.817.066.32288.4511012

All data from Pro Football Reference

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Analysis

Who Fits the Mold of a Steelers RB in the 2020 NFL Draft?

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The Steelers are in a unique position this year with a plethora of needs based on depth. In terms of actual day one impact, is there really a position that will bring a ton of that? Sure, rotational pass rusher, a third safety, a new tight end, and even offensive line help. But one of the key arguments of the running back contingent group has been that day one impact.

The Steelers were clearly doing their work snuffing around the combine as they met with Cam Akers, Jonathan Taylor, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, JK Dobbins, and AJ Dillon. But just what do they look for in their running backs and who fits the mold in this draft?

In this study, I have realized that there are two types of Steelers running backs. There are the speed backs and then the workhorse back. The Steelers currently have a few workhorse back types in Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, and James Conner, while having the speed back archetype in Kerrith Whyte. Let us start out with the workhorse type of back. Over Mike Tomlin’s tenure, here are the running backs selected that fit the workhorse archetype.

Steelers Workhorse Back Archetype

Benny Snell

Height: 5’10”
Weight: 224
40: 4.66
Vertical: 29 1/2
Broad: 9’10”
Bench: 16 reps
3 Cone: 7.07
Short Shuttle: 4.33

Jaylen Samuels

Height: 5’11
Weight: 225
40: 4.54
Vertical: 34 1/2
Broad: 10’1″
Bench: 18 reps
3 Cone: 6.93
Short Shuttle: 4.28

James Conner

Height: 6’1″
Weight: 233
40: 4.65
Vertical: 29″
Broad: 9’5″
Bench: 20 reps

Le’Veon Bell

Height: 6’1″
Weight: 230
40: 4.6
Vertical: 31 1/2
Broad: 9’10”
Bench: 25 reps
3 Cone: 6.75
Short Shuttle: 4.24

Jonathan Dwyer

Height: 5’11”
Weight: 229
40: 4.68
Vertical: 33″
Broad: 8’11”
Bench: 15 reps
3 Cone: 7.56
Short Shuttle: 4.67

Baron Batch

Height: 5’10”
Weight: 207
40: 4.5
Vertical: 39″
Broad: 10’6″
Bench: 24 reps

Rashard Mendenhall

Height: 5’10”
Weight: 225
40: 4.45
Vertical: 33.5″
Broad: 9’9″
Bench: 26 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.18

Here are the corresponding thresholds I have created with the data. There is one outlier for each of the data sets aside from the bench press, where all met the requirements.

Height: 5’10″+
Weight: 224+
40: Sub 4.66
Vertical: 29″+
Broad: 9’5″+
Bench: 15 reps+

Now, here are the guys who check every single box set forth here:

Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor
TCU RB Sewo Olonilua
Boston College RB AJ Dillon

Correspondingly, here are guys who only missed the cut by one measurable, with that measurable being weight for every single one of them:

Florida State RB Cam Akers
Maryland RB Javon Leake
Memphis RB Patrick Taylor
Florida RB La’Mical Perine
Georgia RB Brian Herrien
UCLA RB Joshua Kelley
Vanderbilt RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn

The Steelers have met with Taylor, Dillon, and Akers, so they are running the mold right on schedule in terms of showing interest in certain running backs.

However, as for the second mold, the Steelers speed back, there an entire difference of prerequisites, but all the speed backs of the Mike Tomlin era here are listed below:

Steelers Speed Back Archetype

Kerrith Whyte

Height: 5’10”
Weight: 197
40: 4.37
Vertical: 42″
Broad: 11″
Bench: 21 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.37
3 Cone: 7.2

Tony Brooks-James

Height: 5’8″
Weight: 190
40: 4.45
Vertical: 35.5
Broad: 10’7″
Bench: 15 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.27
3 Cone: 7.06

Dri Archer

Height: 5’8″
Weight: 173
40: 4.26
Vertical: 38″
Broad: 10’2″
Bench: 20 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.06
3 Cone: 6.86

Chris Rainey

Height: 5’8″
Weight: 180
40: 4.45
Vertical: 36″
Broad: 10″
Bench: 16 reps
Short Shuttle: 3.93
3 Cone: 6.5

Here are the thresholds needed to qualify for a Steelers speed back:

Height: 5’8″+
Weight: 173+
40: Sub 4.45
Vertical: 35 1/2″+
Broad: 10″+
Bench: 15 reps+
Short Shuttle: Sub 4.37
3 Cone: Sub 7.2

In addition, all of these guys had return experience, so that is another requirement.

Here are the guys who check the boxes:

Appalachian State RB Darrynton Evans
Memphis RB Antonio Gibson
Lousiana Lafeyette RB Raymond Calais

All of these guys hit the nail on the head for requirements. Gibson would likely be taken with the 3rd round compensatory pick while Evans and Calais would going into the later rounds if the Steelers were looking down this route.

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Analysis

Film: Derek Watt Brings Tenacity, Versatility to Steelers

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The Steelers have some more wattage in the building. They signed Derek Watt, brother of star outside linebacker T.J. Watt, to a three-year deal on Tuesday. It came as a shock, as the Steelers had vested interest already in the fullback position with Roosevelt Nix.

However, the Steelers are also reeling from the loss of special teams captain Tyler Matakevich, who led the NFL in special teams tackles. The signing of Watt not only corresponds with the emphasis president Art Rooney II placed on improving the running game but also upholding the special teams unit. Watt tied Matakevich for the lead league in special teams tackles and is an upgrade over Nix in that regard.

This is what you get with Watt. He is usually is a split-back on the punt coverage unit the Chargers had. The key with him on special teams was how sure of a tackler he is and how fast he gets the alley. Watt knows how to avoid blocks while flying down the field. He seems to always be in a position to make a tackle away from the traffic and towards the return man. On special teams, you really want to see the ball and then find the ball. Watt does that masterfully, as he does here to close quickly on the returner.

This is the same deal. Watt has a hot motor and flies from the backside of this return to come back and make this tackle, even after a good blocker on the edge to stop the all-out blitz that the Raiders sent. He finds the ball, goes straight to the ball carrier while avoiding traffic, and makes the tackle. This is great technical special teams play. Watt is going to add a lot to that unit at the very least.

However, then what about Watt’s ability to be a fullback? Can he actually block well and be an asset when being that lead blocker?

From the film, yes. Watt plays with intensity and is an absolute battering ram coming downhill towards defenders. His highlights as a blocker are nothing but fun as he clears alleys with ease. Something I have seen that has impressed is his mobility, as well. He moves extremely well for a fullback. The Chargers had him pulling and kicking out defensive ends.

This is one of those examples. Watt gets an absolute head of steam downhill as the puller and obliterates the defensive back coming into the alley to open this play up for Melvin Gordon. The mentality and tenacity Watt shows on this play to bully defenders in the open field is exactly why he is a great fit for the Steelers smash-mouth running style. It is fun to watch him do this consistently. He was a key cog in the Chargers running game when on the field and made a significant difference with blocks like this.

This run won the game for the Chargers in overtime and Watt blew this hole wide open as a lead blocker. Austin Ekeler is able to bounce this back all because Watt engages the linebacker and drives him out of the gap. He has impressive functional strength that allows him to drive guys right off their spot and open up these lanes for running backs. James Conner is going to love running behind a guy like Watt that can do this. With Conner’s ability to read and react to the second level of the defense, Watt can make a big difference.

One of the more intriguing parts of Watt’s game is his receiving ability. The Chargers did not use him a ton in that role, but his hands are soft and he can be used in this part of the offense. Like here, where shows off good hands and creates for himself by breaking a tackle and lowering his shoulder into a defender. He is a tone-setter even in the passing game. That is something the Steelers will always value. I think they could use him in the play-action game and get him out into the flats. Think of how the Patriots used James Develin and I think that is what we could see from Watt here. The bottom line is he can fill multiple roles and does them all well. Watt is a very solid signing and will contribute in multiple ways for the Steelers.

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