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Steelers Backs, Line took Pressure off Hodges in Debut

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Knowing that the team would be starting undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and company wanted to come up with a different game plan.

Specifically, they wanted a game plan that would maximize Hodges’ throwing abilities and minimize his inexperience when it comes to reading NFL defenses.

That sounds good. But in order to do that, the Steelers needed to be able to run the ball to keep the offense on schedule and direct long drives without a deep-strike passing game.

But that isn’t something the Steelers had been able to do through the first five games of their 1-4 start, even with more-experienced and more-heralded passers at the helm.

The Steelers’ rushing totals in the first five games of the season were 32, 81, 79, 66 and 77 yards. That wasn’t going to be enough to get it done against Los Angeles. Even worse, the Steelers were playing their first game without all-purpose back Jaylen Samuels, who is expected to miss a month after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last Monday.

But the Steelers running game came through when needed, with James Conner and rookie Benny Snell coming through for a combined 124 yards on the ground.

“We didn’t have a lot of other options,” head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game. “Some times, that’s life, when you’re backed up against it. We needed that and they delivered.”

Snell, in particular, came through with a big game, putting up a career-high 75 yards on 17 carries — more than the Steelers had as a team in three of their first five games — while Conner combined his 41 yards on the ground with seven catches for 78 yards receiving and two total touchdowns.

Conner’s ability to break tackles in open space was crucial to the team staying on track with the down and distance chains. The Steelers finished 8 of 13 on third downs.

“We were on schedule,” Tomlin said. “We put together a good plan, but those guys executed. More than anything, we were in manageable third downs. We’ve been working hard to be in manageable third downs and we haven’t necessarily done what we did [Sunday night], so I’m not taking that for granted. But largely, when you have that type of success is when you’re not behind the chains.”

The Steelers’ running game was boosted by a significant push up front, as the Steelers’ offensive line might have had its best game of the season.

The combination led to Hodges needing to attempt just 20 passes in his NFL starting debut. He also was not sacked as the line provided all the protection he needed to make his reads and get the ball out quickly.

In short, the Steelers offense needed a way to move the ball without relying heavily on Hodges’ arm. They did and they won.

Steelers

Rooney: Steelers Plan to Return to St. Vincent for 2021 Training Camp

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There is plenty that remains up in the air about the 2021 NFL offseason, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still have plans to resume one of their enduring traditions that was broken by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The Steelers were forced to forgo their trip to the campus of St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 2020 due to the NFL’s rules regarding keeping players isolated during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s unclear how much those restrictions will change for the NFL teams this summer, but as things stand as of today, the Steelers are still making plans to return to the Laurel Highlands for the team’s annual training camp this summer.

“As we sit here today, our plan is to have training camp in Latrobe,” team president Art Rooney II said to Steelers.com on Friday. “We still have a ways to go to get there, but I think there’s a pretty good chance that’s going to be able to happen. We’re still hopeful we’re going to have some form of offseason program, and it’s probably not going to start on time but I think it’s important particularly for the young players that we get back to having an offseason program and then a full training camp and preseason games. I think we need to have that to help the young players continue to develop.”

Displaced from their usual bucolic summer home and from UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side due to capacity limitations, the Steelers spent the 2020 training camp and preseason at Heinz Field.

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NFL Network Analysts Call Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger 3rd-Best in AFC North

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It appears that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is likely to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers, with both Roethlisberger’s agent and team president Art Rooney II making public statements that each party desires a return for 2021 this week.

But how much of a difference-maker will Roethlisberger be? That depends on his level of play this coming season.

NFL Network analysts and former NFL players Willie McGinest and LaDainian Tomlinson each ranked the quarterbacks of the AFC North and both said they think Roethlisberger is the third-best quarterback in the division, behind Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.

“I’m not taking anything away from Ben,” McGinest said. “Lamar Jackson is special and I put Baker in front of Ben because of what we’ve seen in the progression of Baker the last couple of years. … I see him getting better and Ben fighting father time, with the skills diminishing just a little bit.”

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Tomlinson said. “We’ve seen, in spurts, Big Ben play well. He started out hot. But he didn’t finish so well. … He looked old and beat up toward the end of the season. I’m just not sure that improves.”

Statistically, Roethlisberger finished first amongst the four AFC North passers in completion percentage, but he was fourth in yards per attempt and third in passer rating and QBR. Pro Football Focus ranked Roethlisberger last of the division’s four starters in 2020.

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NFL Head Coach: Bud Dupree’s Injury Cause for Uncertainty Entering Free Agency

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Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree is set to hit free agency in a matter of weeks, but one head coach believes he could be waiting a while to sign.

Speaking with FanSided’s Matt Lombardo, an NFL head coach, speaking anonymously, said Dupree’s season-ending knee injury has made his free agency outlook uncertain.

“Bud Dupree is someone that is a real question mark for me,” the head coach told FanSided. “If he was healthy, he’s easily the top pass-rusher hitting the open market, and teams would pay a king’s ransom to sign him. But, with him coming off a torn ACL, what exactly are you committing to? Does he want to go back to Pittsburgh? Who knows, but he’s someone that I think will wind up having to wait a while to sign.”

Lombardo compares Dupree’s situation to Tennessee Titans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney last offseason.

While he had not suffered a significant injury the season prior with the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks, Clowney signed with Tennessee on just a one-year, $12-million deal. He had been expected to be paid handsomely on a lengthier contract, which obviously did not come to fruition.

Clowney was virtually invisible for the Titans, recording no sacks in eight games before being placed on injured reserve in November.

Due to his torn ACL, Dupree could find himself having to settle on a cheaper, one-year “prove it” deal as well. Ideally he would then cash in during the 2022 free agency period is all goes as planned.

Dupree was having another stellar season before tearing his ACL in the Steelers’ Week 12 win over the Baltimore Ravens. He had eight sacks, eight tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hits and a pair of forced fumbles through eleven games.

After playing last season under the franchise tag, which paid Dupree $15.828 million, the Steelers’ dire salary cap situation will most likely prevent them from bringing him back. Still, the brass of the organization has expressed their desire to do so if circumstances were different.

While the knee injury remains a concern, Dupree shared he was ahead of schedule in his recovery when he joined NFL Network’s Good Morning Football late last month.

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