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Steelers Hope Home Cooking Helps Improve on Past Thanksgiving Struggles

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The undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers may be one of the NFL’s most historic, successful franchises, but that has not been the case on Thanksgiving.

Pittsburgh has played eight games all-time on Turkey Day, but owns a lackluster 2-6 record.

The Steelers did take their last Thanksgiving game in 2016, a 28-7 beat-down of the Indianapolis Colts. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a tremendous game, passing for 221 yards and three touchdowns to wide receiver Antonio Brown. The third Killer B, running back Le’Veon Bell added 120 yards on the ground and a score of his own.

Prior to that win, Pittsburgh had lost five straight, including a narrow 22-20 defeat at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens in 2013. A five-for-five performance from kicker Justin Tuckers proved the difference in that one for Baltimore.

In addition, Thursday’s division battle with the Ravens will mark the Steelers’ first ever Thanksgiving game at home. All had previously been played on the road, adding to the difficulty of the shortened week of preparation.

The Steelers are hoping that some home cooking Thursday will improve their Thanksgiving fortunes, pushing them to 11-0 and a division title.

“It is an honor for us to entertain our fans and fans in general on Thursday Night Football and on Thanksgiving,” head coach Mike Tomlin said Monday. “That’s not something that we take for granted. As a young guy who loved football, man I grew up watching football on the holidays, and it’s an honor and it’s humbling to provide that for others and to be associated with that and the memories it creates.”

Steelers all-time on Thanksgiving:

Nov. 24, 2016 at Indianapolis Colts, 28-7 W

Nov. 28, 2013 at Baltimore Ravens, 20-22 L

Nov. 26, 1998 at Detroit Lions, 16-19 L

Nov. 28, 1991 at Dallas Cowboys, 10-20 L

Nov. 24, 1983 at Detroit Lions, 3-45 L

Nov. 23, 1950 at Chicago Cardinals, 28-17 W

Nov. 28, 1940 at Philadelphia Eagles, 0-7 L

Nov. 23, 1939 at Philadelphia Eagles, 14-17 L

Steelers

Steelers’ Vance McDonald Reflects on Stiff Arm Moment, Relationship with Ben Roethlisberger

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Steelers tight end Vance McDonald spoke to the media after officially announcing his retirement from the NFL. McDonald responded to a question about the play he’s most synonymous with by saying he embraces the famous stiff arm moment. He also detailed his interaction with Ben Roethlisberger when he told his quarterback he was planning to retire.

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Steelers TE Kevin Rader Aced Week 17 Audition, More Coming in 2021?

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The Steelers have an opening in their tight ends room, as four-year starter Vance McDonald retired on Friday.

That leaves Eric Ebron as the team’s projected starter for 2021, and that won’t be a big change, as Ebron out-snapped McDonald and started nine games to McDonald’s 12. Without another veteran option, it’s likely the Steelers will use fewer two-tight end sets, but the issue of backups will need to be addressed.

Michigan product and former fifth-round pick Zach Gentry has yet to be a factor through two seasons and missed most of 2020 with an injury, but as he’s under contract and the team is facing a salary cup crunch, he seems likely to hold onto that job.

The Steelers have options for a third tight end, securing the services of Dax Raymond and Charles Jones on reserve/future contracts for the 2021 season on Thursday. But the man that seems most likely to step up into that role is third-year pro Kevin Rader.

Rader, a Pine-Richland and Youngstown State alum spent his second season with the Steelers in 2020, but got his first taste of action in Week 17 at Cleveland with the Steelers choosing to rest starters.

He made the most of the opportunity, particularly on special teams, where he played in nearly half of the team’s snaps, made three tackles and drew praise from head coach Mike Tomlin.

“Guys like Kevin Rader had an opportunity to step up and play,” Tomlin said. “I think he had three tackles on kickoff. For an offensive player to have that type of contribution in net, in a coverage unit I think was impressive. That’s good for him. That’s good for us as we move forward.”

Rader is also on a reserve/future contract, with no guaranteed money for 2021, but if he can continue to show the ability to contribute on special teams and help as a blocker, where McDonald excelled and Ebron does not, it seems that he can certainly carve himself out a role in Pittsburgh in 2021.

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Steelers to Host ex-Vikings OT Aviante Collins for Visit

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The Steelers will host free agent tackle Aviante Collins for a visit, according to the NFL transactions page for Thursday.

Collins, 27, spent the last four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings after joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of TCU in 2017.

Collins played in three games in 2017 and two in 2019 for the Vikings, and spent all of the 2020 season on the practice squad, except for a one-week elevation in Week 11, in which he did not play.

The 6-foot-4, 292-pound tackle its a free agent after the Vikings decided to allow his practice squad contract to expire at the end of the season.

The Steelers have several free agents at the tackle position, including longtime starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, 2019 starting right tackle Matt Feiler and 2020 starting right tackle Zach Banner, who are unrestricted free agents, and backup Jerald Hawkins, who is a restricted free agent.

The Steelers have Chukwuma Okorafor under contract and Anthony Coyle, Jarron Jones, John Leglue and Brandon Walton signed to futures contract.

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