The Pittsburgh Steelers have dealt with their share of turmoil throughout this 2017 regular season. Le’Veon Bell missing the preseason; Antonio Brown assaulting a Gatorade jug; Bell criticizing the play-calling and game plan; Martavis Bryant requesting a trade and then throwing JuJu Smith-Schuster under the bus after the Week-7 win over the Bengals.
I’m exhausted just typing that.
Bell got what he wanted—more carries—and Brown certainly got his in the passing game, but after Bryant’s most recent outbursts, Ben Roethlisberger suggests he won’t necessarily be forcing the ball to Bryant when he returns to action, likely after the team’s bye-week.
Time to check up on more news on the Black-and-gold, outside the walls of BTSC...
Ben Roethlisberger wants to let disgruntled wide receiver Martavis Bryant know he’s a valuable member of the Steelers offense. He also wants him to know there are no guarantees he’ll see more passes after Bryant voiced his displeasure on social media.
Simply put, Roethlisberger isn't making promises that he can't keep.
“I'm not going to be a doctor and promise I'm going to save your life,” Roethlisberger said on Wednesday morning. “I'm going to tell him, if you're on your details and we're working together and I trust that you're going to be where we're supposed to be and you're there, good things will happen.”
Good things rarely have happened for Bryant this season, his first one back with the Steelers since serving a year-long suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Through seven games, Bryant has only 18 catches for 234 yards – a 13.0 average that’s four yards less than what he averaged in his first two NFL seasons.
Roethlisberger said Tuesday that he plans to sit down and talk to Bryant about ways they can get him more involved in the offense. As of Wednesday morning, that meeting hadn't happened, Roethlisberger said.
“I'm the guy that throws the ball, so if you're unhappy about something, come talk to me,” he said. “Maybe there’s something we can figure out together to make it better.”
Roethlisberger said Bryant's recent comments on Instagram – he said “I want mine” and downplayed rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster's ability – came as a surprise because he said the 25-year-old receiver has been a model teammate in the locker room and on the field.
“You never hear him complain,” Roethlisberger said. “I never hear him on the field – crying, complaining, wanting the ball, throwing his hands up, not running hard, doing things like that.
“You see him blocking hard after guys catch the ball during runs. I grab him on the sideline and talk about the (images of plays) like I do with other guys, and he's very engaging.”
Three years ago, the Steelers cut running back LeGarrette Blount after he walked off the field near the end of a game against the Titans. He was upset about getting only one snap in the game and was unhappy with his playing time.
The Steelers wasted no time in ridding themselves of Blount. They decided to cut him just hours after that Monday night game in Tennessee. Many Steelers players were happy Blount was no longer a teammate.
Center Maurkice Pouncey said Blount's release was “a blessing in disguise” and referred to him as a “cancer.”
Fast forward to this season and the Steelers have a similar situation with Martavis Bryant. After the Kansas City victory, his camp leaked that he had requested a trade two weeks prior. Then this week he went on social media to respond to a critic and criticized teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster in the process.
Yet the Steelers have no plans to trade or release him at the moment. Coach Mike Tomlin said that loud and clear on Tuesday.
Why is this situation different?
“I think the LeGarrette thing, I’m not exactly sure how it all played out, but he walked off the field during a game,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “Martavis is out here busting his butt. You watch Le’Veon’s long play, he’s downfield blocking. He was blocking for [Antonio Brown] in the Kansas City game. You hear frustration when he goes home on social media. Here in the locker room we don’t see any of that. That’s why potentially maybe that’s why it’s treated differently.”
The good news just keeps rolling in for JuJu Smith-Schuster.
After finding out that his missing bike had been found and returned to the Mount Oliver Police Department this morning, Smith-Schuster was cleared by team doctors and was a full participant in practice, though he remains in the league’s concussion protocol. The rookie resumed his place working with the first-team offense as the Steelers’ No. 2 receiver.
Smith-Schuster also seemed to be getting along with disgruntled receiver Martavis Bryant, downplaying any potential riffs between the two.
“Me and Martavis are cool,” Smith-Schuster said. “You didn’t see us hugging out there today? We were hugging. We were hugging, holding hands, having a good time.”
The holding hands part was a bit of an exaggeration, but the two did appear to exchange tips during individual drills on how to properly spin the ball after a first down.
“We’re all just having fun out there. Obviously when you get a first down, you want to do something cool,” Smith-Schuster said. “[Antonio Brown] drops the ball [after signaling first down], so maybe a ball spin would be dope.”
A slight head bob. A quick raise of the voice. Coupled with a change in the snap count, they can be effective tools for an offense to use against a defense.
The Steelers are certainly finding that to be the case this season, but it's not the quantity of offsides penalties the offense is drawing that stands out. Rather, it's when those penalties have occurred.
Ben Roethlisberger got the Bengals to jump three times in last Sunday's 29-14 win. But two came in third-and-short situations. Those don't count when the team's third-down conversions are added up, but they keep drives alive, much like defensive holding or pass interference penalties.
“It’s just another weapon for the offense,” David DeCastro told me. “You’ve got to keep them honest. Any time you can get a free first down, it’s big. It’s nice.”
But this hadn’t been a huge weapon for the Steelers in previous seasons. According to DeCastro, cadence was something the team wanted to work on in the off-season. And it’s more than just the quarterback and center knowing when the ball is going to be snapped.
Everyone has to be involved to know not to jump or flinch when Roethlisberger raises his voice or adjusts the snap count.